The Talent Gap: Building a Bridge to the Other Side

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Ask business leaders today the biggest business risk in the future and they will likely say hiring and retaining a skilled workforce. We are certainly feeling it in the technology industry. The worldwide labor skills shortage is predicted to reach 4.3 million workers and roughly $450 billion in unrealized output by 2030 – and that’s in the technology, media and telecommunications sector alone.

But in reality, the technology skills shortage is an issue that spans industries as companies everywhere digitally transform to prepare for a data-driven future. Many are already feeling the effects. In one study, more than half of the business leaders surveyed reported that the talent gap is not only hampering their digital transformation agendas but causing them to lose competitive advantage because of it.

It’s an urgent business challenge that is getting more urgent every day. And it requires a new way of thinking about finding, keeping and evolving talent for the workforce of the future.

Figure 1: 2030 – Global technology, media, and telecommunications talent deficit by economy. Source: KornFerry

Recruiting Talent for the Future

Business leaders need to identify new sources of talent fast. Most companies, especially those in the technology industry, have been fishing from the same small pond for talent. It’s time to dive into the sea of talent traditionally underrepresented in tech, such as women, minorities and other groups who have largely been excluded from the industry to-date.

At Dell, we recently launched a hiring program for people with autism. We changed the recruitment experience for this talent pool – foregoing the traditional interview process, which can be overwhelming for some autistic candidates. Instead we brought them in for a two-week assessment, followed by a 12-week internship with job coaching for selected candidates. It’s one example of how we are thinking creatively about expanding our talent pool and opening doors to opportunity for all.

Figure 2: Businesses must look to untapped pools of talent to address the shortage in digital skills. Source: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Diversifying teams does more than solve a shortage of workers, it also makes good business sense. A recent study by McKinsey discovered companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. And when they looked at the benefits of ethnic diversity, it jumps to 33 percent.

On the contrary, research by MIT shows racially homogeneous groups are less rigorous in their decision-making and make more mistakes than diverse groups. And in business, mistakes cost you.

Retaining Talent for the Future

It is not enough to get diverse workers in the door. Once they are there, companies need to make them feel as though they belong and are free to bring their authentic, best selves to work.

Standing in the way of a truly inclusive workplace is the fundamental issue of human bias. We all have conscious and unconscious biases that affect how we view the world and interact with others around us.

At Dell, we’re tackling this issue head on with an innovative diversity training program developed by Catalyst called Many Advocating Real Change. We’ve made the training mandatory for all people leaders in the company and will soon roll it out to our global team. It’s early days but we are making this big investment to foster and fast track a culture of inclusion at Dell.

Figure 3: Realizing 2030: Future of Work, Dell Technologies.

Interestingly, emerging technologies have a role to play when it comes to removing bias from the workplace. A recent study reports that 69 percent of worldwide business leaders expect to use new technologies to take human bias out of the hiring process. For example, applying artificial intelligence to screen resumes can remove cues that may unfairly influence the process—like a non-traditional name or where the applicant is based—or it can flag biases in job descriptions that are written to subtly favor one gender over the other. The possibilities are exciting.

Another effective way to create an inclusive corporate culture is through employee resource groups. We have 13 unique ERGs at Dell. They are a great way for team members with common interests or backgrounds to come together to build a sense of community, while driving innovation and creating business and career opportunities.

An inclusive environment is a place where people want to work, feel connected and can see themselves in the values and culture of the company. According to the Society of Human Resources Management, when diverse employees flourish, the whole company benefits from their ideas, skills and engagement and, importantly, the retention rate of those workers rises.

Reskilling Today’s Talent for the Future

As we prepare for the future, it’s imperative we bring our current workforce along with us. Effective reskilling programs are a must – and in high demand by anxious workers. A recent study found that 38% of employees believe their skill set is redundant now, or will be in the next four to five years.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that many reskilling efforts fail because companies don’t know how to reskill employees or what skills are even needed. And by the time they figure it out, it’s too late. This area needs more attention by today’s business leaders. It is something we think about and work to address every day for both our customers and our own team through our Education Services capabilities.

These are just some of the ways we collectively need to think about how to build a bridge to the other side of the widening skills gap. The good news is there is no shortage of capable people to fill the talent needs of the future. But it will require businesses, governments and academia working together with a sense of urgency to open doors of opportunity to current and future talent around the world.

What are you and your organization doing to mitigate the impending skill gap?

Article originally published as part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, January 16, 2020.

About the Author: Howard Elias

Howard Elias is president of Services and Digital at Dell Technologies, overseeing global support, deployment, consulting, education and managed services, the IT organization and Virtustream. He also co-leads Dell Technologies Select, an elite sales team focused on serving some of Dell Technologies’ largest customers. Howard is responsible for setting and driving strategy to enable and accelerate the mission-critical business transformations of customers and Dell’s own global operations. Previously, he held various leadership positions at EMC, including president and chief operating officer of Global Enterprise Services. In 2016, he was tapped to be EMC’s lead for the Dell and EMC integration, overseeing the value creation and combination of the largest technology merger in history. Howard joined EMC in 2003 from Hewlett-Packard where he was senior vice president of Business Management and Operations for the Enterprise Systems Group. Prior to Hewlett-Packard, he held executive positions at Compaq, Digital, AST Research and Tandy Corporation. Howard was a co-founder and served on the board of managers for the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) Company. He currently serves as chairman of TEGNA Inc., a media and digital business company, and is a member of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. He attended Wayne State University and Lawrence Technological University.
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