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Mind the gap: why the next generation of data experts should be brought to the fore

Attracting the highest calibre of talent has often been difficult in tech sectors. With rapid advancements in technology, most notably AI, it’s a challenge to find those with the right skillset. But the issue has worsened in recent times, with two-thirds (66%) of large UK businesses saying they struggle to recruit employees with the skills they need.

That is simply to keep up with the pace: what about businesses who want to position themselves at the forefront of digital developments?

Clearly, it’s never been harder – and more competitive – to secure the best talent for the job. So, how do employers get the best for their business from an ever shrinking pool of talent?  In order to improve our approach, adaptation is key.

A new start

Can the next generation of school leavers, graduates, and those at the start of their career go some way to bridging the gap?

The skills shortage is creating an uneven skills pyramid. With less talent available, those higher up and more experienced are having to carry out lower-level tasks. But it is no secret that investing in new starters is one of the clearest, most effective and sustainable routes to addressing the skills gap and forming a more balanced pyramid.

New starters come with their own set of ideas, knowledge and a generational approach that can revitalise a company’s processes and methods. They can carry out the lower-level ‘efficiency tasks’ and also free up time for experienced leaders to provide them with the onboarding and training sessions necessary for them to succeed.

In order to create the best environments for new starters to flourish, companies need to build on their academic foundation to embrace innovation and facilitate research and development programmes to incubate ideas. This involves developing a safe space for them to train, explore and generate new approaches to data science. Yet this transition from education to the real-world of work can be a big leap.

Cementing the link between employment and higher education 

As well as a skills gap, there can also be a gap between employment and higher education. Digital skills, in particular within the field of AI, are constantly evolving, with research placing the ‘half-life’ of a specific technical skill at two-and-a-half years at most. Without frequent reviews of curriculums and teaching, there will inevitably be a mismatch between employment and education.

A report by the World Economic Forum this year highlighted a gap in common language between education providers (on the supply side) and businesses (on the demand side) when talking about skills. Education can prioritise a knowledge-first approach, whereas the business world is after technical, social, and adaptable skills.

Strengthening this relationship and finding common ground between supply and demand can radically improve the skills pipeline, whether it takes the form of business and university partnerships, collaborations with technology incubators, or regular events such as ‘hackathons’. These give students an insight into the workplace and real-world environments while also helping companies to spot and develop talent.

An evolved approach to skills and talent 

Of course the skills gap is not just about investing in new starters from higher education, but also exploring different avenues of developing skills and talent. With job specs constantly evolving, employers naturally need to invest in reskilling and upskilling programmes. This mindset involves tapping into transferable skills and looking at potential over experience in the workforce.

It is an approach that works for measuring new talent beyond higher education, placing an emphasis on behavioural traits, technical skills and ability. The requirement to not have a degree is becoming more and more of a norm, and it is a hiring practice currently adopted by tech giants such as Apple, Google and Netflix. This approach is not saying ‘do not get a degree’, but widens the scope to include those who do not have one (and acknowledges the potential that is out there).

Finally, whether reskilling existing employees or developing new talent, it is imperative to ensure regular training takes place so employees are at the forefront of new developments in the tech space and stay up-to-date with skills. This can occur through mentorship schemes, external placements and vocational coaching.

Bringing the next gen to the fore

The demand for data and tech expertise has skyrocketed. In the first four months of last year, Adzuna, the job search engine, recorded the highest number of tech vacancies in ten years. This imbalance poses significant challenges for businesses seeking to harness the full potential of data to drive innovation and growth.

Placing a focus on the next generation of data experts can be the lifeblood that helps plug the skills gap. But for this strategy to succeed, not only does it require the right environments and training programmes to help them grow, but an adaptable mindset to how we view skills and what we look for in talent.

By strengthening the relationship between business and education and casting the net beyond traditional routes for discovering talent, businesses can bring the next generation of data experts to the fore. And they hold the key to bridging the gap.

Authored by Ed Dixon, CEO of Bayezian

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