Digital skills gap widens as employers see the situation as critical

artificial intelligence 2228610 640The convergence of technology is changing the world as we understand it – Autonomy, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Data Visualisation and Mixed Mode Realities are creating new desires and needs never before imagined

They are disrupting the business world and transforming consumer experiences. Digital-centricity is the term that ties these new disruptors together. The huge reliance on ‘everything digital’ has placed massive demands on the job recruitment market, with companies fighting over getting the best digital talent. Despite this, some jobs such as those in data analytics or autonomy remain unfilled. Lack of education and skills in these key technologies is now critical and holding back companies wanting to grow.

A new research study – Shaping the Future of STEM Skills - by the STEM Foundation, and supported by the European Union’s Social Fund (ESF) in partnership with the UK's Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough (GCGP) Enterprise Partnership and the Association of Colleges in the Eastern Region (ACER) illustrates vividly a changing landscape of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills. Fuelled by fast growth technology disruptors, a seismic shift in the demand for technology education and skills is happening at a rapid pace.

But the right technology education and skills. Currently, educational provision is not meeting employer needs. In over a hundred companies surveyed, over two-thirds confirmed a 70 per cent or higher business impact if they didn’t have skills in data analytics. A similar response was echoed by over half of all business respondents surveyed who stated an impact of 70 per cent or more on their business if they couldn’t secure people with programming skills in Machine Learning, AI, and Deep Learning. Business impact in these cases means sales revenue, market growth and profitability. The staples that keep business alive.

The Industrial Internet of Things has been cited as the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. STEM Foundation’s study identified over half of all respondents across ten business sectors cited an impact of 70 per cent or higher by Industry 4.0, stating changes to their business models, processes and supply chains. Industry 4.0 boasts productivity increases and cost reductions to expensive manufacturing processes. The major stumbling block for companies wanting to unleash the power of the Industrial Internet is a lack of tech skills. Industry 4.0 requires data analytics, programming proficiency in R and Python, complex communications, data visualisation, problem-solving and large frame pattern recognition, however there is a significant gap in skills in all of these areas. The role of the Data Scientist, central to business analytics is growing fast. In the first half of 2016, the role of data scientist in companies grew by 32 per cent (Computer Weekly, Aug 2016), and is predicted to grow by around 50 per cent by the end of 2017 (Warwick Analytics, Mar 2017), but the supply of people with these skills doesn’t meet demand.

The study advocates a need to assess the ‘intensity of demand’ for skills in new and emerging technologies; examining both market readiness and application base, so enabling STEM programmes to be repackages to offer key technology fundamentals (such as data analytics, sensors, connectivity and visualisation) thereby enabling students’ greater employment flexibility across a variety of different business and industry sectors.

The digital transformation and proliferation of AI, Automation and the Internet of Things is changing job profiles across a dramatically short time horizon. The study has shown a scarcity in the labour market for digitally proficient individuals with higher functioning skills set, particularly across Europe and the UK.This may open the door for employees from across Africa to European jobs.

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