When was the last time you saw an article about a skills shortage? Probably not too long ago. Or if you work in the tech sector, probably rather recently.
A survey of global CEOs at the start of this year found that a lack of talent was their number one concern, ahead of worries over a global downturn, the difficulties of cashflow volatility and the need to find new business models because of disruptive technologies.
The issue of skills in the workplace is a perennial problem, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a pressing issue. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that it’s never been more crucial than it is now, for employers and employees alike.
However, it is also possible that many companies are focussing on the wrong skills shortage, with too many organisations overlooking the urgent need for soft skills.
Technology has redefined possibilities, whether you’re transferring money from your mobile phone or getting same-day delivery on an online purchase. That has led to rising customer expectations — if one company has an amazing platform or app, customers will start to regard it as the norm and demand the same from everyone else in the market. This has in turn fuelled a tech skills arms race, which the fintech sector — like many categories within the wider tech industry — is caught up in.
Consequently, there is growing demand for the kind of hard skills that can be taught in a traditional learning environment. For our sector, that most likely means skills such as coding and development, distributed computing, data mining, UX analysis and UI design and project management. If we want to ensure the best service delivery and the best customer experience, we need the best technical skills to support our apps, products and services.
It’s all in the mindset
With the emergence of blockchain, machine learning algorithms, the increasing importance of cybersecurity and so much more besides, having solid tech capabilities within your organisation has become table stakes – without a great tech team you simply can’t operate. But there’s very little genuine competitive advantage to be gained from only focusing on your technical prowess. The skills required to really stand out from the crowd – and drive real competitive differentiation – are the softer skills. I see these as an extension of people’s mindsets.
Children as young as five and six are now being trained to have a growth mindset at school, as teachers realise that how their young pupils feel about learning will have a huge impact on what they actually learn.
Similarly, your mindset can define your success when it comes to fintech. Personally, I believe you have to be adaptable and flexible, you have to have a love of learning, and you have to be able to work collaboratively with others. And most importantly, you have to be curious about the world around you and the work you are doing.
Combined with that curiosity there needs to be a willingness to challenge the status quo, and a determination to do so. We need people who understand what they’re being asked to do but who also want to know why they are being asked to do it.
These are the people who constantly question the established method of doing things, and who seek out new ways to improve conventional patterns of work. These are the people who can single out the most pressing problem in any situation and identify its root cause.
Being clear about ambiguity
People with core tech skills are used to thinking and working in a binary way. They look at whether something works or not, whether something is right or wrong. While that may be very important, it’s no longer enough.
For example, the international finance sector is one of the most highly regulated of all markets. And rightly so. Regulations help to build trust with customers, and they protect your systems from being used for malicious purposes. A regulated market is a healthy market.
In such a regulated environment, you could be mistaken for thinking that the boundaries are clear and that you’ll always know what action to take. But that is simply not the case. Instead, there are increasing grey areas. As new technologies emerge, the boundaries between industries and sectors start to converge and blur. Pre-existing regulations sometimes don’t deliver clarity in such situations – you’re no longer faced with a simple binary choice between A and B. it becomes your responsibility to interpret and analyse the situation then choose the most appropriate action by combining the available evidence with your interpretative skills.
These levels of ambiguity are increasingly present. The ability to navigate through to the right solution requires a more flexible mindset and an agile corporate approach.
These are the skills that can’t be taught in an academic setting, but which can be developed through corporate structures and fostered through company culture. How you define and establish the right culture for your organisation — especially during periods of change — is something I discuss here.
A shortage of tech skills is certainly a very real problem. But so is the other skills shortage – the ability to say curious and navigate ambiguities. I would suggest that it is the latter which will be the truly distinguishing factor for successful fintechs.
This article first appeared in Arabian Business.