Lloyds Bank launched a report in May that examined the progress of digital skills in the UK over the previous year. It found that the needle had shifted … not at all. Over half of the UK workforce lack essential digital skills for work. Findings from other research suggest a similar picture in many other countries.
At a Digital Skills Partnership roundtable of businesses, one participant commented: "We’ve never really had the push or need to use a lot of the digital skills and tools we have. Now we are being forced into a situation where we must use them."
That’s been a familiar story, with digital skills not seen as a priority until recently. It’s a pretty dismal picture, but one that has been changing fast as the pandemic has brought the importance of digital ways of working and living very much to the fore — both for individuals and organizations. It’s noteworthy that, since the start of lockdown, enrollments in the "Digital Skills for the Workplace" course collection on FutureLearn reached over half a million. In fact, it’s never been a better time, with more momentum, to raise the digital IQ of your organization.
Employers and Employees Invest in Digital Skills During the Pandemic
Employers have been investing like never before in improving the digital dexterity of the workforce. Digital workplace and learning teams have been creative in providing new resources at speed and finding ways to support workers via digital champions. In Singapore, a survey found that 60% of employers were using the pandemic to train their workforces. Soft skills such as adaptability, resilience and collaboration were rightly the top priority followed closely by the skills for employees to use technology in their roles and more generally.
In tandem, employees have been seeing the value of investing in their own digital skills to help stay connected and boost employability. The Open University found 24% of employees took on additional learning opportunities during the pandemic, with 23% prioritizing digital skills. When asked about what support they needed, almost a quarter said they would like more direction from their employers in this learning. In a wider poll by RPA, 90% believe their employers should be more willing to invest in digital and technology skills training for their employees.
These research insights suggest a new level of appetite for digital skills, demand for organizational support and investment in digital skills as well as a commitment from employees to invest the time in them.
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Harnessing the Opportunity and Maintaining Momentum
As the newly and suddenly remote workforce transitions to a longer term set up of virtual or hybrid working, there’s a great opportunity to harness this collective understanding of why digital skills matter and demand to learn how to use digital tools more effectively. With the busy working life that most of us face, it can be hard to prioritize learning new tools, yet almost everyone I speak to has taken on new tools or used them in new ways during the lockdown.
We need to find ways to keep this momentum up. In fact, both the World Economic Forum and World Bank are urging organizations to see digital upskilling as a key part of their response to and recovery from the upheaval of the pandemic.
From the Digital Skills Partnership roundtable again: “When we come out of the other side of this, we need to keep the momentum going. The workforce is already on a steep learning curve and that is going to continue.”
So how do we keep the momentum going?
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Freely Available Digital Skills Resources for Your Staff
The "Digital Skills for the Workplace" course collection on FutureLearn is a great example of the many free resources that have been made available during the pandemic. It includes modules such as collaborative working with a remote team, creating a professional online presence, and well-being and resilience at work. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to raising your organization’s digital IQ.
The Rolls-Royce Digital Academy is another interesting example. The academy started as an internal initiative in 2017 to digitally upskill its 20,000 employees and — when the pandemic hit — the organization opened it up. It covers fundamental skills such as information literacy and data awareness through to more advanced ones like understanding artificial intelligence and machine learning.
There are many more, such as COVID-19 resources for digital champions from Digital Unite, the UK Government’s Skills Toolkit, and Microsoft’s digital literacy course. Curating the best of what’s freely available can provide a big head start to your digital learning resources.
Maintaining the Digital Skills Focus Moving Forward
One of the main barriers to improving digital skills is not knowing where people are struggling or what the gaps are. From the roundtable again: “When it comes to the workforce and digital skills, one of the challenges is that employers don’t really know what they need. They don’t know what questions to ask or what to look for."
One of the first steps is doing an audit, no matter how light touch, into how your workforce is doing with digital skills right now, what they need help with, and what kind of resources work best for them. This is also about encouraging employees to drive their own digital skills journey, harnessing their newfound interest and investment in this area to determine where they want to go with it — now, but also on an ongoing basis. Think about creating digital skills development plans, allowing time for learning, and encouraging staff to explore and experiment with digital tools. And don’t underestimate the power of digital champions to disseminate skills among the workforce.
As we head into winter, we’re becoming all too aware of the potential mental health impacts of prolonged isolation. As one participant in the roundtable put it: “As we go through the isolation process, loneliness at work will become more apparent. Keeping in touch regularly with the people you are working with, keeping up social relations and making sure you keep in contact with your employees is important."
This is really critical — I’m a big advocate of digital skills as the foundation for digital wellbeing. Thinking beyond just how to use the devices and the applications, to a really rounded set of skills (as I set out in the Digital Workplace Skills Framework) can help to support connection and wellness for staff as they work digitally. In fact, thinking about the digital skills that staff need not just for work but for their life more generally is a holistic view that could really be beneficial right now — helping people live well digitally will also support people to work well digitally.
How can you partner with employees on digital skills moving forward? Do you know what their needs are and how best to reach them? How can you foster a culture of digital learning and exploration on an ongoing basis?
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