The rise of data science has already reshaped the skills IT organizations covet and the talent they are cultivating. Now, the next wave of digital change has the power to reshape the talent needs of today’s IT organizations.

Digital Waves: Past & Present

The digital era has been an unquenchable age for IT talent acquisition. This year alone, the tech and professional services category of unemployment, measured by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, has hovered around 2.5% each quarter. The question for talent recruiters and providers will be whether the coming digital wave of innovation will pluck talent from this already miniscule pool. Will this coming wave require talent from other sectors and skill groups? Or, the development of a whole new category of talent? Looking back at the previous two digital waves is one way to look ahead.

Data collection. In the early days of the Harvey Nash CIO Survey, which launched at the beginning of the new millennium, we saw soaring demand for database management. As the rise of applications created new and numerous ways to collect customer and business data, the need for experts in gathering, storing and managing data across a growing universe of software and systems grew. Staffing and recruiting firms will recall the powerful demand for database administrators both in house and as businesses began to outsource database management as the amount and complexity of business data grew.

Big data. By 2013, all that digital data had a name: big data. Businesses, swimming in data, needed experts to help them understand it. In the 2013 Harvey Nash CIO Survey, “big data” was first identified as part of the IT skill shortage by CIOs and IT business leaders. In subsequent years, data analysts and data scientists — the experts who can analyze and interpret large and/or complex data sets — have become sought-after IT professionals as businesses look to make sense of their growing big data and identify opportunities within it. These professionals continue to be in high demand, but a third digital wave is coming and a new skill need is surging alongside it.

AI and machine learning. We are now riding the third digital wave of AI: machine learning and robotics. Onethird of CIOs are already investing or planning to invest in robotics and automation. While big data and analytics is today’s most sought-after tech skill, groundbreaking advances in deep neural networking and machine learning are pushing analytics in a new direction. Businesses are beginning to look at using AI to identify trends and opportunities in today’s ever-growing reams of internal and external digital data. This rapid automation of business analytics and intelligence presents new tech talent demands. That means businesses and IT organizations are seeking out specialists in AI, which is as much a math and research field as it is a technology field. For tech recruiters and talent firms, it’s a new frontier of recruiting where the tech talent is as scarce as ever.


How should the IT and talent industries approach the latest recruitment challenge from technology’s vast ocean of innovation and disruption?

  • With creativity. Universities and research institutions will need to become new destinations for talent recruitment and cultivation.
  • Without borders. To find specialists with deep neutral network and other expertise needed for AI innovation, businesses will need to consider looking beyond local, regional and even national borders.
  • With investment. While sought-after skills are always pricey, AI experts are likely to be the priciest skills the tech industry has yet encountered. This next digital wave is only the latest, but it’s one to brace for. The skill shortage and demands are like nothing we have seen before.