Why the skills gap is stopping businesses from achieving agility

Severe shortages of IT professionals and agile coaches mean that businesses need to put real effort into recruiting and retaining the talent required to reach agility

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For many businesses, finding and hiring the right talent is one of the biggest roadblocks to success. This is notably so for cloud computing, AI, big data and cybersecurity, the key specialisms needed to deliver agility. And the problem isn’t limited to the technical side. There are also shortages of people with agile delivery skills, such as scrum masters, and of those with support skills to help prepare employees for the changes to become agile, such as agile coaches and business change experts.

“Without people in those key roles, organisations are too often trapped in traditional waterfall delivery methods. That prevents them from adapting to uncertainty,” says Chris Bull, change management capability lead at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence. “It also means that the latest software delivery concepts, such as DevOps, aren’t used – it’s imperative to provide new functionality in a timely and agile manner.”

It’s no surprise, then, that 80% of IT professionals say that skills gaps pose a high or medium risk to their team’s ability to meet their objectives, according to the Skillsoft 2022 IT Skills & Salary Report.

A further consequence of the skills shortage is that businesses are forced to pay highly to attract the right talent. “Salary inflation is running higher than we’ve probably ever seen before,” says Bev White, CEO of global professional recruitment consultancy and IT outsourcing service provider Nash Squared. “As businesses push forward on key tech investments, there is so much demand for tech professionals and skills shortages are higher than ever, intensifying the wage war. Employers are having to offer 20% to 40% more for some roles.

“Research for our latest Digital Leadership Report shows that 70% of the digital leaders globally who took part in our survey say that skills shortages are preventing them from keeping up with the pace of change – the highest we’ve ever recorded. The most severe shortages are for data analysts, cybersecurity specialists and technical architects. But organisations can’t simply keep on paying or offering higher salaries. Six in 10 digital leaders say that salary demands have become unsustainable.” 

Getting creative in the search

But there are other options, aside from offering high salaries, for hiring the right candidates. Many firms accept that employees today expect more from their employers – and that a mix of better training, technology and hybrid working policies are key to attracting talent.

For example, Booking.com is set to open a new £100m office headquarters in Manchester before the end of the year, which will be home to approximately 1,000 employees. “As an employer, we know that to remain agile we have to be creative in attracting new talent,” says Austin Sheppard, vice-president of engineering for the trips business unit at Booking.com.

Without these key roles, organisations are too often trapped in using traditional waterfall delivery methods – preventing them from adapting to uncertainty

As such, the company isn’t relying on salary alone to attract the right people. It is diversifying its recruitment strategy to include graduate and apprenticeship programmes, as well as partnering with initiatives such as Tech Returners, which encourages those who have taken a career break to return to the industry.

“The employment landscape has changed significantly over the past two years, and it’s become more important than ever to think about creating a workplace that is attractive to potential employees,” says Sheppard.

Booking.com is even offering employee benefits such as a €1,000 (£875) accommodation allowance per year, €200 to spend on Booking.com services, enhanced maternity and paternity leave, free private healthcare, free life insurance and Booking Cares Days, when employees are encouraged to make a positive difference to local communities and causes. Employees also worked a four-day week over the summer, and the firm says it will continue exploring how more flexible working patterns can benefit employees and the business.

“People ultimately want to work somewhere with a positive culture, and an attractive office environment that complements homeworking is key to that,” says Sheppard.

Looking further afield for talent

Business agility and remote- or hybrid-working models certainly seem to be natural bedfellows, and this should give businesses a broader pool of candidates to pick from. Indeed, these days, employees can potentially be based anywhere for a wide range of roles.

“Around a quarter of digital leaders say that remote working has enabled them to start recruiting talent overseas,” says White. “This may save money in some cases – being able to recruit highly skilled talent at a lower rate – but the most important thing is that it enables them to secure the talent they need and fill the capability gaps that are holding them back.”

Nash Squared also advises organisations to look at doing more with the talent they already have. “Can you establish mechanisms for more effective collaboration, ideas generation and innovation? Are you incentivising your teams effectively enough to find new and better ways of achieving key objectives and goals?”

Ultimately, it is important to remember that IT-related changes do not bring agility on their own, says Bull. He suggests employers look outside traditional technical and data roles. They need to consider hiring agile coaches and business change specialists, as well as communications and culture experts.

“Not only does this combination play a key role in facilitating the true shift in business agility, but also in teaching senior leadership how to promote the required transformations internally and inspire employees to adapt to volatility,” he explains.

“Ultimately, building an enterprise change management capability is a long-term solution to achieving business-critical agility and, in turn, a sustainable advantage.”