Tech skills are the secret weapon for UK businesses

upskillingThe pace of change is ever-present, even without the challenges posed by COVID-19, but upskilling gives businesses the chance to turn the tide in their favour, says Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA, Pluralsight.

We are now living in unprecedented times as we continue to confront the global pandemic and companies are being forced to completely reconfigure their business models in record time to survive. To become entirely digitally focused overnight and ensure they can support a workforce that works from home, the importance of technology has never been more apparent. Put simply, businesses now have no choice but to digitally adapt or die.

As Microsoft’s Satya Nadella explained back in April, we’ve achieved two years’ worth of digital transformation in just two months. However, business dependence on technology was already growing, pre-pandemic. In fact, the tech sector was growing six times faster than the rest of the economy and predictions suggested that by 2030, 50% of the UK economy will be powered by digital, tech and creative industries.

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Despite the urgent and, now obvious, need for businesses to digitally transform, it seems the UK isn’t yet capable of supplying the skills needed to execute these transformative projects. Recent figures suggest that more than half of companies are concerned that a shortage of engineers will hamper their business. It’s therefore imperative business leaders find ways to narrow the gap between supply and demand for talent or suffer the consequences.

Engage with talent in the way that best suits them

Often, narrowing the gap between supply and demand for talent comes down to two options. Heading out into the market and competing to bring in the required skills or assessing how you can develop the skills of your current workforce. Our State of Upskilling research found that leaders increasingly turn to hiring their way out of skills gaps, which seems a great waste considering that half of UK technologists want to collaborate with their employer to improve their tech skills.

The benefit of upskilling the workforce is clear. It’s cost-effective, empowers employees, and improves morale and productivity. Yet, the way in which businesses run learning programmes is often outdated and underwhelming. The conventional approach of using classroom-based learning for adults has been found to be ineffective. In fact, Adult Learning Theory, developed by Malcolm Knowles, found that adults need to be in control of what, when, and how they learn and that it needs to be applicable to their lives and implemented immediately. When you consider that 40% of IT professionals prefer online or on-demand learning, as opposed to traditional in-person seminars or classroom routes, it makes for a compelling argument that traditional methods won’t deliver the best outcomes for businesses.

Technology is changing workplace learning

As modern workplace learning practices evolve from the traditional classroom-based approach, technology offers a solution. Through the power of the cloud and AI, software-as-a-service platforms have emerged as the alternative learning experience that meets the needs of both the user and employer. In addition to fitting in with flexible working arrangements, where employees are no longer based solely in an office, they also meet new learning habits. Being cloud-native, they can offer flexible learning experiences, whereby workers can dip in and out as needed.

Moreover, they can provide real-time courses and lessons, so learners can log on and find the latest technologies and courses on offer right there and then. This helps both the technologist and employer adapt more quickly, allowing them to keep up with the latest tech innovations. Importantly, technologists can use these platforms to accurately map their skills and understand where they can refine or update their knowledge. This means that if they need to learn to code in a new language for a particular project, or learn about a new piece of software, this can be achieved seamlessly by having access to the latest learning materials created by experts in their field.

Why now is the time to invest in upskilling

While the environment we find ourselves in today sets a precedent, prioritising the skill development of software engineers will solve three main issues. Firstly, it will help reduce the skills gap clearly apparent within the market and therefore give businesses the expertise they need to thrive. Secondly, it will help businesses to stay ahead of the trends and help engineers understand the latest technologies in more depth so they can find new ways for firms to be competitive. Lastly, it will give those on furlough a focus and those with spare capacity the motivation so that when growth returns, they will be ready to turn their new skills into progress – both for themselves and the business.

The pace of change is ever-present, even without the challenges posed by COVID-19, but upskilling gives businesses the chance to turn the tide in their favour.

Sean Farrington is Senior Vice President of EMEA for Pluralsight