In the post-pandemic world, being able to properly utilise a reliable IT infrastructure that can cope with the stresses and strains of an increasingly agile workforce will be key. Dominic Gill of Intequal examines the training needs and growing skills gap associated with the rapid adoption of new technologies – not only due to the impact of Covid-19 but also the digital transformation already happening before lockdown.
With Microsoft estimating that two years’ worth of digital transformation has occurred in only two months due to the pandemic and that 149 million new technology-oriented jobs will be created globally over the next five years, how do businesses ensure their workforce has the right digital skills to harness these technologies? A planned approach combining digital apprenticeships and digital skills training can successfully bridge this gap. Businesses can remain competitive both through building multi-generational teams to develop new talent and ideas, as well as enabling existing staff to get up to speed with the latest technological advancements.
Learning from the unprecedented
Each sector has been impacted by Coronavirus differently. However, one thing that has been made clear for most businesses is that our digital ways of working have undergone a major transformation. The global pandemic, and resulting lockdown, has demonstrated exactly why businesses must be prepared for changes to the digital landscape. For businesses that operate in fast-moving industries this is particularly pertinent. If businesses leaders fail to facilitate agile and effective digital planning within their broader operational strategy, they will quickly fall behind.
Recent months have seen much of the workforce forced to quickly adapt to homeworking.
Businesses that had previously relied on a traditional office structure were suddenly faced with the importance of upgrading to a new digital structure to facilitate effective remote working. At a time of widespread uncertainty and crisis, businesses that had not only invested in an up-to-date IT infrastructure but also ensured their employees had the right skills to utilise it, were able to adapt quickly to the rapidly changing situation. They were able to transition with ease to a home-based workforce. In contrast, businesses without a sufficiently planned IT provision were faced with, at best, disruptions to outputs and at worst, the inability to follow government guidelines and allow their workforce to work safely at home.
Reflect, plan and develop
Now is the time for businesses to take the opportunity to reflect on their lockdown experiences and identify any gaps in their existing IT provision and the digital skillsets of their workforce. Once leaders have reviewed and evaluated this, a plan must be quickly laid out. It is important that this plan encompasses issues highlighted by the pandemic, such as remote working provisions including virtual collaboration tools, alongside additional areas of digital transformation such as 5G, cloud data and artificial intelligence.
Start by addressing areas for development and outline the skills that will be required to enable each stage of the process in line with current and future operational needs. This will allow leaders to identify any skills gaps where new roles or upskilling will be required. For any changes in IT infrastructure to be effective, wider cultural changes must also take place. Businesses that are open and accepting when approaching changes will find the transition easier. Transparent communication to the wider team is crucial when it comes to achieving a positive, engaged workforce. Employees, at all levels, should be kept aware of the transitional strategy and the impact that this may have but also the opportunities this could present to their jobs and careers.
Innovate and upskill
It is important that as company leaders begin to resume full operations and welcome staff back into the business from furlough, they take the opportunity to upskill and develop their teams. A key part of this will be employing, training and upskilling to ensure that the workforce can utilise new technology and updated digital systems.
Businesses should approach the challenge of upskilling the workforce with an open mindset and consider the wide variety of training provision available. Digital apprenticeships are a proven method of ensuring that employees commencing a new occupation are fully competent in the latest technological developments. Supported correctly, apprentices should be able to demonstrate productivity benefits by applying knowledge learnt almost immediately whilst quickly integrating into the existing workforce. Their integration with experienced employees is also valuable and can be utilised to facilitate peer and reverse mentoring schemes that allow apprentices to ask questions that challenge the business to improve and innovate.
Longstanding employees benefit from the wealth of experience amassed throughout their career but may struggle to adapt to new digital systems and technologies. Employers should consider how the workforce can benefit from continuous learning which will allow employees to keep up with technology advancements. Investing in formal training for existing employees, such as online digital skills short courses, will contribute to creating a workforce that is informed and prepared to embrace and optimise the benefits of new technology.
Bringing new technologies into the workplace whilst ensuring employees have the skills to operate effectively can really drive innovation as it allows us to reconsider the way we approach our work. To enable this, it is important that the whole process is a collaborative effort, between all parts of the business, each using their own individual strengths to support one another.
Remember that this is not a static plan. The pandemic has taught us that being adaptable and open to rapid change is more crucial than ever. Your IT infrastructure and team’s skillsets will need to constantly evolve to align with an ever-changing digital world. If approached and dealt with correctly however, this new digital landscape will create truly positive, long-term business transformation.