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The challenge of finding good digital talent

As Ed Vaizey takes up his new role responsible for digital industries, most business leaders will be thinking: “Yes, digital! We need a strategy and talent to match”.

Many businesses, small or large, understand digital expansion will see them grow. You only have to look at the successes of Notonthehighstreet, ASOS and Tesco, alongside the development of Silicon Roundabout, to think the time to capitalise is now, but is there enough talent out there to go around?

When you remove the big global companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter from the equation, there is a host of businesses that are less familiar to the public eye, but also help to power the nation, and these are the ones that are losing out. Many developers, coders and bloggers either like the organic nature of working for a start-up or head straight to the big brands, but what about the middle man? 

For these organisations caught in the middle, they know that they need to engage directly with young talent that have grown up in the digital industry era and get them excited about business in a new way. A recent report, Bridging the Skills Gap, noted that 84 per cent of teachers felt the state school system was failing to provide the skills needed for pupils to thrive in a globalised world.

This is a sentiment echoed by Lord Kenneth Baker. Speaking at the 2013 Spectator conference on Skilling Britain, he suggested that the current priorities of students were "totally out of step with the needs of the economy". With growth sectors in the UK labelled as construction and manufacturing for 2014, and a focus on digital, the challenge will be how the Government supports enterprise and encourages talent to look at the future to complement British business.

So where does that leave the digital revolution? Well, with university fees going up and few truly digital courses on offer outside of computer science, young people are, instead, creating their own content, building their own networks and learning to code in their spare time, while looking at other options. With a focus on apprenticeships and up-skilling young people, the Government has ploughed budget into helping businesses support young people on their career journey, but for those looking down a digital path, the road ahead looks full of twists.

For many businesses, recognising the need to have a digital expert is as far as they get, and hiring someone who is fully qualified is the only route – many CEOs, MDs and Marketing Directors need their counsel or direction on the strategy for the business. Herein lies the challenge – with a few digital courses starting at universities and many coders and bloggers working for start-ups or big organisations, where can the middle man find the talent he needs?

There are a few organisations who have joined forces to take back control by setting up academies across the country to support digital training and address the skills shortage. One such scheme in the North West is called the The Juice Academy. It provides industry-led social media apprenticeships and has successful groups of talent all in full-time employment in organisations, including JW Lee’s, the Cooperative and Pets At Home. Local businesses created the demand, and pooled together to support an industry shortfall.

With businesses on the look-out for the next digital wave, the Government has its work cut out to ensure the UK does not get left behind in the drive for a digital future. Ensuring the talent pool is plentiful and relevant to the growth areas of the economy is a huge challenge, given that the country is already on the back foot. Ed may want to put in a quick call to Nicky Morgan today!