A third of businesses turn to contractor’s business to plug digital skills gaps

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digital experts fixing a server issue

A new report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has highlighted the importance of contractors business within the UK economy amidst a shortage of digital skills that is set to skyrocket in the near future.

The report, called Delivering Skills for the New Economy, found that demand for digital skills is already outstripping supply, with two thirds of those businesses surveyed having unfilled digital recruitment vacancies during November and December 2018.

And this recruitment shortfall is only set to get worse, with 95 per cent of businesses expecting their digital needs to grow, and 58 per cent saying they will need the experience of significantly more digital talent in the office over the next five years. Less than a third (31 per cent) of those businesses surveyed were confident that they would be able to access the digital skills that they need in the next 3-5 years.

The most sought-after skills were software engineering and development (43 per cent), data analytics (37 per cent) and cyber and IT security (24 per cent).

In the midst of this skills shortfall, the report found that a third (33 per cent) of businesses turn to “small businesses, suppliers or contractors” to plug the gap – with 31 per cent taking on apprentices and 30 per cent organising external short courses.

46 per cent of businesses were looking within the UK to hire, with 19 per cent hiring from within the European Union (EU) and 11 per cent looking further afield.

The report warns that the UK needs to be better prepared for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which is already underway, driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation and biotechnology.

New roles such as chief information security officer and data wrangler are expected to become commonplace, but staff across all levels of enterprise need better digital training in their company formation in order to tackle cyber-threats such as phishing emails and compliance issues such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

This makes it essential for an employer to hire a contractor with digital skills. If you’re an independent contractor with digital experience, this is the best time to look for work in the private sector or sign up to digital specialist recruitment agencies.

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said digital skills were “absolutely fundamental to getting people ready for the future of work.”

“It’s essential we tackle the UK’s digital skills crunch now to remain internationally competitive,” he said. “Firms are sounding the alarm in their struggle for digital skills and the uncertainty that brings. There’s a clear need for businesses to diversify their hiring strategies and look for innovative ways to help their people improve their digital skills.”

The report recommends businesses take a broad long-term approach to procuring freelance digital talent, by launching internal company-wide retraining programmes, reaching out to schools and universities and collaborating with government.

However, these methods may take between three and five years to produce the digital skills needed to overcome the forthcoming explosion in demand. Until then, business is likely to continue to rely on contract workers, consultancies and external freelance talent in order to maintain access to the skills it needs.

Hiring a contractor is the simplest way for these companies to fulfil their digital obligations whilst giving the temporary worker sector a financial boost.

The report was compiled in partnership with Tata Consultancy Services. Tata’s UK and Ireland vice president Shankar Narayanan commented: “This new research makes it clear that for the UK economy to remain competitive into the future, it’s important to ensure its workforce continually see the value in building the necessary skills for a career in technology.

“This doesn’t just mean training those already in the technology space. In fact, it means looking at the other talents within a business and knowing how to capture these skills and enhance them with more technology knowledge and literacy.”

The full report can be found here.

12th June 2019