How we can solve the digital skills gap?


Razvan Creanga, CEO & co-founder of hackajob, considers how we can solve the digital skills gap before it’s too late.

This week, I had the privilege to participate in a conversation about the digital skills gap in the UK at 10 Downing Street.

Whether you’re a hiring manager struggling to recruit digital talent, or a job seeker looking for your next opportunity, the digital skills gap is a recurring issue and it’s only growing.

According to Accenture, the UK economy could lose as much as £141.5bn of GDP growth if this issue continues to exist in the next 10 years. In fact, a study from online learning platform Udemy found that “nearly 80% of Americans agree there is a skills gap” with more than a third stating that “it affects them personally”.

In my opinion, the consequences of not addressing the digital skills gap in a thoughtful and urgent manner could lead to an even worse scenario – stagnation of the digital industry and ultimately the ecosystem’s inability to innovate at scale.

The bad news is that if we don’t act fast enough then it may be too late.

Prior to the meeting, we asked the hackajob community what they thought the government could do to bridge the gap. Receiving hundreds of suggestions in just a few days, the response was overwhelming and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sent us their thoughts.

From these ideas, we identified three main themes which I presented in the meeting: unbiased hiring, subsidised education and awareness and extracurricular activities.

Unbiased Hiring

It seems that the positions are there and are ready to be filled, but the candidates aren’t available. At least, that’s the general claim.

But what if that’s not the case? What if a significant amount of candidates are available and ready to work, but instead recruiter bias is getting in the way?

Whilst the older norms of openly discriminating against women and different racial ethnicities are widely known, in present day there is a new issue: unconscious bias. People are unaware that they’re doing it and are resonating with traits that they identify with rather than being on a discriminatory vendetta.

Research from the UK has demonstrated that 39% of hiring managers are poorly trained in unbiased decision-making. Awareness training programs are also now becoming the new norm, and diversity is a major hiring factor for talent professionals.

Research in Australia has also proven that the current ‘unbiased’ methods of hiring are not effective and need to be revamped.

Alongside training, technology might well be the solution. For example, by allowing applicants and jobs to be matched without any human intervention, AI can help to generate engagement with technical professionals.

Even so, AI and Machine Learning are under the microscope for their claim of being truly unbiased. For instance, recent arguments present the angle that even an algorithm could eventually develop a bias. It’s key to note that algorithms trained on something objective like code quality (for instance a candidate’s code) are far more likely to avoid developing a bias.

Subsidised education and sponsorships

Nowadays, you don’t necessarily need to get a degree in Computer Science in order to become a Software Engineer. Instead, you can take a short course and in usually 12 weeks you can gain all of the training necessary, become a fully-fledged developer and get a guaranteed job.

By participating in a coding course or a free training programme such as AWS re:Start, you won’t obtain a university degree but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. After all, most coding schools are now ‘guaranteeing’ job security in a career where candidates can make 30k+ a year.

Whilst the costs are reflective of the demand for the coding courses, there are little subsidies for those who want to take the leap and learn to code but are priced out of the space.

The UK government has acknowledged the need to close the skills gap and is taking steps to ensure that under-represented groups and disabled people can gain the skills they need to work in digital roles. In January 2018 Theresa May announced £20m of funding for The Institute of Coding.

Helping to improve digital skills throughout the UK, The IOC is designed to boost graduate employability and help increase specialist skills. And the UK’s not the only country to get onboard. The EU’s Digital Skills and Jobs initiative supports different coding projects all over Europe.

Awareness and extracurricular activities

It’s clear that the awareness of the digital skills gap is there but, as well as a focus on university education and upskilling those who have been out of education, there needs to be a serious emphasis on educating young children.

A focus on STEM is critical, especially as it isn’t exactly a ‘sexy’ subject in today’s world of celebrity, reality TV and YouTube.

Last year saw over 85,000 people apply to be on the 2018 series of Love Island, compared with only 37,000 applications to undergraduate courses at Oxford and Cambridge universities combined. Let’s not forget that one in three UK children have also admitted to wanting to become famous YouTubers.

One way in which we can increase the awareness of STEM subjects is via the STEM ambassador programme. Volunteers from a wide range of roles give up their time to help bring subjects such as science, maths and IT to life, encouraging children to learn and even think about taking up a STEM career. Not just available inside the classroom, these specialists also visit youth and community groups after school.

It’s clear that closing the skills gap depends on working on at least the three themes above. Personally, myself and hackajob are committed to solving this issue before it’s too late. Working on a global-scale initiative, our mission is to transform digital hiring by making it fair, fast and based on skills, not backgrounds.