Oliver Capel: 'Qualifications aren't always important'

A recent research paper from the not-for-profit IT provider Eduserv highlighted the lack of digital progress within the voluntary sector. David Hobbs speaks to Oliver Capel, digital campaign manager at Eduserv, about the digital skills gap

Oliver Capel
Oliver Capel

How are charities tackling the challenge of digital in their recruitment?

The short answer to that is they're not: our research paper Business Transformation and the Role of Heads of Digital really points to that. There is a general awareness that skills and knowledge are going to be the top two factors for delivering successful change. Although 71 per cent of those we interviewed (300 sector leaders) said everyone in the future needed to be digitally literate, 88 per cent had not put digital in the job description at all and 95 per cent had no HR strategy for improving digital capability.

Why do you think that is?

I think they're behind the curve. There's been other research: Lloyds Bank did some last year on charities having the lowest industry sector score for digital maturity. Charities tend to follow each other in terms of what they're doing – until one makes a move, the others sit back and wait. For smaller charities it probably is a resource issue because they don't really have digital departments.

Where are the skills gaps?

Our research suggests the main lack is in leadership skills. If digital transformation is about people and culture change, charities need to be more people-based. For example, charities should be recruiting on the basis of behaviour and attitude, not qualifications.

It is old-fashioned to define skills that surround particular technologies. You need to recruit staff who have people skills, who look at different ways of working and have the ability to think about how a process could be improved. You don't necessarily need to look specifically for people who can do search-engine optimisation or social media, because these things evolve fast.

Our research show that less than a third of digital leaders think they are the right people to drive change across an organisation. The heads of digital think they are the wrong people to be doing it and it should be driven from the top. I agree with that to some extent, but our research also suggests that trustees do not have the same digital expertise. There's a bit of a Catch-22: if a head of digital doesn't think they're the person to drive change, but also that the board does not understand what's required, who should be driving that change? The responsibility for driving change should lie with digital.

Is digital still a minor part of charities' overall strategies?

I think they're gradually realising that using digital technology is now a board- level issue, and organisational and digital strategies are merging into one. There is a slow realisation that responsibility needs to lie at a more senior level. I think this will lead to other roles, such as chief digital officer or chief transformation officer – I've even heard of chief disruption officer.

That is simply because charities are becoming more aware of it and the head of digital role is not having the impact, is not senior enough and is not able to drive that change.

Is HR leading this to any great extent?

HR is not at the table, and it should be. Going back to the statistics, 95 per cent of charities have no strategy for improving digital capability, even though they understand that it's going to be one of the big success factors in future. HR departments start transformation by attracting the right talent, and the good HR departments realise that their role includes providing support and role models and being able to see things differently. They definitely need to be more involved, but our research suggests that they aren't at all.


87% of charities have not mapped skills gaps (25% plan to)

80% of charities have not delivered training to build digital literacy (36% plan to)

75% of charities have not trained to build digital skills (41% plan to)

89% of charities have not put digital as a core skill for new recruits (20% plan to)

88% of charities have not put digital in the job description for existing staff (17% plan to)

95% of charities have no HR strategy for improving digital capability (17% plan to)

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