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I purposely wanted to wait at least 24 hours before writing anything about Chinwag’s interesting panel discussion on the skills shortage in the digital sector so I could let everything that happened settle in.  According to the survey that Chinwag themselves carried out, a large majority of companies in digital are worried that the lack of talented people (at mid-level in particular) will damage growth in 2008.  One of the outcomes of the discussion however, was that said majority cannot agree on what what the best course of action is to tackle this.

One interesting point raised was that how digital does a terrible job branding itself as an industry, and therefore is behind the game in comparison with more traditional sectors with regard to facts such visibility and potential career paths when trying to attact bright young talent.  It truly is something worth addressing, especially when you consider that digital is arguably one of the “sexiest” industries out there and the level of talent attracted to it should reflect that.  But who out there can get the ball rolling on this and make a difference?

The other main question that emerged was where can we look to find this talent to fill these gaps?  My gut instinct to recruit from abroad brings perhaps a multicultural individual with global experience, but also the pitfalls of cost and lack of local knowledge.  It can be argued that we should be more open to considering talent from other sectors with transferable skill sets, but many digital companies may be unwilling to train up someone when they could headhunt someone who already knows the business from within digital.  Perhaps there needs to be a structural change at an academic level so that students are equipped with the skills to start work immediately when they graduate, but I feel it also can be argued that the whole point of higher education is to broaden the mind and inform as opposed to running a glorified company training course.

 This gap between third level education and work is a tricky one in the west, as graduates are expected to be able to hit the ground running straight away.  In Japan, major corporations assume that graduates aren’t capable of doing anything professionally and begin them on rigorous training courses as soon as they join.  The best way to solve this skills shortage may be to plug this gap between graduation and the commencement of work through some sort of industry-led practical skills training course or a Japanese-style induction and training scheme.  This would give young talent an idea of what is expected of them and what their career options are in the digital sphere.

This topic is set to run and run, and I hope that Chinwag runs a follow-up discussion later on in the year that will perhaps be slightly more solutions focussed.  Keep an eye on the Chinwag Live Podcasts – it should be up soon so download it, listen and form your own opinions!