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We need to do more to help employees adapt to digital transformation

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Digital transformation has taught businesses that they need to adapt to survive, and collectively we have experienced the equivalent of seven years’ worth of digital acceleration since the start of the pandemic. Technology is progressively transforming the way that we operate, while simultaneously placing increased pressure on the workforces central to it.

According to BT’s The Future in 2021 report, UK organisations cited ‘insufficient internal skills’ as their main challenge over the next five years. Similarly, findings in Red Hat’s Global Tech Outlook 2022 report found that ‘skill set or talent gaps’ are the primary barriers to the success of digital transformation efforts. These initiatives are advancing without workforces possessing the necessary expertise and skills to tackle emerging technologies.

Subsequently, a lack of job-ready talent is becoming an existential threat to businesses in Europe and the US. A recent study by Ipsos and Udacity found that nearly half (46%) of enterprises have experienced project delays due to a lack of job-ready talent, creating detrimental repercussions and a negative impact on the business.

A failure to address this glaring skills gap could leave digital transformation projects trailing behind. Coinciding with the diminishing talent pool of unskilled employees, the Great Resignation continues to threaten businesses across Europe and in the US. Reportedly, half of Britain’s workers are considering a job move. With staff retention rates slowly decreasing, businesses need to act fast to ensure that they’re equipped with the skills of tomorrow to support the road of digital growth ahead.

Top-down transformation

In order to tackle digital transformation head-on, employers need to take an in-depth look at their organisational structure. According to the Future of Jobs 2020 report conducted by the World Economic Forum, 94% of business leaders expect employees to pick up new skills on the job. Starting transformation from a grassroots level may seem like the ideal method of driving change, however, it’s a simple matter of looking to leadership in what is known as the top-down approach.

The tech sector created nearly 80,000 new jobs at the peak of the pandemic as it presented a window of opportunity for businesses to ramp up their digital product or service offerings. While rapid digitisation has opened up opportunities for new roles, more than 35% of companies are facing an in-house skills shortage when trying to drive organisation-wide digital transformation. To solve the puzzle and hire the right talent to bridge the skills gap, business leaders need to make incremental changes starting from the top and fix this glaring issue.

A digitally competent workforce is essential in navigating the digital transformation tide, yet it’s key to find leaders that know how to manage these groups of people to ensure that they find a competitive edge. C-suites need to be leading the initiative every step of the way, while harvesting job-ready tech talent to fill new and existing roles.

Ramping up L&D initiatives

Once top-down transformation has begun, investing in reskilling and talent transformation initiatives could hold the key for companies looking to digitally transform, but only if devised with a more holistic approach. Sectors such as the financial services industry saw a huge rise in upskilling and made significant progress due to rapid digitisation during the pandemic. The UK has also kickstarted its upskilling approach to address both the country’s glaring skills gap and the Great Resignation by launching a Levelling Up programme, part of which will help to facilitate the growth of digital transformation.

However, there remains a startling disconnect between how enterprises and employees view the success of existing L&D programmes. Our research has shown that approximately 80% of businesses rated their own talent transformation programmes as effective, while just 39% of employees agreed. If businesses are to meet digital transformation goals and retain staff, then they must address the disconnect in existing L&D initiatives across Europe and the US.

L&D programmes typically consist of mandatory sessions based on textbook models that have limited use outside of the existing role. With the job market constantly evolving, employees should have more freedom on what skills they wish to possess to prepare them for future opportunities. PwC recommends taking a more ‘citizen-led approach to innovation’ by empowering employees to take charge of their own learning.

To increase employee engagement and maximise the impact of L&D, businesses must create programmes with employees in mind. Employers have to ensure that they’re consulting staff on what new and relevant skills they might desire, rather than doubling up on skills they may currently possess.

Restoring the future pipeline of talent

A recent report by Made Smarter Review found that one million industrial workers need to be upskilled in the next five years to enable digital technologies to be successfully deployed.

The existing skills system is focused on the job requirements of today, rather than on the future.

Governments need to work cohesively with enterprises to increase the level of industrial digital technology skills needed to tackle digital transformation initiatives. Increasing investment into digital skills is one way to start, but businesses should create an agile skills development programme that’s able to respond to the changing needs of the jobs market.

The report also highlighted the pace of digitisation, noting that around two-thirds of primary school children will work in jobs that don’t even exist yet. To restore a steady pipeline of talent, we must be focused on creating a culture of lifelong learning to form careers path for workers.

Winning the ongoing battle between delivering digital transformation initiatives and filling the talent gap isn’t an easy job. To continue on the trail to economic recovery, organisations must lay the foundations for employees to remain skilled and relevant in the evolving technology landscape. Inspiring the tech talent of the future lies in the hands of businesses and governments, and now is the time to capitalise on digital transformation strategies and the opportunities that workforces can bring to them.

By Laura Cleaver, Vice President EMEA & APAC at Udacity
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