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Three ways to close the digital transformation skills gap

Three ways to close the digital transformation skills gap right now

We are experiencing a very modern type of labour shortage known as the ‘digital transformational skills gap’. We are not alone in this situation, in fact, most developed nations around the world are experiencing an environment where businesses are going through digitalisation faster than their employees can keep up with. As we transform to a digital world, a skills gap is opening up between the needs of the industries of the past and the demands of the businesses of the future.

Before we reach a crisis point, what can we do to close the digital transformation skills gap? We discuss three ways we can begin to approach the problem as a nation.

Method one: Make sizeable investments in digital training

To navigate its way through this period of skills shortage, we have to start investing not only in the digital skills of current students who are about to enter the workforce but also in the majority of the existing workforce. The problem, however, is identification. It is no easy feat to predict the skills needed in five or ten years time and begin teaching them to students now. At the same time, it is no easy feat to identify the weaknesses and missing skills of the existing workforce. But just because something is not easy, doesn’t mean it’s not possible, and in fact, it can be incredibly rewarding.

Picture this. A business recognises that it has a digital skills shortage that is causing them difficulties in their marketplace. In order to solve these skill gaps, they fund training programs that are customised, interesting, and in-depth so that everyone can be brought up to speed. At the same time, they look at their existing e-learning system or intranet and find ways to integrate digital skills into its use. The company can educate their workforce, improve their digital skills, and create a level of knowledge and awareness of the business all at the same time, simply by addressing and trying to solve the skills gap. The employees may also find themselves feeling more productive and committed to the job, having been put through an educational strategy and entered a platform by which they can develop as professionals. Talented individuals that were already in the company are now finding that they have a positive experience with the new skills and can offer more value to the business, their colleagues, and future team members.

Method two: Being responsive to change

Quite often in a large organisation, the issue is in fact not a digital skills gap, but rather an issue between senior management and everyone else under them. As industries modernise rapidly and the ways in which we work change, the employee may find that their skills are actually more digitally inclined than the organisation they work for and the management they take orders from. Some businesses are getting stuck in the past and that is dragging their employees into the digital transformation skills gap with them.

Businesses want to bring on the best and brightest, which in 2020 means adapting to new work models that involve collaboration, open communication, and rapid sharing of information. The businesses that don’t embrace this, and who force their employees to stay at their desks and grind away all day without wiggle room for innovation are going to suffer in a big way. There’s a case to be made that businesses who are not responsive to the changing and innovating world, and who claim ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ are one of the main causes of the widening digital skills gap.

A surprisingly low percentage of modern employees consider their bosses to be digitally savvy, which is not good for digital transformation. A quality digital leader will be able to demonstrate the costs, risks, and benefits of digital transformation in business and suggest various opportunities and routes for the organisation to go down, educating staff along the way.

Consider this. An open-plan office can be the start of a big change in a single business. The cubicle style offices of the past are outdated and taking down those walls is a liberating act that allows employees to really start working together. As they work together, they can build a community and solve each other’s problems, educating one another along the way. The increased transparency and creativity, as well as freedom of communication, leads to increased productivity and progress. Next, employee welfare and happiness are observed to be linked to results and employers begin to abandon the office altogether, setting up training for digital skills that will allow many employees to work remotely. Suddenly, as the company culture evolves, so does the embracing of innovation and progressive thinking, as well as the creative output and company reputation. The workforce is engaged and learning digital transformation skills, often without realising it. The learning mindset has begun.

Method three: Create a feedback loop between HR, management, and external education

There is both an immediate and future need for digital transformational skills, but what those skills entail precisely can only really be defined by the businesses that need them. The obstacle that appears immediately is that the needs of the future are somewhat of a mystery. In order to try and reduce the gap between a particular skill becoming necessary and the time taken to train for proficiency, Human Resources need to be on the lookout for skill shortages and begin a dialogue or mechanism for reporting that to the education world as early as possible.

HR departments are going to play many important central roles in the digital transformational skills movement, partially by spotting the gaps, but also by being the ones to choose the right leaders and talents for their respective businesses in order to better understand the digital market and what disruption can look like. Those same leaders and talents must encourage those in their ranks to trade up their digital skills and make sure they are committing time to modernise their abilities, or, the digital leaders must work with HR to inform them what to look for in new candidates.

Overall, the solution here might not be more digital skills training, but rather more transparency and communication between businesses, their HR teams, and education providers. Even private training companies who can come to an office for a course will benefit from greater communication transparency between HR and the rest of the business. Knowing whether there is a great need for new skills or for re-skilling employees is a good start, as well as knowing exactly what skills need to be worked on in the initiative so that the best results can be gained from the investment.

Here’s a scenario. A new piece of technology that will make our lives easier hits the market. It’s in its most primitive and early form (think of the first publicly sold drones and how they have dramatically increased in quality in the few years since) and few businesses know how it works, how to build software that can engage with it, or how to use it to benefit the business. Businesses in this emerging technology sector engage with local educations facilities, whether it’s a private corporate training service or the nearest university. Once the demand is clear, universities around the country can begin building modules for certain courses that can engage with this new technology and start getting students interested in it and skilled enough to advance it. As these students finish university or other educational routes, they are already comfortable with this technology and can fill the skills gap felt in various industries.