Digital skills fall short

Australia is facing a major digital skills-shortage.

A new study suggests Australian employers are under-investing in the skills development of current employees, as well as struggling to find new digital talent. With the growing importance of digital in today’s business landscape, a lag in digital expertise in Australia is a major concern – one that has the potential to hinder the ability for growth and innovation.

First alert of a digital skills shortfall, highlighted in Quizzed About Digital on The Slade Report, came when we reported the findings of a US survey of 750 Fortune 500 and ad agency execs, The State of Digital Marketing Talent conducted by The Online Marketing Institute. The US report found that when asked about the expertise in their digital teams, company executives revealed that only 8% were strong across all digital areas.

Commissioned in response to the US study, The Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey, undertaken by Sweeney Research for the Slade Group Digital Practice and NET:101, was conducted across 150 small to large Australian businesses from a range of sectors.

We know the need for digital talent in Australia is widespread. Now it’s revealed that Australian companies find it difficult to identify and develop talent because of both subjectivity in the hiring process and the lack of on-going training and development.

So how did we compare with the US? Amongst brands and agencies alike, there appears to be insufficient focus on grooming talent, training and formally assessing skills. In the US study 75% of companies relied on referrals from their peers to meet their hiring needs. Comparatively, in Australia only 66% of respondents relied on employee referrals. Considering formal assessment during the recruitment process, just 10% of US respondents used some form of testing to measure employee’s skills or knowledge, compared to Australia’s marginally improved 12%.

The study also reveals leading companies digitise more business practices and processes. Therefore, opportunities for investment in digital specific skill-based assessment and training represent a significant opportunity for external providers to provide high-level education to the workforce.

Other key survey findings were:

  • A quarter of the businesses surveyed found it difficult to source digital employees because they thought not enough talent was available (25%); they could not compete with high salaries offered elsewhere (22%); or they lacked the funds and specialist recruitment expertise to source the right candidate (18%).
  • Just over 30% of respondents had brought in digital staff from overseas and would do so again, despite higher costs associated with sponsorship and relocation. Another 26% would consider it.
  • Over half (56%) of businesses surveyed anticipated hiring more digital specialists over the coming 12 months.
  • Whilst over two thirds of respondents said it was critical that new employees were able to demonstrate digital expertise, only 12% conducted internal or external testing during recruiting.
  • Only 9% thought recent university graduates were equipped to undertake digital role requirements.
  • 80% of managers described staff as being weak in some or several areas of digital expertise; 70% thought a digital skills gap was taking a moderate or heavy toll on their business.
  • Mobile devices took over PCs for the first time in 20141, but only 9% of organisations believed they were ahead of the competition in mobile/SMS marketing today.
  • 98% of respondents thought it was important to continually train their digital staff, yet over 60% relied on employee feedback and ‘observation’ to identify areas requiring development.
  • Respondents believed that 40% of senior managers in their organisations had ‘only a moderate understanding of the importance of digital skills’ while 20% had ‘little understanding’ at all.

The majority of comments that emerged from the survey focused on the urgent need for increased staff training, however the skills gap is magnified by the inability of businesses to source the talent they need from the talent pool. Alarmingly, very few in industry currently use digital skills assessments as part of the recruitment process and on-going training, leading to the downward spiral of digital skills.

High competition for good digital professionals has seen 22% of respondents indicate that they unable to compete with the cash incentives of larger companies – they’re missing out on talent as a result. A quarter (25%) believe there is not enough experience and skill in the market, and 18% feel they are not equipped with the expertise to find the right candidate. Australian organisations should heed these figures; there is an opportunity for talent finders.

If you would like to receive a copy of the full survey report, please contact Slade Executive Recruitment on (03) 9235 5100.

Elizabeth Ebeli

Elizabeth Ebeli has a strong footprint within the digital media sector and is regularly engaged at all levels in identifying and connecting the best digital, marketing and communications talent. As Practice Manager of Digital Media, Elizabeth is actively working with innovative and progressive digital media companies, agencies, internal digital departments, designers and publishers in Australia and globally.

Elizabeth Ebeli
Practice Manager, Digital
Slade Executive Recruitment
Level 7, 15 William Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: +61 3 9235 5100
eebeli@sladegroup.com.au
sladegroup.com.au

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