While every business’s digital journey is unique, one aspect will be consistent across the board: Employee talent investment. As digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning remap the required skills, competencies, roles and learning journeys –amid a very real digital talent gap – organizations need to renovate ancient analog work structures and talent requirements to succeed.  

But while technical skills are an area of intense focus today – and are in extremely high demand – the companies we’re speaking with these days aren’t just looking for candidates with hard skills like big data, natural language processing and AI. They’re also seeking candidates with just as many soft skills, such as interpersonal conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, expectation management and interdisciplinary teamwork. According to the World Economic Forum, the top 10 skills required for the future of work consist of cognitive, intuitive and human-related attributes, along with technical and domain skill sets.

In other words, it’s not “either-or” – it’s both. For IT folks, that means no more hiding behind screens. For finance, marketing or other business workers, this means no more waiting or blaming IT for productivity challenges; you’ll increasingly be required to roll code yourself.

This blending of hard and soft, and business and IT, skills is also evident in the rise of DevOps positions (or even “chief experience” or chief data officers”). Many of these positions must be filled by individuals who are as interested in coding as they are business metrics. This requires organizations to seek tech talent that’s as well-versed in strategic operations, finance and marketing as they are in Agile development. This brave new world of hybrid, non-siloed workers will be a key determinant of digital success, today and tomorrow.

How to Escalate Proficiency Levels

To some, the digital talent gap might be best described as a talent leap. Let’s say you’re a banking executive faced with responding to the emergence of cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Your IT department might be comprised of thousands of employees with a passing interest in the technology, but also zero proficiency. For a bank to truly explore and leverage emerging technologies like these, they’ll need workers at an advanced proficiency level. Beyond technical and functional skills, these individuals should also have strong business and soft skills, as the aforementioned WEF report calls out.

To achieve higher levels of proficiency, it’s not enough to hire talent with a working understanding of relevant technologies; recruits must also understand how to apply that knowledge to solve business problems. Only then can the workforce be fully capable of bridging the widening digital tech talent gap.

Taking a Strategic Approach to Growing Skills 

When it comes to bridging the digital talent gap, businesses must look inward and assess their current proficiencies (or lack thereof), and then seek self-starting and self-motivated workers who can do what it takes to advance to a more sophisticated level.  

That’s the approach we took recently with a large medical devices company. To help broaden its reach beyond medicine and become “the Amazon of devices,” we did the following:  

  • Assessed its existing technology landscape, as well as employee roles and responsibilities.
  • Built and administered an assessment on prerequisites for acquiring skills to manage the future state.
  • Created job descriptions and role competency matrices for future roles.
  • Prepared high-level learning journeys for each of the identified new job roles.
  • Provided recommendations on learning strategies to build the capability in technical, domain and business skills.

This is very much a work in progress, but the company is already seeing:

  • Reduced training costs through targeted employee learning structured to specific job role requirements.
  • A measurable and trackable increase in job level proficiency based on alignment with learning strategy.
  • More expedient job readiness as individual learning journeys enhanced reskilling/upskilling of employees in new job roles.
  • Improved workforce team development due to tying learning experiences to performance.

Our early work across engagements shows that a focus on both soft and hard skills, interpersonal and interdepartmental behavior skills, and ongoing HR training (as opposed to just an introductory crash course), is having a measured effect on how forward-thinking companies are addressing the digital talent gap. While each company and industry must respond differently, for many the transition has already begun.

 Prasanna Sivadas, Cognizant’s Senior Manager of Digital Strategy, contributed to this blog.

Vidhyu Rao

Vidhyu Rao

Vidhyu Rao is a Workforce Transformation Offerings Leader with Cognizant’s Digital Strategy group. During her 25+ years of experience, she has led... Read more