In new research conducted by Econsultancy, one of the key barriers to growth was identified as finding staff with suitable digital skills.
For the Digital Marketing: Organisational Structures and Resourcing report, we also asked participants in the survey about the specific skill areas that they perceived to be the most difficult to recruit for.
Web analytics and data topped the list, followed by social media, and content marketing, indicating that there is already a potential skills shortage in these areas.
When respondents were asked which digital marketing disciplines they anticipated would be the key areas of growth in the coming year, the top answers were social media, content marketing, and web analytics and data.
The fact that those areas of predicted growth in resourcing were the same as those that are already listed as being the most difficult to recruit for means one thing: a looming talent time bomb.
Big data and the talent crisis
In May this year McKinsey released a report (Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity) that brought sharp focus to this talent crisis in one key area: data.
The exponential growth in data it said, driven by a growth in data-rich and real-time environments such as social and mobile, embedded internet (the so-called 'internet of things') and the increasing focus on analytics and owned media, will mean that the capability of analysing large data sets will become “a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus”.
The report concluded that there will be an inevitable global shortage of talent necessary for organisations to take advantage of this opportunity.
In the US alone, by 2018 it predicted a potential shortage of "140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5m managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions”.
Web design skills shortage
The Econsultancy research indicates that big data, whilst critical, is just one of a number of areas which are likely to witness looming talent shortages in the coming months and years.
Not far further down the list of areas that are challenging for companies to recruit for came web design and build. This was also notable in being identified as the most challenging area in which to retain staff.
And this doesn't look like a problem that is going away anytime soon. A campaign to boost the teaching of computer skills and coding is gathering momentum, supported by large technology companies including Google and Microsoft.
In addition, a report for the UK Government earlier this year (called Next Gen) argues for an urgent curriculum re-focus in the subject if the UK stood a chance of remaining globally competitive in high tech and computing based industries such as video gaming and visual effects.
Despite the contemporary relevance of the subject, the numbers of students that applied to UCAS to study computing at University fell from 16,500 in 2003 to just 13,600 last year, and the proportion of students looking to study computer science fell from 5% of overall applications to just 3%.
Moreover, the fall in applicants is doing nothing to help counter-act the enormous gender imbalance in the subject with the proportion of male applicants now standing at 87%.
But the problem goes back further than this - into schools. Over the last five years, there's been a 57% fall in the number of pupils taking ICT (Information and Communications) GCSE, and the number of students sitting computing A-level has fallen for eight successive years.
In his MacTaggart lecture given at the Edinburgh TV festival back in August, Eric Schmidt argued that the country that invented the computer was “throwing away our great computer heritage” by failing to teach programming in schools.
According to Schmidt: "Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made." There is even a well-supported government e-petition that has been started in order to encourage the government to start teaching coding as a part of the curriculum in Year 5.
There is much to do, but given the wide and growing requirement for these skills it makes sense for organisations from many different sectors to support initiatives such as this.
As businesses increasingly adopt strategies that require depth of expertise in these increasingly in-demand areas, it also makes sense for them to take action to protect themselves from the inevitable challenges this will bring.
This includes creating working environments that will attract the best digital talent, and through effective career and succession planning. The ticking digital marketing talent time bomb is very real, and it's not going away.