How do you solve a problem like the skills gap? With data

The UK skills gap is a hot news topic, and will continue to take up many column inches and debating time in 2016.

Everyone from George Osborne and David Cameron to leaders in the health, retail and finance sectors is discussing the skills gap and its impact on the UK economy.

Skills shortages within workforces and the recruitment talent pool are partly to blame for holding back businesses – and ultimately the UK economy.

According to a British Chamber of Commerce survey, the rise of digital is also contributing to the shortfall; two-thirds of UK businesses believe technical knowledge is key when hiring, but a quarter of firms report digital skills shortages. The new digital world doesn’t only present challenges – it offers a solution.

Digital can help to remedy the skills shortage through its most valuable asset: data. Data is already being used to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from scientific research and weather predictions to anticipating our shopping needs and viewing preferences.

The power of data is also valuable in the management world, where it can form a powerful tool for ensuring the right skills are available within a business. We can’t tackle the skills shortage until we know where the gaps lie, and data can shine a light – on individuals, teams and the business as a whole.

The first stage to applying data to the skills gap is of course collecting it. There’s a range of technology applications or platforms available to businesses which can help in this regard.

Sales organisations have access to automated compensation solutions that can track different aspects of a salesperson’s performance in order to calculate their commission; this information also shows managers the aspects of the job where employees are performing well, and pinpoint where gaps might lie.

For example, the platform may identify an employee who is great at finding prospects, but struggles to convert them into sales. Their manager can work with the salesperson and develop a personalised training plan to address this.

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Beyond the individual, data can also give sales managers a view of their whole team to see where the relative skills gaps lie. This is particularly important given the growth of the 4G workforce, where teams are increasingly formed of members from multiple generations, with different skills, interests and training needs.

Upskilling is more nuanced than ever, and access to data can help managers to negotiate this tricky landscape while still treating team members as individuals.

Without data, management is done by gut – in the same way that Sunday League football managers use their instinct when coaching, while Premier League managers can rely on reams of data, from Opta statistics to TV replays and more.

Data provides managers with an evidence-based view of their team and support them in making tactical training decisions that get the most out of each employee.

The rise of data also allows businesses to not only look internally, but to benchmark themselves against others within their sector. For example, in the sales sector Xactly’s automated compensation platform has been in use and collecting data for ten years, so extensive data is already available about how companies in different markets assign commission.

In the short term, this can enable companies to ensure that they aren’t missing out on skilled workers as a result of the salaries they offer. However, in the longer term it may be possible for companies to benchmark the skills of their business as a whole, and make strategic decisions accordingly.

Data is an extremely valuable asset. In the sales world, where it is already being applied and assessed, the impact on businesses’ performances is clear; 76 per cent of companies who use sales performance management software from Xactly have grown faster than the GDP of their headquartered country.

Right now, UK plc is failing to take advantage of data and this is limiting both employee and economic development. By making data intelligence central to the talent pool, organisations can ensure that their workforces are fully enabled to drive the business, and the economy, to success.

Amid the skills gap problem, the top ten industries with the most demand for graduates – and the most popular degrees – have been revealed

Tom Castley is VP of SaaS provider Xactly EMEA

Image: Shutterstock

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