No Match Found
Technology has never been more powerful or offered greater potential to drive businesses transformation and growth. Harnessing this potential requires organisations to have the right skills and judgement while mitigating risks. But the most important ingredient for technology success is so often overlooked or undervalued: people.
The changing nature of what we think of as ‘work’ and of how customers or citizens interact with companies or government agencies has changed the critical skills individuals need, and the roles organisations must fill. Increasingly, roles require a combination of technology and business understanding, along with an understanding of organisational change management (OCM), critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Despite this, some organisations are still not treating the need for technology talent with the importance it demands.
While PwC’s 25th Annual CEO Survey shows 75% of CEOs are expecting to grow their workforce in 2022, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reports 55% of companies believe skills gaps in the local labour market are a barrier, with nearly 47% struggling to attract specialised talent. An AWS commissioned survey of 10,000 business leaders across five EMEA markets in 2021 yielded similar insights.
Purpose continues to be an underrated motivation in many organisations. Too often, it’s paid lip service in shareholder reports, mission statements, and company principles.
CEOs are increasingly recognising the importance of connecting purpose to business strategy, and that doing so in a genuine way that resonates with employees delivers growth and attracts the right people, skills and investment.
As the competition for talent heats up - particularly in areas such as technology and digital skills - technologists are demanding more from the organisation than just a well-paid job. They have a greater than ever need to trust a company's efforts around equality, fairness, and sustainability. Trust in the culture and values of the organisation. Trust in the strategy and direction of the business.
This has seen organisations creating clear commitments to purpose and forcing themselves to be accountable on a broader range of issues, and to a broader range of stakeholders.
Given purpose unites and directs an organisation, and is a key to talent attraction and retention, it’s essential that employees know, trust, and can deliver on purpose. If not, organisations should emphasise creating, embedding and bringing to life a meaningful purpose for all.
As technology becomes a bigger part of the commercial strategy - whether as an enabler, product or service - it will be important to develop and adopt a ‘responsible technology’ approach that maximises positive impacts while minimising negative ones.
Where many organisations often focus on hiring the right talent across the business, there’s a detrimental lack of knowledge about how to harness the power of technology at board level. According to MIT Sloan Management Review, just 24% of large companies have digitally savvy executive teams, with the WEF further reporting that 41% of companies have a technology skills gap within their leadership. It’s not entirely surprising given the majority of the world’s top executive MBAs, often the aspiring leaders’ go-to education, do not consider technology, data, or OCM important enough to warrant being mandatory educational elements.
A mindset has permeated many leadership teams that once people reach the C-suite, technical and functional expertise matter less than leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals. But how can you recruit top talent if you don’t know what it looks like?
Organisations need to establish learning cultures where everyone from the top down understands what makes them competitive and how technology enables this. Many digitally advanced organisations are establishing digital training programmes with the expectation that leaders set the tone and importance of this, being proactive with their own learning. Those with similar ambitions should look to follow suit.
Despite a limited group of individuals with the right tech skills, there are a plethora of opportunities to create new talent pools to fill the gaps. As ways of working continue to evolve, organisations should increasingly consider recruiting from underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities, part-time workers, individuals based in remote areas or overseas, and workforce returnees, among many others.
Tech She Can is a charity looking to inspire and educate girls and women to study technology subjects and pursue technology careers. Alongside PwC UK, they created the Tech She Can Charter, bringing together over 200 organisations committed to increasing the number of women working in technology roles, to resolve challenges around talent scarcity, increase diversity, and fuel innovation and creativity. Social enterprises such as Auticon are helping organisations realise the huge opportunity to engage, develop and retain highly capable technology talent from the underrepresented neurodiverse community. Elsewhere, organisations such as UKBlackTech work with institutions, industry, local businesses and communities to support, promote, represent and encourage the continued growth of diverse innovators and tech innovation across the UK.
Organisations have a responsibility to find and nurture talent and potential. Employers have a choice: join the competitive scramble for tech talent or invest in increasing the talent pool and making technology careers a possibility for many more in society. By investing in their own people while working with educators, programmes, and initiatives, it’s possible to increase the overall availability of tech skills and widen the talent pool to benefit both the organisation and society.
Technology as a functionally siloed skill is no longer sufficient. Bringing together small, cross-functional teams who have the autonomy to achieve a business outcome is a proven method of breaking down silos, accelerating value delivery, and improving motivation and retention. Done correctly, these multidisciplinary teams should represent expertise and perspectives from across the organisation, including business value, human experience and technology enablers.
AWS, for example, embeds this through their ‘2-Pizza’ teams: Teams of 8-10 people small enough to be fed with two pizzas. It’s an approach that allows team members to work closely together with fewer constraints and to learn from one another.
It also helps create diversity within teams, helping organisations develop technology that serves a wider range of users. Going beyond just a diversity of functional skills, these teams can be representative of a broad cross-section of society. For example, when PwC UK introduced a new wellbeing solution to the workforce during the pandemic, it was crucial to bring as many diverse opinions into the team as possible, to consult widely, and ensure communications with staff were transparent and understandable. Combining sensitive information including biometric, cognitive and contextual data required technology experts combined with domain specialists in HR, regulation, a medical doctor, and an ethicist to deliver not just a solution, but one that was embraced and scaled by the entire business.
Organisations looking to embrace this type of approach should start small. Find a business problem or desired outcome, assemble a team of diverse, high-performing, and functionally rich individuals, support them with coaching, and set them free from the usual organisational constraints to deliver.
The typical route into many technology roles is through an undergraduate degree. Traditionally, that allowed organisations to easily locate and recruit individuals with the right skills, but it’s also had the impact of creating a finite talent pool that is getting smaller and less diverse. Despite an increase in technology degree university places, the number of technologists educated now falls well short of the increase in demand for roles. The solution can come from what’s already within an organisation.
PwC’s Hopes and Fears Survey revealed that 39% of workers are concerned that their job will be obsolete within five years, with 60% worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk. But 77% of that same group are eager to learn new skills or completely retrain. with skills that transcend the technical, such as team management, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Some are taking steps to expand talent pools internally, running initiatives to help early-career talent build tech and professional skills. Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) Tech U is an accelerated workforce development program that recruits individuals passionate about cloud tech, engaging with people, and solving complex problems, but in need of more hands-on training and exposure to the AWS Cloud.
Employers need to change how they view - and value - workplace education. Learning and development needs to be continual, strategic, and bespoke; not something that is only undertaken if there is time and budget. The workplace needs to become somewhere where individuals are encouraged – or expected - to learn, and empowered to upskill and develop. Doing so can create a collective growth mindset and a desire and curiosity for continuous learning. Ironically, the increase in automation, a cause of much fear and uncertainty for many workers, can be used to free up time and resources to allow people to focus on developing their own skill sets and areas of competitive differentiation.
With technology permeating every aspect of society and every function within organisations, upskilling and expanding the pools of technology-savvy employees is no longer a nicety. It will increasingly determine whether you remain competitive and relevant or not.
This goes beyond technology. Such a view needs to see learning as a core organisational competency, and the so-called soft skills such as thinking big, problem-solving, embracing diversity, and trust-based teamwork as development priorities. Only by recruiting and retaining the right people with these skills, and giving them the incentive, opportunity, and motivation to continually upskill and re-skill will businesses be able to truly add value.
Unearthing the right talent to drive that innovation and sustained growth requires a strong focus on purpose, leadership, talent pools, interdisciplinary teams, and training.
It’s not always an easy challenge to overcome. But those organisations that do are more likely to drive innovation, improve diversity, build trust and deliver long-term, sustained growth.
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