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.