Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity is the bridge on which we can cross the skills gap

Indonesian students learn digital skills at a government-run training centre.

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

Howard Elias
President, Services and Digital, Dell Technologies
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Over half of business leaders say the skills shortage is hampering digital transformation.
  • Businesses must widen the talent search to untapped demographics.
  • Technology can facilitate this search.

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 labour 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.

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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.

2030: Global technology, media, and telecommunications talent deficit by economy Image: KornFerry
A bigger skills pond

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.

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% 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%.

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.

Check your bias

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. Some organizations are finding new and interesting ways to tackle this issue head on. For instance, CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion provides the Check Your Blind Spots mobile tour, which uses a series of immersive and interactive elements to teach people how to mitigate unconscious bias in their everyday lives. Equal Reality uses virtual reality to literally help people see and experience life from the point of view of someone of a different gender, race or ability level.

The potential of emerging technologies to help remove bias from the workplace is promising. A recent study reports that 69% 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.

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.


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Reskilling today’s talent

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.

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.

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Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionForum InstitutionalJobs and the Future of WorkEducation and Skills
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