HR 1 December 2016

How a small business can build a bridge over the digital skills gap

Research suggests that one in four small business vacancies are difficult to fill as a result of the digital skills gap

Writing for Business Advice, Paul Haydock, CEO of invoice finance platform DueCourse, considers how a forward-thinking approach to recruitment can help a small business owner access the best in tech talent.

Small business owners beware. The skills gap is widening with each passing year in the UK, and we need to be clever if we’re going to find a way to bridge it.

According to the Hays Global Skills Index, 2016 is the fifth year in a row that our digital skills base has taken a beating, with many university degrees offering neither the technical or vocational knowledge that businesses today want and need.

A good example is the field of computer science. Universities tend to review their computer science course syllabuses every four years, and a new syllabus takes two years to implement.

Considering how rapidly computer science is advancing and evolving, it’s not surprising that graduates are emerging from university fresh-faced and keen, but ultimately lacking in the skills a tech-based business needs from new recruits.

This situation presents a problem for businesses, particularly small companies and startups – and not just in the tech sector.

The skills gap across the board has worsened by eight per cent since 2011, and a survey of 9,000 UK companies has reported that one in four vacancies are proving difficult to fill as a result.

A fresh batch of eager grads may seem like a goldmine for businesses looking for new blood but, for most small firms, hiring them fresh out of university generally isn’t a viable option.

Any business owner who hires new graduates will have to invest a great deal of time and money into training them. At DueCourse, for example, we couldn’t possibly take our senior developers away from important projects to up-skill such a junior member staff, much as we’d like to be able to.

However, business owners can still get around this problem if they adopt a slightly more shrewd approach to recruitment.

What they need to do is forget about recruitment agencies and check out the competition itself. They need to take a closer look at other companies in their sector and find out who they are hiring, what their skills are and if they’d be a good fit for the business in terms of personality and outlook.

To do this, they need to look beyond the CV and scrap formal interviews, swapping them instead for informal, face-to-face chats and tours of the business. It’s more about them selling the company to the candidate rather than the other way around.

In our opinion this is the way forward for smart recruiting. They say that the very best people are already in a job, and are probably happy there. With this in mind, company decision makers need to put a little planning, time and strategy into sniffing out the right talent, and then working out how to tempt them over.

We recently managed to attract a former Apple engineer, Dylan Smith, all the way from London to our office in Manchester. He was already working his magic in his previous role when we approached him, and now we’re reaping the incredible benefits of the skills he’s brought up north with him.

Had we relied on standard recruitment practices, this may have been another story entirely. As we always say, resumes are bad for business, and they’ll prove themselves even more so as the skills gap widens.

Our hiring of Dylan is a perfect example of how small companies can build a firm and sturdy bridge over the skills gap; it’s all about being creative and finding a fresh solution.

In our opinion, this form of smart recruitment is the only way to combat these issues in the future.

Paul Haydock is co-founder and CEO of DueCourse.

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