During September and October of 2023, we conducted our first digital skills audit, as part of our Talent23 campaign. Initial findings from the survey were presented at our AGM in November and today we’re publishing the full report. Supported by Sheffield Hallam University, this Skills Audit gives us the first piece of data focussed specifically on the skills needs of our region’s digital and tech businesses. In this post, Sheffield Digital Director, Mel Kanarek explores some of the key findings and raises questions for the community as we consider the next steps.
Creating a benchmark
When you do a piece of research like this for the first time, you can really only produce a snapshot of how things are at this particular moment. When I presented the initial findings at the AGM, I saw a lot of nodding heads, which told me that people were recognising the picture that the survey had produced. So that’s useful; now we have evidence to back up what we really already knew. But the real value will only come after we’ve done the research again – this time we’ve produced a benchmark that we can measure change against. However, we also need to recognise that we’re in a fast moving sector and an uncertain economy – change is bound to happen faster than we can keep up with in an annual survey. Perhaps we could do something smaller in six months time? Would that be useful?
Looking ahead rather than back
Information about what has happened is interesting, but the real value lies in information that will help us decide what to do / what needs to be done in the future. Key things that stand out for me (and I’d be interested to know what you all think) are:
Developers, developers, developers – but business skills too
The report highlights (unsurprisingly) that the largest demand is for developers, but that was followed pretty closely by business skills, particularly sales and business development. It can be hard to find people who combine sales skills with the ability to translate technology into benefits that non-technical business people can understand. There is also a lot more to technology marketing than running a bunch of social media accounts.
Given that so many of the region’s tech businesses are small, and that we have a growing start-up scene, the question that policy makers are asking is, “How do we scale these businesses?”. In my opinion, part of the answer is that we have to invest in business skills as well as technical skills.
Diversity and inclusion
It was telling that a lot of people who completed the survey were unable to provide much data on diversity within their organisations. I was encouraged to see that the region is on a par with the national average in terms of gender diversity, but we all know that there is still work to do there. However, gender is only a part of the picture – we have mountains to climb if we are serious about real equality and it is going to take at least a generation. One of the things we can do is look very closely at the way we develop our talent pipeline and encourage early stage talent, and make sure that we are building diversity and inclusion in.
Bridging the experience gap
Coming back to the need for developers and, according to the survey, an increasing need for AI and data specialists, we run straight into the experience gap. The challenge here is that the demand is for people with experience while the pipeline of inexperienced people continues to grow. The industry as a whole needs to address how to build a stronger talent ecosystem – both to bring inexperienced people up to productivity faster and to encourage a more diverse workforce.
Being realistic (and optimistic) about skills
“You’ll never solve the skills crisis. We’ve been talking about it for years and trying different initiatives and nothing’s made any difference.” People have actually said that to me.
I know this stuff is hard – especially as the skills system is so cumbersome and the spending decisions often aren’t made locally. It’s not realistic to think there is a silver bullet solution or that we’ll be able to fix everything. But I am convinced that we can put our heads together and at least come up with some achievable ideas to try out. Even small improvements will be worthwhile.
Thinking long term
A bit like marketing, training and personal development often gets cut when the economic situation tightens. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there right now and we know that some organisations are having to make redundancies or are slowing down their growth plans. But, also like marketing, that may help in the short term but won’t do us any good in the long term. So, what could we be doing now (recognising that things might be a bit tough) that could get us in good shape for the future?
I’ve made some observations and raised a few questions in this post and, as I mentioned earlier, I’d be very interested to know what other people think. You can comment below, email me (email@example.com) or connect with me on Slack or LinkedIn. If there’s enough engagement, I will look at setting up some kind of working group – but that will be up to all of you if you want to get involved.
Read the report
Click on the button below to download the Sheffield Digital Skills Audit Report 2024.
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