Finding the Right People: Challenges and Solutions in the Digital Economy

To be competitive in the global economy, the use of effective digital technologies is essential. 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for digital skills and technologies, and innovative digital solutions allowed businesses to survive amidst one of the greatest socioeconomic disruptions in recent memory. 

To get the most out of digital technologies, you need the right people. Participation in the digital economy requires digitally-skilled workers – every sector needs digitally savvy employees. But owners and other decision-makers across sectors are struggling to find workers with the right digital know-how to succeed.

A recent KPMG survey of 505 small and medium sized owners and decision-makers showed that Canadian businesses are struggling to find talent with the digital skills necessary to compete in global markets. Of businesses surveyed, 79% said they need more workers with digital skills, however, around two thirds of respondents reported having trouble finding or hiring digital talent. The inability to attract or retain digitally-skilled talent was identified as the single greatest threat to growth prospects. 

Businesses are optimistic they can overcome this digital disruption, with 76% of companies in this survey viewing digital disruption as a business opportunity, rather than a threat. 

Firms are taking action. They’re hoping to fill the labour gap on their own through a combination of hiring and internal training – 69% of respondents indicated they plan to hire more staff over the next three years. As well, 24% of respondents indicated that cybersecurity is a top skill they need to hire, and 20% of participants reported that data analytics is a top skill they need to hire. The survey also showed that 89% of respondents indicated that they are investing in workforce skills and development, and 85% are increasing capital investment to buy new technology. These numbers are positive to see.

Atlantic Canada’s labour market is feeling the impact of the digital shift. A 2019 study by the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency (ACOA) found that the increasingly digital economy will lead to disruptions in the region’s labour market. Specifically, firms are concerned that workers lack the necessary skills to facilitate a digital transition. The future of work requires training to provide new skills to facilitate the adoption of digital technologies. Increased digital literacy is fundamental to the future of work. Increased digital literacy will not only benefit firms, but will also benefit equity-deserving groups in our economy. 

That is why Digital Nova Scotia (DNS) and its partners are addressing some of these challenges head on.

The Skills for Hire program, administered in partnership with Bluedrop Learning Networks (BLN) and generously funded by the Government of Canada, is working to fill the need for qualified entry-level talent in Nova Scotia (NS) and Newfoundland and Labrador (NFLD). In addition to Skills for Hire, our Get Into IT program provides digital and professional skills training at no cost to learners from underrepresented communities.

DNS has also launched an initiative to further improve leadership and management skills in the tech sector. In collaboration with our partners, the Future Leaders project is an online leadership competency app consisting of the 9 key competencies identified for building a career towards management and leadership in the digital-ICT sector. This digital competency tool will allow our industry to keep up with digital transformation and adoption by allowing for traditional HR processes to take place on-line. It will also provide a framework for competency development and evaluation as employees move into management roles in their organizations. 

There are several other initiatives that DNS administers with its partners, including the Next Level Skills Program, Tech Shy to Tech Savvy, regular webinars, and more that seek to equip Nova Scotians with the knowledge, training, skills and confidence they need to be successful in the digital space. 

KPMG’s Business Outlook Survey provided invaluable insights about the rising demand for digitally-skilled employees, and the need to invest in workforce training at all stages of professional life. As the industry association for Nova Scotia’s digital sector, DNS continues to provide direct support to address these issues through the provision of skills training programs, and advocacy. We take an active role in facilitating successful digital transformation in the regional economy. 

These are not insurmountable problems. With the right support for digital skills training, Nova Scotia’s digital transformation will provide a roadmap to future economic growth and prosperity for all. 

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Feature piece written by Digital Nova Scotia’s Noel Guscott, Labour Market Analyst