The Widening Gap: Meeting the Demand for Digital Skills

In an already tight labor market, employers are requiring candidates to have skills that go beyond the traditional requirements of ability to work in a team, problem-solving, organization, and communication. Couple that with a universal shift to digital-first interactions such as remote work, online commerce, and virtual collaboration, and organizations now face unique challenges never before seen.  

While this change has produced many benefits, including greater flexibility for workers, and removing geography as a barrier to hiring new talent, it has also resulted in the widening of an already-large skills gap – one that leans more heavily on digital-centric expertise.  

As organizations search for qualified individuals, these are the top skills in demand over the next 10 years as reported by Forbes: 

  • Digital literacy. The ability to use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information, from basic online searching and emailing to specialist programming and development. 
  • Data literacy. The capacity to access appropriate data, extract meaning from data, and communicate data-based insights to others. 
  • Critical thinking. The proficiency to analyze issues and situations based on evidence rather than hearsay, personal opinions, or biases. 

Today’s goals are not just to accumulate knowledge and then lean on a couple of interpersonal skills. That ship has sailed due to information and the very software and app systems used becoming outdated quickly. Gartner reports that the half-life of skills—the time it takes for a skill to lose half of its initial value—has dropped to less than five years. 

Salesforce research indicates a low supply and high demand for digital skills, and the gap continues to widen due to factors such as:  

  • Tech talent is outpacing an already short supply (in fact, 54% of American workers believe technology will advance faster than workforce skills)  
  • Emerging technologies amplifying the need for digital skills 
  • High costs and disorganized approaches to traditional education is increasing the barriers to learning 
  • Access to digital infrastructure and skills is hindered due to socio-economic status  

nextSource insights

  • Anticipate highly desired skills—many of which are associated with fast-changing digital technologies—and then continuously build and assess those skills quickly, at scale, and across the organization. 
  • Cast a wider, more creative net in talent identification and attraction by focusing on essential transferable skills rather than traditional credentials. This includes identifying candidates who may be “nearly ready” or “close in skills.” Some ways to rethink inclusion in reaching candidates may include:  
    • Looking at moms reentering the workforce, neurodiverse, higher ed dropouts, recent retirees, formerly incarcerated, caregivers, discouraged workers, and others. 
    • Reviewing and revising, as needed, candidate skills assessment tools (including learning skills, as well as job-specific). 
    • Focusing on micro-degrees (intensively focused online degrees) which has the ability to propel people within industries where they already work or open a door for people looking for a career change. 
  • Consider Direct Sourcing: Gartner estimates that focusing on expanding sourcing criteria, such as redefining hiring requirements or searching for nonobvious candidates, can increase the average number of qualified leads generated by up to 72% more than on expanding the number of staffing suppliers. 
  • Develop a “re-entry, recapture” strategy targeting latent talent in sectors and geographies. Too much talent is self-sidelined. Organizations also need to look past the surface-level skills. The following can help resolve some of those issues:  
    • Use aggregators (platforms, LinkedIn groups, associations, etc.) to identify individuals most likely to return. 
    • Build digital relationships. 
    • Address reasons for departure and motivation to return. 
    • Offer information and assistance to overcome reentry barriers.