4 Keys to Bridging the Digital Talent Gap at C-Level


By James Rudman. In this era of continual technological advances, one of the top challenges facing Life Science, biotech, and many industries is an ever-growing digital talent gap. In fact, the present global talent shortage has those in the know describing the situation as a top barrier and an emerging risk.

As noted by the Everest Group, “An IT talent shortage already beleaguers 69% of enterprises, and the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession will exacerbate the problem. Everest notes that 75% of enterprises believe there will be a talent shortage for key roles in IT, analytics, and special skills areas post-COVID-19.”

While the current recession has resulted in an abundance of talent in some life science divisions, that has not been the case regarding the technology factor. More than 60% of enterprises foresee additional gaps emerging due to the business world’s structural changes in response to the pandemic.

Aspects experiencing high levels of skill shortages, as reported by Analytics Insights, include—

  • Artificial Intelligence – 66%
  • Cyber Security – 64%
  • Internet of Things – 62%
  • AR / VR – 61%
  • Robotics – 60%
  • Big Data – 58%

Findings from the Korn Ferry Institute sound a concerning alarm with an estimate that by 2030 the shortage will result in a worldwide deficit of 4.3 million tech-skilled workers.

Now, the situation has slipped into the C-suite, where the gap presents a growing challenge to keep up with automation, AI, and other technology-driven changes to the workplace. More and more, it appears that C-suite executives could benefit from an educational boost in terms of digital transformation.

“Executives around the world are out of touch with what it will take to win, and to lead, in the digital economy,” according to Douglas Ready and his co-authors, in the 2020 Future of Leadership Global Executive Study and Research Report. “Digitalization, upstart competitors, the need for breakneck speed and agility, and an increasingly diverse and demanding workforce require more from leaders than what most can offer.”

Surveys suggest that while folks understand the need for executives to be on top of the digital realities of both today and tomorrow, those same people doubt most in leadership have that needed level of savviness. Many feel there is a lack of understanding concerning all that IT involves. Others question if their leadership has what it takes to continue to move the company forward in the future.

Steps toward bridging the digital talent gap include—

1.  Conducting a skills gap analysis

What digital talents are missing across your workforce? What skills require enhancing within the C-suite?

A habit, that can morph into a vicious cycle, of “making do” tends to camouflage gap areas. That is why an in-depth analysis is needed to lay bare the reality of the skills shortage. A “getting by” approach will not net long-term success.

Once missing digital talents have been pinpointed, a clear plan-of-action can be established, complete with detailed descriptions of the needed skills and proficiency levels. These skills can be added to the various requirements for C-Suite positions.

2.  Understand your emerging and future talent requirements and where these skills are located.

“Developing capabilities for leaders and existing employees is essential for the longer-term success of the digital transformation,” says CBRE. “For instance, in their ambition to become a medical and data science company, Novartis has already started investing to ensure leaders and employees are ‘curious’ and ‘comfortable with digital and data,’ including digital immersion programs to embed new ways of working at the most senior level.” Life science and pharma must create a workplace that aligns with an agile culture.

3.  Understanding the “adapt to survive, evolve to succeed” principle

“Successful digital leaders do more than simply upgrade their technology assets, or swap in modern solutions,” says Joe McKendrick. “It requires rethinking how the business will evolve, enabled, but at the same time, decoupled from new technology tools.”

 CBRE suggests creating digital innovation hubs. Selectively introduce new property formats designed to nurture start-ups and fast-growing innovators. “For instance, J&J (JLabs), Novartis (Biomes), and Leo Pharma Innovation Labs have created separate incubator/start-ups to drive scientific and digital innovation. Designed to feel more agile and entrepreneurial, they are purposely situated in geographical locations with rich pipelines of scientific and digital talent.”

The bottom line is clear: depending on yesterday’s tech to push toward success in the future will bring about less than optimal results.

4.  Swimming in all talent pools

It is time to think beyond the standard retained search approach that worked so well in the past. Give attention to people groups outside of those considered traditional talent pools. Think diverse backgrounds, young people, minority groups. Don’t miss out on an untapped, high-potential pool of talent.

5.  Effectively utilizing talent

Another avenue for attacking the tech talent shortage is to optimize the existing workforce.  Look for opportunities where additional training can enhance existing skillsets. It takes time but enriching the skills of your current talent pays off.

As CBRE points out, Digital technologies can transform businesses across all industry sectors, but life sciences companies must take bolder moves in taking advantage of their capabilities. It is now starting to change with biopharma companies such as Novartis, Pfizer, GSK, and Merck & Co, all hiring high-profile Chief Digital Offers (CDOs) from more digitally mature industries to spearhead their digital ambitions. It is encouraging given the multitude of benefits digital technologies can bring to this sector: faster drug discovery and development, improved operational efficiency and productivity, more personalized patient experiences, and better engagement with key healthcare stakeholders.  

Have an urgent need for a qualified, digitally-capable C-suite candidate? Contact Ashton Tweed today to see how we can help!





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