Is the blockchain skills gap holding back business?

August 31, 2018
Chris Wheal

Study after study shows that while businesses are considering using blockchain technology to support business goals, many are stymied by a lack of capacity and capability inhouse. How businesses will address this gap will determine whether they become early adopters and obtain a first mover advantage.

Top ranked blockchain jobs year-over-year growth exceeded 2,000% for the past four quarters mirroring the strength of demand

Blockchain technology allows for considerable oversight about what is going on within a system, without giving one person control over that information. As Deloitte describes in a recent report, “there are numerous business applications for this technology, particularly in the retail and CPG sectors, and the potential impact is huge.”

Deloitte expects that interest in blockchain will grow across a wide range of sectors over the next two to three years as more businesses develop detailed enterprise strategies and implement blockchain prototypes.

Blockchain skills in demand

More advanced businesses will focus on how to scale‐up the opportunities they have identified. It makes sense then that developers with blockchain skills was again at the top of Upwork’s most recent quarterly Skills Index.

The global freelancing website said that top ranked blockchain year-over-year growth exceeded 2,000% for the past four quarters mirroring the strength of demand. Just in the second quarter alone it saw year-over-year growth jump a stratospheric 3,500% according to Upwork.

The evolution of digital and tech skill

Where there is skill…

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork remarked that “As technological change and the knowledge economy continue advancing, so will work requiring more skills.”

“Many of today’s jobs will change as the world’s needs change and automation progresses, but shortages in local talent pools and the skills businesses need can be overcome with freelance talent, who are nearly twice as likely as traditional employees to proactively upgrade their skills,” adds Kasriel.

Data bears out that the world’s skills needs are changing as a result of technology. The World Economic Forum (WEF) found that a majority of experts and executives in the information and communications technology sector expected at least 10% of global GDP to be stored on blockchain platforms by 2025.

Restraint on investment and innovation

Businesses, especially in sectors outside banking, have a big challenge as they grapple with the lack of awareness of the technology and a widespread lack of understanding
 about how the technology works because not only does it restrain investment but also innovation.

In PwC’s latest global CEO survey, among the top five perceived threats was ‘availability of key skills’. In fact, it was the only technology-related development that ranked that high (speed of technological change ranked sixth). If you delve a little deeper, that concern moves closer to the top of ranked threats in the technology industry with two-thirds of CEOs saying they were worried about the availability of digital talent
 in their country, industry, and workforce.

grapple with the lack of awareness of the technology and a widespread lack of understanding about how the technology works because not only does it restrain investment but also innovation

A Deloitte survey found that 74% of all respondents saw a “compelling business case” for blockchain. Companies are spending too to support the business case as Google unveiled new distributed ledger technology solutions. Other companies also announcing more moves into blockchain are Amazon, EY and Microsoft.

Is the hype real?

As companies prepare for blockchain to go mainstream, freelance blockchain technologists can garner up to $250 per hour on Upwork. Computerworld estimates developers could earn up to $130K annually in the US.

Back in October 2017, Burning Glass Technologies wrote: “The number of job openings posted requesting blockchain skills has more than doubled since the beginning of the year as more companies look for ways to build the new transaction system into financial technology.”

However, it noted that “despite the buzz about the technology, hiring for this skill is still small – but it’s growing fast.”

The company said that while in 2012, it could only find a “handful of postings requesting blockchain skills”, it altered dramatically by 2016 increasing to 1,838 postings by the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2017. There were 3,958 postings – a 115% increase over the 2016 total. Based on that data it then tentatively identified blockchain as a “disruptive skill”, which meant it was both fast growing and hard to find.

Who’s hiring?

Data published earlier this year by Thinknum shows that the number one hiring for block-chained related jobs was IBM. The list of companies shows a range of global companies with hiring needs too.

Snapshot of data of hiring for blockchain-related jobs Source: Thinknum

IBM has moved swiftly and dedicatedly into the blockchain space offering blockchain services across sectors and says it is working with traditional industries (including banking, insurance, healthcare, media and entertainment) to use blockchain to “challenge the way we interact, think and progress.”

Companies such as Booz Allen, SAP and Ernst & Young could be recognised as early adopters of the blockchain technology. Deloitte, which ranks among the top 20 on the Thinknum list, notes in its 2018 Global Blockchain Survey that early adopters (59%) in the business community, like their cryptocurrency counterparts, believe in blockchain’s potential to disrupt and revolutionise their industries – and the overall economy.

What’s in a job?

Even as these companies hire the best of the best when it comes to blockchain, which clearly exposes a job trend, it’s less clear that they know what they want or need.

Blockchain is still a baby as a technology innovation and those with experience are growing up along with the technology. Cryptoslate explores this phenomenon in blockchain job hunting and highlights Visa as one of the companies that is clearcut about what it is looking for when it is headhunting talent.

It seeks developers with strong Ethereum and Solidity experience, as well as experience with the Ripple, R3, and Bitcoin blockchains.

Cryptoslate draws attention to lack of qualifications when it comes blockchain given its relative youthfulness. And, while qualifications in software engineering, cryptography, or computer science are a must, there are no benchmarks in place that standardise the blockchain qualification process and means that large-scale organizations have nothing to “lean on when vetting new talent”.

Blockchain fatigue

One small problem respondents of Deloitte’s survey say is that ‘talk’ is just that. Despite blockchain’s promise, “there are very few active use cases they can currently employ to advance their beliefs.”

As a result, Deloitte said “a certain ‘blockchain fatigue’ is beginning to set in among those who feel its potential has been over-communicated, while its real-world benefits remain elusive. While this viewpoint is understandable, we believe it is also somewhat self-fulfilling and, ultimately, self-defeating.”

Some companies are still wavering, trying to figure out whether to take the plunge or watching from the sidelines as other companies forge ahead. They put out the cash and resources upfront in spite of uncertainty over ROI.

Yet in Deloitte’s global survey, more than a third of respondents say they’ve already brought a blockchain implementation to production while 41% plan to bring blockchain to production within the next year. However, given a competitive job market, these companies could face unexpected and higher labour costs to compete for qualified personnel.

Companies may need to hop off the fence or become motivated to do something within the blockchain space. In the early 90s the internet was a buzzword but a decade later it had become indispensable. Blockchain will be no different.

Or as Deloitte puts it succinctly: “Organisations should stop looking at blockchain as a “new” technology, because it’s really not.”

Post written by Chris Wheal
Chris Wheal is editor of OpenLedger's news and features service. An award-wining business journalists himself, he runs a team of freelance journalists from across the UK and north America.

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