Skills Training is the New Secret to Success

By BrainStation February 13, 2020

The second annual BrainStation Digital Skills Survey polled thousands of tech professionals on their lives at work, their most-used tools, their professional development efforts, and their predictions for the future – and across all disciplines, one thing was made extremely clear: ongoing digital skills training is the new secret to success.

Aiming to provide critical insights into the mindset of tech workers while also ensuring organizations are properly allocating learning, development and upskilling resources, BrainStation’s survey found that respondents in all six disciplines surveyed – data, development, design, marketing, product management, and executive – overwhelmingly felt their organizations would achieve more success with a more digitally savvy workforce.

It’s encouraging, then, that BrainStation’s survey found employers were anticipating this need, with 42 percent of executives reporting that their organizations had already implemented digital skills training initiatives, and another 19 percent pledging plans to offer that training in the future. That commitment to continuing education is certainly a positive thing, considering the World Economic Forum estimates that more than half (54 percent) of all employees will require significant reskilling by 2022.

That couldn’t happen soon enough, particularly since BrainStation’s survey found that organizations are increasingly bolstering their digital strategy. Among corporate executives polled, 92 percent reported that digital transformation was a top strategic business priority, with 74 percent having already taken steps in that direction and another 18 percent planning to do so over the next year.

Certainly, it seems skills training will be a crucial element in that process.

“The 2020 Digital Skills Survey findings really make clear that professionals now understand that, in order to keep pace with the rapid rate of change in technology, continuously upgrading their skills is a necessity,” said Jason Field, Founder and CEO, BrainStation.

“Our survey also highlights an increasing focus on cross-discipline learning as tech professionals and employers alike are placing a priority on more broad, well-rounded skill sets.”

We decided to take a closer look at each of the six disciplines surveyed to see which digital skills were in high demand and low supply.


It’s not an exaggeration to say that the rise of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence has irrevocably transformed pretty much every industry there is, from healthcare to professional sports to food to art and beyond. Demand for Data Scientists is forecast to rise by 28 percent by next year, creating an additional 2.7 million jobs.

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s a rapidly growing appetite for data skill training in pretty much every discipline and industry.

Taking a look at the big picture, 83 percent of respondents to BrainStation’s survey ranked the data literacy in their organizations as lagging, while 89 percent said that dearth of data literacy was having an effect on the success of their organization’s projects, and 59 percent said their organizations would be more successful if employees had better data skills. If that last number seems low, it might indicate that even more progress will need to be made transitioning more organizations into a data-first mindset.

Outside of their own data teams, 48.2 percent of data professionals ranked the overall level of data literacy within their companies as “basic,” while only 17.3 percent reported a data literacy level of advanced or expert.

Overall, 74.8 percent of data professionals felt that digital skills training would make them more effective in their roles – and 55.6 percent of those professionals specifically wanted more data training (meanwhile, 15.7 percent felt they would benefit from learning about development, 12 percent wanted to learn more about design, and 9.3 percent wanted more digital marketing training).

Digging deeper, it makes sense that data professionals want to upgrade their data skills. Looking to the next five to 10 years, 78 percent of data respondents predicted that artificial intelligence would have the most impact followed by machine learning (70 percent), but a majority of data respondents – 63 percent – said they don’t currently work with AI. 

Further, data professionals are typically now expected to be comfortable using a wide variety of statistical and machine learning techniques – linear regression being the most popular, with 55 percent familiarity among respondents – and yet 35 percent of those surveyed had never used any of those techniques at all, showing a clear need for further upskilling in that area.

With demand for data skills soaring, BrainStation’s survey also made it clear that many are changing careers to take advantage. According to the survey, 76 percent of data scientists who responded did not begin their career in data, and 68 percent have been working in the field for five years or less. 

Web Development

Another area poised for rapid growth – the U.S. Bureau of Labor is forecasting this job market will grow by 15 percent by 2026 – the fields of mobile and web development are changing so rapidly that, again, Developers must continue to educate themselves to keep up.

In total, 80 percent of Web Developers reported that digital skills training would make them more successful, with 52 percent looking for additional development skills, 20 percent focused on data and 12 percent focused on design. Interestingly, 30 percent of Developers reported that additional development skills would boost their organizations, while 21 percent chose data. Also relating to data, 86 and 84 percent of Developers felt that AI and machine learning respectively would have the most impact on their field in the coming years, yet only 17 percent have worked with any AI platforms or blockchain technology.

To that end, we have recently looked at how Developers can benefit from acquiring data and design skills.

JavaScript is by far the most popular programming language among the Developers polled – 75 percent reported using it regularly – while SQL continues to climb in popularity to 47 percent, highlighting another potential upskilling opportunity for much of the Development workforce.

Web development is another field where transplants are driving in droves – 54 percent reported beginning their careers in a different field. Still, executives reported a difficult time finding Developers with all the necessary skills in their toolkit; although they reported that they would be doing the most hiring in development (41 percent), 39 percent said that it was the most difficult area to hire for.


It’s often said that user experience (UX) design is a field that requires several different types of skills at once – including technical tools, business know-how, and transferable personal skills such as empathy and communication – so it’s not surprising how many UX Designers are committed to continuous learning; 79 percent of Designers surveyed reported that they would be more successful with additional digital skills training (such as UX design courses).

Specifically, Designers want to polish their skills in design (34 percent) and product management (23 percent). They’d like to see a little more overall design literacy within their organizations, pointing to a need for those in other disciplines to understand more about user-centric design; nearly 77 percent reported their company’s design literacy was either basic or intermediate.

From the results, it’s clear to see which competencies specifically are lacking. Although 74.4 percent of UX Designers polled design for web, only 37.2 percent report working on native mobile. Even more problematic? Only 5.6 percent have designed for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) platforms, while only 14 percent have worked with voice-based interfaces.

That suggests a workforce-wide need to modernize and upgrade skills.


With the recent sea change in marketing – as the spend on digital has finally surpassed traditional advertising channels – this is a field where digital skills are becoming a major differentiator for tech talent, and perhaps even a game-changer.

As we recently explored, research from Burning Glass Technologies shows that four in 10 marketing job openings now call for digital marketing skills, with the number of postings calling for digital skills almost doubling between 2011 and 2016. Digital marketing roles grew 30 percent faster over that period than overall marketing postings (while also taking 16 percent longer to fill), and digital marketing skills carried nearly a $7,000 salary premium over other marketing postings.

Meanwhile, another study carried out by Target Internet with the Chartered Institute of Marketing painted a portentous picture of the digital skills gap in marketing, as a group of marketers tested on skill areas including data, content marketing, digital strategy, SEO, social media marketing, and usability produced dismal scores (the marketers couldn’t surpass a 36 percent score in any one topic).

It’s hardly surprising, then, that 89 percent of marketers polled by BrainStation said digital skills training would make them perform better in their role.

Interestingly – and unlike most of the other fields explored here – marketers want more than anything to build out their multi-disciplinary skillset, with 33.6 percent said their company should focus on data skill training, and 31.5 percent saying that further marketing training was a top priority. And 78 percent reported that there was room for improvement in their organization’s marketing literacy.

Feel the same way? Find out more about BrainStation’s digital marketing courses.

Product Management

Often referred to as “mini-CEOs” of a product, Product Managers are often expected to be jack-of-all-trade types with broad skill sets that incorporate any number of specializations. They’re handsomely rewarded for that – Hired’s 2017 Global State of Tech Salaries survey found that Product Managers’ average salary of $138,000 was the very highest of any tech role, while LinkedIn lists the role as one of its most promising jobs – but clearly, Product Managers can’t afford to be complacent where skill training is concerned.

In total, 78 percent of product management respondents felt that digital skills training would make them more effective. Reflecting on the multi-disciplinary demands of their position, those surveyed were split on what kind of training would be most beneficial.

In fact, it seems like Product Managers want to learn more about everything related to tech: 31.7 percent want more data training, 24.6 percent want to invest further in product skills, 19 percent are interested in boosting their development toolkit, while 13.4 percent have an interest in boosting their marketing skills.

Again, AR and VR represent significant skill deficits within the product sphere – a massive 88 percent have never been involved with either.

There’s encouraging news for anyone eyeing a career in Product Management; 86 percent of those surveyed started their careers in a different field. Clearly, they already know a thing or two about upskilling. 


As we mentioned earlier, Executives are overwhelmingly committed to bringing digital transformation to their organizations; in fact, 82 percent said that their digital investments were growing or stable (and only 4.9 percent said they were shrinking), while 92 percent plan to increase their digital transformation activities in the future.

However, digital transformations often fail; a McKinsey report found that only 16 percent of respondents said their digital transformations successfully improved performance and equipped them to sustain changes in the long term. McKinsey’s report also found that organizations that offered skill and leadership development opportunities were nearly twice as likely to succeed in those digital transformations.

It’s heartening, then, that beyond efforts to educate their employees, 72 percent of executives also feel that they too would benefit from digital skills training. Particularly, they’re focused on data (35 percent) and marketing (26 percent). 

Meanwhile, by looking at the areas in which executives expect to invest the most money and resources, we can get further clues about the optimal areas of skill-building and development for the tech workforce.

To that end, digital marketing skills certainly appear to be in high demand. Executives reported investing in SEO (57 percent), email marketing (56 percent), content marketing (55 percent) and organic social media (52 percent). 

And, again, it seems tech professionals of all stripes would be well-served by learning more about AI and machine learning – executives expect to invest in both in 2020, at a rate of 45 percent and 38.9 percent respectively.