In future, we predict that the average businesses will require a significant proportion of their workforce to specialise in some form of technology, regardless of industry sector. That’s a lot of people for any HR department to recruit into the business, let alone retain.

The reality is, the demand for tech skills is increasing at an unprecedented rate as businesses catch on to the fact that in order to drive profits and stay ahead of the competition, they need to embrace new technologies.

Yet, recent research from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and digital skills charity Go ON UK has found that almost a third of small businesses in the UK currently lack basic digital skills. Whilst the real effects of this might not be felt yet, there is an urgency – regardless of business size – for those responsible for hiring or nurturing existing talent to future-proof their HR strategies now to prepare for what’s to come.

So how can HR professionals go about harnessing digital skills in their organisations?

Identify specific digital skills in demand

The first step is to identify the specific digital skills that are lacking in their organisation, as well as to be aware of the wider UK workforce trends, to ensure they are well resourced and can predict likely gaps in the future. For example, we are finding that cloud computing specialists are in particularly high demand in the UK. Our research shows a 12 percent increase in the number of Cloud contractor vacancies in the last 12 months. At the same time, Cloud salaries in London have grown more than those outside the city at a rate of approximately 6 percent, suggesting that skills shortages in the region are behind the hikes.

HR professionals need to be aware of specific roles that businesses across the country are struggling to fill so they can consider the likely impact on their own recruitment drive. SEO, PPC, optimisation and digital content roles, for example, are very difficult to fill because they are project-heavy and therefore come with a contract bias. In addition, designers such as UX designers, visual designers and UI designers are in high demand for permanent vacancies, but since these roles are also very contract-driven,  it may be worth focusing your recruitment efforts on the contractor market too if you’re looking to fill these types of roles. By being aware of the scarcity of such skills, HR professionals can plan ahead to meet their business’ requirements if they are likely to need these types of specialist expertise in the future.

Retrain or recruit?

Something that is becoming apparent is that people will need to continue developing their skills throughout their working lives if they are to keep pace with the fast-changing job market. HR professionals should bear in mind the ongoing training needs of their employees and identify current and future skills needs, so they can attract new talent where internal talent can’t fill the gaps.

Skills are becoming obsolete at a faster rate than ever so it is in the interests of every individual to retrain and learn new digital skills in the workplace. Retraining existing workers has been working well for many companies and in many ways has been the favoured approach; focusing recruitment on back-filling the roles performed by these employees previously. However, this requires proper planning, forecasting, time and investment. Given the pace of technological change, it’s actually quite hard for them to anticipate what their requirements might be in five years’ time. What we’re seeing now is that companies are struggling to keep up with their business requirements for technology specialists and are increasingly turning to contractors and product solutions companies to plug those gaps.

Get ahead of the curve

We’re seeing a trend for digitally skilled people to also require softer skills such as good communication skills and customer service experience to complement their specialist technical knowledge. It’s important for HR professionals to consider this as part of the skillset criteria when recruiting staff or retraining employees. There are also early indicators that we’re approaching a critical point in the shortage of cloud-ready employees, as pay increases for Cloud contractors are already outpacing the market average. Ultimately, as the shortage grows, companies will have to compete not just on pay, but also on benefits, working practices and reputation. Companies that do not adequately develop their employer brand risk falling behind technologically and losing competitive advantage.

Use big data to your organisation’s competitive advantage

Good specialist digital talent is out there, it’s just a question of finding it with the help of data-driven deep search specialists, and then working with your recruitment partner on talent retention and retraining strategies. Big data is changing the way everyone works.

For example, at Experis, we’re investing in tools and analytics to evaluate the data created by our 6,000+ professional contractors out on assignment and 3,000+ IT professionals that we place each year, enabling us to get both real-time and historic views of the forces shaping hiring decisions. We’re also using big data to monitor salary and pay rates, benchmark new roles for our clients, identify regional hotspots and look at seasonality of hires and sector trends so we can more easily predict hiring demand.

Recruitment companies and HR professionals that intelligently use big data will find themselves ahead of the curve, so it’s important for HR departments to not only advocate digital skills throughout their organisation but also to embrace it themselves. They should see it as an opportunity for ongoing development for all, using the latest research to reinforce the business benefits of either upskilling or bringing in the right talent to fill the gaps.

Make your organisation digital-focused

In order to attract the right skills and future-proof their workforce, HR professionals need to provide on-the-job training that allows employees to stay relevant, gain a thorough awareness of digital developments and fresh approaches to utilising them. They should also realise that getting the right skills is not always simply about finding the right people. In order to attract digital skilled talent, organisations must be digital focused themselves and demonstrate to candidates that they are a company that people want to come and work for. A cultural shift is needed among many companies to change the way their organisation works, how its physical environment is set up and the technology it uses. Otherwise, digitally skilled talent will leave much sooner than they otherwise would.