iGaming Leadership Roundtable Part 1: Is There a Digital Skills Shortage?

As the digital revolution continues to transform industries across a spectrum of markets, demand for talent in this sector is higher than ever, especially since the impact of the Pandemic. It’s no surprise that niche markets such as iGaming, growing at such an impressive rate, may be feeling the strain of this more than others.

We caught up with some of the most forward-thinking iGaming professionals, leading the charge in our sector’s global expansion. In Part 1 of this Roundtable, we learn the true gravity of the skills shortage issue, the key causes and how can we learn from them in the future.

Roundtable members:

  • Emma Clayton-Wright, Founder, Eye Spy Recruitment
  • Robin MacDonald, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Rubik Talent
  • James King, CEO, Flows
  • Allan Petrilli, VP of Sales and Growth, Intelitics

In your experience, is there a talent shortage in the online gambling industry?

ECW: “In my experience, there is a constant shortage of niche skills relating to next-generation technologies and innovations that are being brought to market. At the moment, data is the area with the greatest shortage of talent as operators and suppliers are investing more into this part of their business and require talent and experience to help drive this forward. Legal professionals and representatives can also be hard to find because we are seen as such a niche industry.

“When I first entered the sector, gaming talent wasn’t a thing, and you would often have to look outside of the industry to find the best candidates for the role. But now gaming talent is a thing and companies want industry experience, which means it can take longer to find a candidate with all the required skills, experience and competencies. Remote working has definitely made this easier as businesses are now much more open to having people work from other locations. Another benefit of this is that candidates do not have to relocate.”

JK: “Yes, there is a digital skills shortage in the industry right now. This has come about due to the rapid expansion the industry has enjoyed in recent years – there is a finite number of people with specific skill sets and the need for these people and their skills has increased to the point where demand now outstrips supply. This has been further exacerbated as businesses explore emerging verticals such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs.”

RM: “There is a talent shortage across all technology related industries including online gambling, sportsbook, payments, fintech, retail and others. At last count there are one million tech vacancies across Europe and a similar number across the US. The EU tech sector has grown 1,500% over the last five years and the generation coming into their working years is smaller – nowhere near the size of the previous generation. All these factors are contributing to the current talent shortage.”

AP: “It’s tough to say globally – but there definitely seems to be in the fast-growing regulated North American market. The amount of job postings I see daily, along with recruiting agencies that now either specialize in iGaming or have added it as a significant vertical can’t be ignored. The industry is growing so quickly, this kind of seems inevitable.”

If so, in what roles is the shortage most prevalent?

ECW: “There is always demand for talent across both B2C and B2B. As an industry that continues to grow at speed, there is no “season” for recruitment so there is always a supply and demand situation that is very rarely in balance. It has always been like this, but right now businesses across the sector are undertaking major recruitment drives and that is making the talent acquisition space a very busy one indeed.”

JK: “It is really impacting roles across the board within organisations. Skilled people from all areas of the business are now being stretched. That being said, there is a particularly high demand for tech talent, including developers, architects, software engineers, etc.

“This is because organisations are seeking to enter new markets and roll out additional products and services in order to drive growth. This often requires a heavy lift from a technical perspective as not only does talent and resource need to be dedicated to the new market or product, but resource also needs to be deployed to ensure stability and continuity in and within existing markets and products.

“It is also harder to transfer technical skills when compared to some commercial roles where certain skills are transferable. But if your back office is built in a specific code language then you need developers that understand that language, which means technical skills are far less transferable, if at all. When it comes to tech talent, you’re often looking for people with very specific skill sets.”

AP: “From what I’ve seen, tech and product roles, and senior-level (director and above) roles across sales and marketing seems to be in the highest demand.”

What factors are driving this shortage?

ECW: “It is really a case of the industry being a victim of its own success. The speed at which the sector is growing is outpacing the talent that is available. This is not just within existing organisations that are expanding, but also new companies entering the space and seeking to onboard talent.”

JK: “The hunger for continued growth. When you have teams that are already working to and in some cases beyond capacity, you have to hire more people and that is a major factor in the current digital skills shortage the sector is suffering from. As mentioned before, the desire to expand into new areas – crypto, NFTs, streaming, etc – is also taking talent away from traditional roles within the sector which is leading to more vacant desks that need to be filled.”

RW: “There are a number of factors that are contributing to this shortage.

“Market-based changes spurred on by the pandemic are pulling the industry online. Additional market-related changes including the US and Canada liberalising in 2022.

“There are also supply related issues including changing demographic factors across Europe and the US. An ageing population and a smaller generation coming into the workforce will reduce the pool of talent.

“But market and demographic shifts are just part of the puzzle. Many growing organisations do not invest in new talent – young technologists and a new generation. Opportunities for graduates and young people in technology teams should form part of the overall growth strategy. I regularly hear all kinds of excuses but ultimately a technology team should include at least 10% at a junior level. Those who do not – need not complain about the lack of digital skills available.

“Major operators regularly have more than 100 open tech roles on their books. In some cases, businesses have accepted this as the ‘new normal’ and have not been dynamic enough to find innovative ways to encourage strong tech talent into their businesses. Employers who invest in a new generation of skills will benefit. As those technologists gain capability, the team will naturally benefit; retention rates will improve and will ultimately build better products, faster.”

AP: “I feel this is largely down to the quick growth the industry has experienced over the last 5 years. In addition, iGaming has also become a more legitimate option for senior-level talent that has ignored the industry for various reasons historically.”

What impact is this shortage having on businesses? Rising salaries/not selecting the best candidate/etc?

ECW: “From a recruitment perspective, it should be forcing businesses to have a roadmap with clear, defined timeframes as the backbone. We all know that the landscape can shift quickly and being able to adapt to change is often the difference between success and failure. But when it comes to recruitment, planning is critical. This ensures that businesses give themselves enough time to find the best talent for the role.”

JK: “The most notable impact is on salaries which are now getting pretty big if you want to secure the best candidate for the role. This can make it harder for smaller companies to compete with larger organisations with much deeper pockets. That’s not to say small companies can’t attract the best of the best, but they have to go beyond just the basic salary package and offer additional perks such as share options, flexible working (remote, office-based, hybrid, etc) to do so.

“Ultimately, it is also slowing some businesses down in their quest for growth. If you do not have the required workforce to enter new markets, develop new products, etc then you simply cannot deploy the expansion plans you have drawn up.”

RM: “The impact on business is a loss of competitive advantage. The skills shortage is not a catastrophic blow to an organisation; rather it’s death by a thousand cuts. Each role that does not get filled or is filled with a less than ideal candidate impacts the deliverables and growth of the business. Those who are responsible for talent acquisition in a business need to innovate in order to attract and retain new skills into the industry.

“There is good news here for those that do innovate through investment in young skills and a diverse workforce. Ultimately those organisations will succeed in the coming years. You can see this already amongst the market leaders and this trend will continue throughout the decade.”

AP: “I look at this as both positive and challenging. Companies are definitely having to increase compensation packages for highly specialized roles or ones that require a certain amount of experience. But on the flip side, you are seeing the industry skew younger, given how much young bright talent there is, and it is giving talented people with potentially less experience but who are highly skilled the chance to grow into senior roles more quickly.”

Editors’ Note:

The first half of this insightful Roundtable has clearly demonstrated that there is indeed a growing digital skills shortage in the iGaming industry. However, an even bigger concern is that this skills gap seems set to keep growing if our industry continues to govern our businesses in the same way that we traditionally have for so many years.

New industries such as Blockchain and AI are attracting all the best talent and traditional work-related perks, or compensation just aren’t enough anymore. Added to this, an aging population, especially in key markets such as the US, are limiting the size of the workforce able to enter the sector and without increased investment in junior and diverse candidates, the problem will only worsen.

In Part 2, our esteemed panel will take a deep dive into what can be done to curb this digital skills shortage trend, making use of new technologies and innovative recruitment strategies. Be sure not to miss it!