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The Digital Skills Gap, SMEs, & workforce planning

Small and Medium Enterprises are imperative to the Irish economy.  As much as 99% of our businesses are SMEs, and these organisations bring billions to our Exchequer every year. As Artificial Intelligence and Automation flourishes, the digital skills gap will become a key barrier for growth. Today we look at some practical solutions for SMEs to attract digital talent. 

The business community is embracing new technologies, and the demand for experienced digital staff is far outweighing supply. Companies who seek developers with three or more years’ experience are meeting fierce competition.

A heightened sense of the digital skills gap

Many experienced developers are attracted to the larger global tech giants who can offer higher salaries and special benefits like health insurance, travel subsidies, canteens, pool tables, ping pong, and fluffy bean bags. SMEs find it difficult to compete with these perks and costs. As a result, smaller businesses have a heightened sense of the digital skills gap.

Why do we need developers?

Automation and Artificial Intelligence are saving billions for the SME sector, and repetitive manual roles are now getting automated, especially in sectors like agriculture, retail, transport, hospitality, and manufacturing. This technology helps companies to grow, offer better services, and ultimately drive profits. SMEs need developers to drive their technological futures, to allow them to keep pace and enhance productivity. 

Small and Medium Enterprises seek the same staff that is in most demand in every industry. They need talent that can fill roles in cybersecurity, data architecture, data engineering, web management, analytics, and Internet of Things. However, if this talent is lured to larger global players, what can SMEs do?

What are the solutions?

There are solutions. Let larger companies, with bigger budgets, haggle over the limited pool of developers who have more experience. It’s time for SMEs to realise the benefits that can come from junior developers. 

Junior software developers can be hugely advantageous to SMEs for numerous reasons. To begin with, they are fresh, and their practical training means that they are industry-ready and career-focused. Vocational training ensures that they learn by doing, and they bring a right mix of primary, creative and advanced skills. The best training providers will ensure that junior developers create a portfolio of industry-standard projects that quickly highlights to SMEs the quality of the developer’s work and abilities. 

Whether it’s utilising or linking to APIs, creating prototypes, building websites, or connecting your company to latest trends, these developers will have been trained in many of the necessary languages to help your business excel. Another significant advantage is the fact that junior developers prove to be less expensive on the budget of an SME. 

There is a growing number of junior developers with a portfolio of industry-quality projects entering the Irish market, and while we are not at the point of parity in demand versus supply, the situation here is improving. Many junior developers recognise the SME sector as a good place for them to cut their professional teeth. Of course, SMEs do not want to hire a junior only to have them move elsewhere as a senior, so a good first step for businesses is to examine their hiring and retention policies.

Attracting Digital Talent

Organisations must audit their current workforce to understand both existing and deficit skills. Through this, new skills like leadership, creativity and empathy may be identified within the existing staff, and these can be built on through training and upskilling in technology.

Once the digital skills gap has been identified, hiring managers, or human resource departments can establish partnerships with vocational education providers that can deliver a continuous pipeline of new talent. 

Hiring managers must be willing to focus on industry-ready staff as opposed to relying on often unattainable talent with more experience on paper – this is very time-consuming and expensive for any business and can result in a loss in potential revenues. 

To catch the eye of any developer, SMEs must show an attractive employee value proposition. They must examine why a new developer would want to work for them. Is there training available to keep developers up-to-date on the latest trends? Is the workspace adequate, are there enough screens, is there space for developers to collaborate? The workplace must be attractive. 

Developing Digital Talent

With an audit completed on the existing workforce, SMEs should now look to creating a digital talent strategy that focuses strongly on upskilling current staff in IT-related fields. These are talented and loyal people who already understand your business better than most. Having them upskilled in technology means that they can incorporate their existing skills with technology, which is essential for future growth. 

Retaining Digital Talent

Retention of staff is and should be, top of the list for SMEs. When it comes to developers, no company wants to hire someone just to “cut their teeth” and move on. This is why the employee value proposition is so important. 

At the outset, a clear career progression path must be laid out to employees. They want to know what their future could look like if they are successful in a role. 

Education and upskilling should become a key attraction for your business. Organisations who promote in-job training have shown greater abilities in retaining staff. This also ensures SMEs that their team will be skilled in emerging trends.  A clear development path should be offered to new talent that will bring them from junior developers to senior developers within three to five years. 

Many companies now provide flexible working conditions for employees. Whether it’s allowing staff to work remotely or allowing freedom for trial and error with technologies, these can make the workspace more enticing for people to stay. 

What can Code Institute offer?

Code Institute is a digital talent accelerator. We help companies prepare their workforce for the future by creating and managing digital skills-based training programs in software development. Our graduates are fluent in the most up-to-date languages including Python. Their hands-on experience and portfolios make them industry-ready. 

Image shows man holding a tablet. Image highlights how junior developers can help close the digital skills gap

Our programmes also reskill existing employees whose roles require a comprehensive introduction to front and back end development. Code Institute provides 600 hours of instruction. Our online course offers flexibility, so employees can study when it suits them.

Code Institute enables businesses to de-risk the hiring process by delivering a stream of job-ready digital talent. We work with SMEs to identify skills gaps and configure training solutions that meet business needs. Our online proprietary platform enables us to match student skills with employers’ needs. Above all, our aim is to close the digital skills gap. Finally, complete the form below to get in touch with our partner team.