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How to embed digital skills in your organisation

There has been a digital skills gap in the UK, and much wider afield, for a number of years. What we mean by that is that there are more skilled tech jobs on offer than people to fill them – the demand for top talent exceeds supply.

What are digital skills?

Firstly, it’s important to highlight what digital skills actually are before we can understand the importance of embedding them into organisations.

In a recent study titled ‘Unlocking the UK’s potential with digital skills’, Microsoft explores what digital skills capabilities leaders need to focus on. Harnessing Jisc’s Building Data Capability model, it identified six key skills areas that comprise digital capability: Information literacy, Data literacy, Media literacy, Digital creation, Digital research, and problem solving and Innovation abilities.

Microsoft split these skills into two distinct categories: productive skills, the technical skills which allow someone to create digital tools and systems; and consumptive skills, skills that allow someone to use digital solutions which others have built.

The research found that productive skills deliver nearly double the performance of consumptive skills. So for organisations, understanding the distinction between these two types and building learning programmes to match, will help them upskill employees in areas that deliver the greatest value and boost competitiveness.

State of digital skills in the UK

If the global pandemic has revealed one truth, it’s that our reliance on digital, IT and technological infrastructure has been paramount to enabling us all to continue operations. It also brings into focus that digital skills are intrinsic to keeping our businesses afloat and our country moving.

There has been a digital skills gap in the UK, and much wider afield, for a number of years. What we mean by that is that there are more skilled tech jobs on offer than people to fill them – the demand for top talent exceeds supply. Digitisation has increased the skills gap in organisations, between the actual skills people have and the skills required.

The Global Skills Index 2020 by Coursera, a research report of 65 million learners globally that benchmarks skills proficiency for 60 countries reveals that, whilst Europe overall is leading a digital skills powerhouse, the UK ranks 23rd for technology skills and 25th for data science skills globally.

Microsoft’s skills study also revealed that whilst 80 percent of UK business leaders believe investment in digital skills will be important to the country’s economic recovery, 69 percent reported a persistent skills gap in their organisation. What’s more, 63 percent of UK employees said that they don’t have the digital skills needed to fulfil new and emerging roles in their industry.

Whilst nine out of ten UK employers say they are struggling to recruit the skills they need, according to recent research from McKinsey, a more compelling call to arms in the same report denotes that 94% of today’s UK workforce lack the full skills they will require by 2030 to do their jobs well.

Why invest in digital skills?

City AM reported last year that owing to the digital skills gap in the UK, as a nation we are losing out on an estimated £63bn of GDP every year.

Recent research by Accenture and Qlik estimated that not fulfilling tech jobs is costing £10bn a year in lost productivity in the UK and Coursera’s report also reveals that countries with higher skill proficiencies see greater GDP returns in the long-term. So, it’s clear that investing in digital skills overall is good for our economy.

Reskilling your employees creates economic benefits for employers. Recent McKinsey research tells us that reskilling brings a likely productivity increase of between 6 and 12 percent and it makes economic sense to reskill at least 75 percent of workforces. Those benefits are:

  • The ability to control salary costs with existing, as opposed to new hires, for uncommon technical skills.
  • Avoiding the expensive and time-consuming process of attracting, identifying, qualifying, recruiting and the onboarding of new hires when reskilling internal people may fulfil the same function.
  • Boosting morale by retraining employees.
  • Lower attrition rates of employees that have had training, retraining or reskilling opportunities.
  • Enabling a happier, more productive workplace.

How to work out what skills you need

So how do you approach identifying, qualifying, and embedding the new skills you may need in your organisation? Here are a few tried and tested approaches for you that, no matter what size of your organisation, you have the ability to implement.

#1 Set out the vision for your organisation

Without a clear vision of where you want your organisation to be in 3-5 years it will be hard to underpin with a digital skills roadmap. Take the time to define and articulate the vision and the outcomes that you will need to see manifest for that vision to be fulfilled.

From those clear, measurable outcomes, you can build your roadmap of how to get there. Whilst it’s good to have a vision for the next 3 to 5 years, the first 12 months roadmap in detail will be key to enable you to walk that path. So concentrate on articulating and depicting the next 12 month roadmap for your organisation overall. Depict clear measurable milestones that will deliver against your outcomes and a few tactical activities against each milestone.

#2 Identify the right digital skills

Identifying the right digital skills you need to deliver the vision, outcomes and 12 months business roadmap is the next step. There are at least 3 clear approaches you can take:

Internally – build an internal team that is comprised of the major disciplines of business units within your organisation together with strategy, communications, IT, Legal and HR. Together, workshop the overall skills you will need in the next 12 months to deliver against your roadmap.

Collaborate – create an informal workshop group or board, in collaboration with your internal team above to contribute to your skills workshop. Consider engaging key supplier and key customers as well as similar, not necessarily competitive, organisations. Ensure the right mix of people is attractive for external partners to attend as well as them being able to share the collaborative output from the session that can also inform their skills maps. If the nature of your business affords you the opportunity to have a significant spend on social media platforms, ensure you invite Search Engine and Social Media platform partners to support your skills mapping exercise.

Externally – If you are short on time, capacity, or the team resources to work this through, commission external partners or specialists to help assist you form your skills map. You would best serve your organisation by having undertaken the vision and 3 to 5 year outcomes as a solid base by, which specialists can help support you with.

A skills gap map

Once you have the skills depicted that you need, you need to understand what skills your employees or teams have already that fits against the map. Whilst in smaller organisations this may be clear, in large, complex or global organisations, where the decisions may have been made to recruit locally, often an over-arching picture does not exist. Undertaking a skills audit will help to define your skills gaps.

It’s worth understanding that employees may have skills that are not being utilised in their current role as they may have acquired skills in previous jobs, in home learning or disciplines applied to secondary external roles or communities they manage. So, when undertaking an audit, take care to enquire about personal and professional skill sets, not just the ones they use for the job in hand.

Skills audits can be undertaken by simple surveys, workshops and team meetings or in cases of large workforces chatbots, where analysing the data with an element of machine learning may be key for large data sets. Care must be taken to ensure employees know what the data is being used for and reassured it’s for skills augmentation not reorganisation.

The data from your surveys and, workshops, if analysed effectively will give your skills gap map. The map should depict team skills rather than individual skills that need implementing or building upon.

From the skills gap map, it’s easier to then depict the digital skills framework that gives you a single view of the organisation and the priority skills needed, outcomes and vision of the organisation.
The digital skills roadmap can then give you the basis to inform individual career pathways as well as team skill augmentation.

How to embed skills

There are economies of scale between open generic skills learning, such as open workshops, to targeted training matched against team functions. Whilst the former is cheaper to implement, the latter is more costly but more effective.
Consider a blended range of attributes to upskill teams but ensure that the teams are utilising the new skills.

The Edgar Dale Cone of Learning devised in the 1940s and refined in the 1960’s is still relevant today. It states that after only a 2-week period, we remember only:

  • 10% of what we read (text)
  • 20% of what we hear (audio)
  • 30% of what we see (pictures)
  • 50% of what we hear and see (videos, demonstrations, etc)
  • 70% of what we say (reiterating information) and
  • 90% of what we both say and do.

So, when devising how to augment or embed new skills ensure that individual and teams are practically using the new skills rather than simply being taught them.

The speed of technological change, constant digital augmentation and digital disruption charges organisations to adapt at speed. A continuous learning is a cycle that you should embrace to keep ahead of digital disruption to remain competitive.

You can read more about how to address your digital skills gaps in Microsoft’s eBook, ‘Embracing the New World of Work’, here.

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    21 April 2024


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