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Why digital transformation requires drastic changes in the workforce

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

According to Korn Ferry International’s Future of Work survey, the world is facing a global talent crisis. An imminent skilled labour shortage is affecting both developed and developing economies, with the potential to drastically alter the balance of global economic power. To quantify the talent shortage, it is estimated that by 2030, a talent deficit of 85.2m workers can be expected.

Nowhere is this skills drought more evident than in IT, where demand for talent already vastly outweighs supply. While many new initiatives and programmes are encouraging more students to pursue careers in science, technology maths and engineering (STEM), it’s clear that hiring new workers to plug this gap will not be an effective strategy for most organisations.    

That’s not to say attracting and retaining the right talent won’t be crucial over the coming years, it will – more so than ever before. But the key to long-term success for many businesses will be providing their people with the opportunities to transition into roles that are more skilled, value-based and rewarding.

This means ensuring employees have access to high-quality digital skills training, while also encouraging an organisation-wide culture of continuous learning. Not only will this help employees prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, it will drive innovation within the organisation today.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation will impact every aspect of the world of work. It’s a global megatrend that will affect, change and challenge every sector with an increasing pace. It is no longer enough to find talented workers to meet current skills demands – now organisations must look ahead to ensure they have the ability to compete effectively in an ever-changing digital economy. This means ensuring your workforce is agile, adaptable and engaged with transformation. 

The future of work is increasingly about anticipating what’s coming next – new innovations and how people will use new technologies. Digitalisation, mobility, artificial intelligence and machine learning are fundamentally changing the way organisations engage with both their customers and their workforce. This means career trajectories are now far from linear and it is up to organisations to ensure their workforce is best prepared for these new technologies as they transform the workplace.

Meeting changing skills demands

Several areas have emerged over the last few years, including cybersecurity, AI and machine learning, where huge talent gaps are already having a significant impact. A recent report from Spiceworks found that cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI) skills will be in high demand next year, and will be the top skills that large enterprises look for when making IT hires. The report also found that one in three organisations across the US and Europe plan to hire new IT staff next year. These findings are not unusual in today’s technological climate and demonstrate why now, more than ever, it is important for businesses to futureproof themselves.

Take cybersecurity. Earlier this year, MPs and peers accused the government of lacking urgency in its work to tackle the shortage of skilled cyber security workers. The increase in sophistication and frequency of cyberattacks is impacting businesses in all sectors. For many small and mid-sized organisations, the financial, legal and reputational damage caused by a large cyberattack could prove catastrophic.

With a shortage of sufficiently skilled cybersecurity workers available to hire, organisations cannot afford to miss opportunities to invest in their existing workforce and provide cybersecurity skills training for employees open to taking on a new role. According to a recent report, 51 per cent of IT professionals and IT decision makers in the UK said they need to grow their cyber-skills in the next five years, while the (ISC)2 also found that 48 per cent of IT staff are looking to become certified in some form of cybersecurity.

Often, very few employees have the required training or support to change the trajectory of their careers in a meaningful way within their current organisation. Implementing a clear career progression path for those wiling to take on new roles broadly falling under their current expertise will help incentivise existing personnel to look outside their immediate roles.  

Riding the wave

To meet the demands of digital transformation, supporting and encouraging employees to take on new and more valuable roles needs to be comprehensive – going far beyond current skills gaps such as cybersecurity. Robotics, AI and automation are set to replace many routine workplace roles, while digital innovation will create a whole range of technology-focused roles that don’t currently exist. Indeed, according to the Dell Technologies’ ‘Realising 2030 Report’, 85 per cent of jobs in 2030 have not been invented yet.

The focus needs to be on preparing all employees – not just those currently specialising in IT – to work with new digital technologies. People will constantly need to acquire new skills that enable new ways of working, including collaboration with intelligent systems and machines.

Many employees will not make this transition independently – it’s down to leadership teams to prepare them for the new opportunities that digital transformation will create. As job roles become increasingly value-based — moving from simple task execution to process improvement — employees will need to be upskilled to use automation to augment their roles and explore more creative styles of working.

Culture and technology

Central to this move is ensuring the right tools are in place to support learning and fostering a new culture within organisations. Every member of the workforce needs access to modern, intuitive and technologically advanced corporate learning platforms that tailor learning to unique individual needs. Every employee is different. They have different learning styles – be it via video, reading or taking quizzes – and different training needs.

To help employees think wider, learning platforms need to be able to recommend content and courses based on what other employees within their role are doing, what content they’ve viewed before, which areas of the business they are working with, as well as their interests and career development preferences. These capabilities will be essential, as agile learning and increased collaboration take on a more central role for employees.

But the right tools only go so far. Sustainable change will mean establishing a culture of learning, development and agility within the organisation. This must have innovation at its core, and a clear vision that staff and senior management alike can grasp. Everyone needs to know that learning and non-linear career development is something the organisation values and actually views as a priority.

Similarly, it must be clearly demonstrated that the training is relevant and useful for staff. Learning solutions must be aligned to the larger goals and targets of the business, with a clear agenda outlined as to why a learning culture matters. The future of work demands skills based around problem-solving, decision-making and critical thinking, along with deep understanding of disruptive technologies that are impacting the new world of work and employees.

Changing an organisation’s culture can be a lengthy and involved process, but it’s a necessary one. Businesses that can provide their employees with not only the tools they need to perform their tasks but also the opportunity to enhance their existing skills will be best placed to compete effectively in the ever-changing digital economy. It may sound drastic, but to survive and thrive in the digital transformation era companies need to train their workforce to be ready for anything.

Steve Wainwright, MD EMEA, Skillsoft (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock

Steve Wainwright is Managing Director of Skillsoft (and SumTotal, a Skillsoft company) in Europe, Middle East and Africa. He is primarily responsible for overseeing Skillsoft's direct and channel sales operations in the region, including business development, sales and marketing.