Fixing the digital skills gap - Main Region

Fixing the digital skills gap

A man with his head buried into his desk looking defeated with his laptop over his head


As technological change sweeps through organisations small and large, it’s creating a digital skills gap that many struggle to fill. Even large organisations, armed with considerable IT and training departments, can find closing such a gap a complicated task.

With the digital revolution continuing to bring new technologies and tools to workplaces on a regular basis, such as artificial intelligence, automation and big data, it can seem like an almost constant challenge to not only identify the right digital skills for business but also overcome widening gaps. After all, as job roles change and evolve in response to the adoption of new technology, employees require up-to-date skills to perform their new job functions or use new tools productivity and effectively.

What are digital skills?

Digital skills are defined as those that allow a person to use digital tools, such as apps, devices or platforms, to complete their work, and they are critical to any modern workplace. They extend beyond specific technical IT skills such as app development, software engineering or data science to include skills that are now required for almost every job function.

These include, but are not limited to, the ability to communicate digitally, collaborate digitally, use new tools and apps, manage cyber security risks and gain insights from increasingly large data sets.

On top of these general skills, certain employees may require additional skills to complete specific duties and add value to an organisation. For example, your accountant could learn IT programming to contribute to system improvement projects as an organisation becomes more automated. Or your sales manager could learn to write blogs that engage your customers and bring new traffic to your website.

Identify the gaps

Before you can begin to upskill though, you need to identify your organisation’s skills gaps. This starts with ensuring you have an accurate picture of your existing employees’ competencies. You or your people managers will already have a good understanding of their abilities, but it’s also advisable to hold open and honest one-on-one conversations with staff to delve more deeply. Discuss not only any digital proficiencies they may be lacking but any that could help them do their job more effectively. If necessary, you could consider conducting a formal skills gap analysis.

Next, consider your organisation’s objectives and the digital abilities your team requires to achieve them. Don’t forget to take into account the planned introduction of any new digital tools that necessitate the upskilling of staff and your existing talent management plan.

You can then compare the skills you need with those your existing employees possess in order to identify the gaps.

By linking your organisation’s objectives to the skills required, you’ll also identify the most time-sensitive gaps you need to concentrate on closing first.

Support your existing workforce

Once you’ve identified your organisation’s gaps, it’s time to work on resolving them. Unfortunately, this is something that many organisations struggle with. One strategy is to build the digital skill set of your existing staff, either through formal training or on-the-job upskilling.

Another option is to employ contractors as a temporary resource to fill gaps while you upskill your existing team. Contractors can be a valuable tool in your upskilling efforts, too, since they possess the skills you need your team to learn. Therefore, contractors can pass on their knowledge to your existing staff to quickly close gaps.

Such actions allow you to support your existing workforce while simultaneously increasing their digital capabilities. With a lack of learning and development opportunities one of the main factors driving skilled professionals into the jobs market, these strategies also offer you retention and engagement advantages.

Utilise ‘hidden’ digital capabilities

You can also tap into digital capabilities that staff may use outside their everyday job. For instance, perhaps some employees use digital technologies in ways you’d like to adopt in the workplace. In their spare time they may, for example, run a website, write a blog, develop apps or connect with friends via new digital technologies. Or perhaps one of your employees possesses relevant digital know-how that could be shared with colleagues? It’s worth finding out.

Get your staff into the right mindset

You can take all the above measures but still struggle to close your digital skills gaps if your organisation’s culture doesn’t support transformation and you don’t foster a workforce that is adaptive to change.

Employees who can adapt easily will embrace digital change and quickly adjust to new processes or ways of working. Rather than resisting the associated requirement to develop new skills, they are open and receptive to upskilling and will proactively look for opportunities to utilise their new competencies.

Often, communication is at the heart of a successful upskilling drive, with employees needing to understand why the way they perform their job is changing before they can commit to developing new skills. So, clearly and regularly communicate with all staff the
benefits of new technological change, what’s required of them, how their day-to-day work will be impacted and how you’ll support their upskilling.

It’s also important to empower staff so they feel valued. This will motivate them to do their best. After all, employees must understand where they fit in with any new digital adoption, which can only be achieved in a culture that values trust, openness and clear communication.

Adopt a continuous review approach

Given how quickly technological change occurs, digital skills gaps can emerge frequently. As your organisation pivots and new priorities and requirements are identified following disruption, you therefore need to evaluate and take steps to overcome your gaps on an ongoing basis. This is not an exercise you can conduct once every few years. You should have a regular, scalable plan to maintain your employees’ skills.

Ultimately, rapid technological advances are a sign of our times. Legacy systems will continue to be updated and new technology introduced on a result basis. As a result, the need for digital skills in the workplace will only continue to grow, meaning that you need to be prepared to continuously monitor your organisation’s competencies and close new gaps as and when they emerge.


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