Managers can't agree on who to hire, and it's creating big problems at work

Developers or data analysts? Programming or problem-solving capabilities? Business leaders just can't seem to can't agree on what skills they need.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
a young female software developer peering over her desk, computer programming code is displayed on her PC monitor
Image: Maskot/Getty

Managers and company executives have different opinions on the talent they need to hire to get the job done – and it's making the skills gap even worse.

A UK survey comprising 5,000 knowledge workers, 750 hiring managers and 400 senior decision makers by consultancy AND Digital found that people at different levels of seniority within companies have "substantially different" ideas about what skills are most needed.

This is causing significant challenges when it comes to closing talent gaps, and a mismatch "between what hiring managers know to be right and what their organizations choose to invest in".

The survey found that 22% of businesses report that a lack of digital skills has negatively impacted business growth by making it more difficult to hit targets, or through the loss of key customers and business opportunities.

AND Digital estimates that some £240bn ($272bn) is at risk of being lost annually if companies can't acquire the skills they need to drive the business forward.

"UK organisations are still failing to sufficiently upskill employees, and it is directly impacting business and wider economic growth," said AND Digital Founder, Paramhit Uppal.

"This is because we have not come to a shared understanding of what the skills gap is or what digital skills means."

Digital skills remain of paramount important to organizations at a time when companies are investing heavily in cloud systems and digital services.

Also: Recruiting tech workers is getting harder. But there's another way to get the right skills

But even here, leaders are at loggerheads over who they need to hire: for example, 60% of chairpeople believe their company has enough people with software engineering skills, compared to just 42% of senior managers. Likewise, half of managing directors think they have enough people with data analytics skills on the payroll, compared to 44% of managers.

Company chairs are less likely to view technology as a key business driver overall, the study found. Nearly half (47%) of chairpeople see putting digital at the core of the business as being important, compared to 60% of middle managers, while 53% of chairpeople believe being "innovative and responsible" is important, compared to 63% of middle managers.

These disagreements also extend to 'soft skills' and characteristics: 60% of chief executives agree that it is important for employees and new hires to possess problem-solving skills, compared to nearly three-quarters (74%) of middle managers. And only 57% of managing directors believe continually developing their own skills is important, compared to 76% of middle managers.

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"There is currently not enough alignment on the importance of digital skills nor a shared diagnosis of how well equipped organisations are with the right skills. As long as this is the case, organisations will not achieve the consensus and commitment to invest effectively to close their own gaps," the report said.

AND Digital found that the digital skills gap is felt by a majority of UK professionals, with 58% claiming they have never received digital upskilling from their employers and 29% reporting limited pay, promotions and career progression.

Unsurprisingly, this leaves employees feeling demotivated and disenfranchised: 11% of employees have thought about quitting after missing out on upskilling opportunities, while 8% have quit outright and 11% have been prompted to change career.

If companies cannot align on where they need to direct their hiring and upskilling investments, companies will face a "profound productivity gap", the report warned.

It's not all about tech

Cloud, user interface (UI) and machine-learning skills ranked among those that had grown most in importance over the past year, with AND Digital citing ReactJS, Microsoft Azure and PyTorch in its report.

And yet non-tech employees are concerned that their employers only see value in upskilling dedicated tech roles, with 52% of respondents reporting their organisation sees digital upskilling as a worthwhile investment exclusively for "obvious tech-focused roles."

The report noted that 'hard' technical skills "are only part of the answer" and warned that businesses "must not overlook the importance of human skills, such as communicating with empathy and developing oneself and others".

The report added: "It's clear to us that in order to close the digital skills gap we firstly need to recognise it is made up of a multiplicity of gaps, and then come to a shared understanding of them. Only then will we be able to take action collectively which is coherent and reinforcing – even if we are all working individually at different levels to address different aspects of the challenge."

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