If you work in a HR or recruitment focused position for the digital industry, the chances are that you’re aware of the so-called talent shortage (also known as the talent crunch, and something that’s likely to incite phrases such as ‘where are all these bloody candidates?’). But is it really a thing?

Recent statistics indicate it could be.

50% of UK businesses have reported a problem with recruitment and 33% of those say it’s due to a lack of applicants. Also, 64% of businesses recorded a larger spend on recruitment activities in 2018 than ever before. Herein lies our first problem.

Post and Pray Recruitment

Digital has changed the way we work, the way we recruit and ultimately how teams are formed. With sites like Glassdoor, potential candidates have more insight into the internal dynamics of your company.

And as the next generation employee is seeking much more than just long-term security,  employers no longer hold all the cards. Therefore, posting a bland advert with a list of requirements is unlikely to yield results.

Today’s digital candidate is seeking job satisfaction and learning opportunities, so your adverts should detail how they’re going to add value and what’s in for them.

Digital Skills Gap

As well as the talent crunch, you may have also heard about the digital skills gap? It’s highly likely you have, as the two are intrinsically linked.

To put it simply, there is now more demand for skills than there are skilled workers, and 72% of large companies have reported a lack of digital and tech skills within their business.

Given the rate at which digital is accelerating, today’s experts are tomorrow’s dinosaurs. If there is no-one with the relevant skills to mentor and pass on the knowledge within your organisation, it’s going to extremely hard to develop talent without the help of external specialists. This could be a digital training provider that upskills your staff, or you could bridge the gap by hiring a talented freelancer.

Freelance Generation

While we’re on the subject of freelancers, the meteoric rise of the gig economy also plays its part in the perceived lack of talent. According to IPSE – the association for Independent Professionals and Self Employed – there has been a 36% increase in knowledge-based freelancers working in the digital and creative space since 2008.

The freelance revolution is showing no signs of slowing either. 87% of those currently in full-time employment are open to freelance or more flexible opportunities, and PwC estimate that 20% of the workforce will be comprised of freelancers within the next couple of years.

It’s highly plausible that this rise in freelancers is linked to the global financial crisis and subsequent recruitment freeze in the late 2000s – companies stopped hiring and so talented people decided to go it alone. More people followed and now 1.3m digitally skilled candidates are no longer in permanent employment.


Ongoing research from the Manpower Group potentially backs up the claim that the talent crunch is market-linked.

Their annual Talent Shortage Survey shows that when the ‘GFC’ hit in 2008, the number of employers experiencing difficulties with recruiting was at its lowest. The latest report shows that the figure now at its highest since they started recording the data.

With Brexit around the corner and an impending recession in 2020, the talent market is ripe for further skewing.

Looking to the future

As we look ahead to the next decade, it’s highly likely that both the skills gap and subsequent talent crunch will deepen. It’s possible that there will be people available, but they just won’t be digitally equipped.

In London alone, it’s predicted that there will be a deficit of 4.2m highly skilled digital workers by 2024. On a global scale, that figure could be over 85m workers by 2030 with unrealised revenue that equals the combined GDP of Germany and Japan.

What does this tell us?

Let’s recap:

  • Candidate requirements have changed and if you want to attract talented people, you need to do more than just posting adverts and hoping for the best.
  • There’s a digital skills gap that is likely to widen.
  • Even if you’re employing top people currently, there’s a chance they could leave and join the freelance generation.
  • Volatile markets can add further challenges in the future.

So how do you thrive?

Unfortunately. there are no real quick fixes here – it’s all about investment in people and culture, and creating an environment that allows your employees to grow and realise their career ambitions. To achieve this, HR leaders must be proactive in taking the conversation to the wider business.

Keeping your digital team up-to-date with the latest skills and technology is an important part of that. 92% of employees have said that having the right tools determines whether they’re satisfied at work. While it might seem like an enormous undertaking, the investment will be worth it in the long run – the Centre for Economics and Business Research have said that digitally upskilling people will be worth £15 in 2028 for every £1 invested now.

You can read more about how the Future of Work may impact your strategy for attracting and retaining talent by downloading our free report.