Sollid and up-to-date digital skills are a must for career success in today’s technological realms, and reducing areas of obsolescence or outright unfamiliarity is essential for workers and companies alike. The pace of change in technology remains relentless, and complacency equates stagnation.
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I spoke to Suneet Dua, chief product officer for PwC, a management consulting company, about digital skills gaps to get some insider perspectives on the challenges and remedies associated with these shortcomings.
Scott Matteson: What are the challenges involved with handling digital skill gaps?
Suneet Dua: Gaps in digital skills are a pervasive problem in today’s business environment. Companies expend a great deal of resources closing the gap, but several challenges exist.
First, it is difficult to accurately assess the skill level of their people, determine the skills that are most needed by the company today and in the future, and determine the gap between the two.
A second challenge that companies face is creating learning pathways that are customized by role and by an individual’s skill level.
Third, the traditional approach to adult learning is content-centric. It is proven that experiential learning is needed to make learning truly stick. Unless a company has implemented the process and tools necessary for people to apply learning in the context of their function and role, it will be challenging for the learning to yield the desired result.
Finally, learning in and of itself will not deliver the highest benefit if it’s not shared throughout an organization. If a company does not have a mechanism to share the output of the newly upskilled people, then the benefits will not scale to the entire company.
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Scott Matteson: What are the recommended remedies?
Suneet Dua: Planning is the first step to remedying the digital skills gap. There is a wealth of data available to help companies understand the skills required for today and in the future; data that is in the context of a company’s industry and its specific roles. Measurable improvement to the skills gap will not be effective without understanding what the gap is, both for the current workforce and the workforce of the future.
The second step to narrow the skills gap is to create an engaging learning environment for the company and its people. Engagement comes in the form of relevant content served up in familiar ways, and in a form (e.g. video, podcast, course, etc.) that can be consumed at the right time and place for the learner. The content needs to be relevant to the person and curated and delivered based on the particular needs of that person.
Third, the content needs to be function-specific and relevant to the person’s job, and the person must be able to practice and experience the new skills in the context of their responsibilities.
Finally, the way to ensure benefit to the entire organization is to enable people to share their newly-developed skills. This could be through central repositories in which people can search for assets relevant to their jobs. In addition, people who aren’t skilled in particular areas should be able to submit ideas and challenge the experts to come up with great solutions.
Scott Matteson: How can companies attract the best talent to reduce those gaps?
Suneet Dua: Companies need to determine the balance between attracting and hiring talent and upskilling their existing people.
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Millennials and Generation X employees often cite lack of career progress as one of the top reasons they leave their jobs. On the other hand, upskilled employees tend to have higher job satisfaction, more confidence in the future of their work and a stronger ability to take on new roles or grow into jobs with greater responsibility. To attract and retain the best talent, companies need to advertise that they’re willing to invest in people and prepare them for the future. A recent PwC CEO survey found that 93% of CEOs who introduce upskilling programs see increased productivity as well as an improvement in talent acquisition, retention and a more resilient workforce.
In addition to upskilling programs, making digital tools, like robotic process automation, self service analytics and visualization, available to the broader population of employees provides people with the time and opportunity to work on the most complex problems, not repetitive mundane tasks. More time for value-add activities and creative work is what top employees want.
Scott Matteson: What are some methods for automating repetitive tasks?
Suneet Dua: To automate repetitive tasks at scale, organizations are using specialized tools for robotic process automation, data transformation and data visualization, as well as more advanced tools for intelligent document process, workflow automation and chatbot creation.
People who have the necessary digital skills can leverage these tools to streamline existing processes and identify areas of opportunity. Upskilling the organization is a critical way to develop the skills to engage in this process, and a well-considered upskilling program will ensure that the tools selected by the organization are embedded in the learning pathways.
The bottom line is that enabling a citizen-led movement allows the individuals closest to the business problem, equipped with sufficient upskilling, to solve those problems directly, including identifying the best tasks to automate.
Scott Matteson: What are the benefits of doing so?
Suneet Dua: The benefits are many, and a well-developed upskilling program can have a significant financial and people impact. The most obvious financial impact is the resource hours saved by streamlining manual processes. But there are other financial impacts to consider.
The cost of employee attrition has been measured at more than two times the employee’s salary. Upskilling provides a meaningful benefit to the person, and learning opportunities have been shown to increase employee engagement. Higher engagement almost always leads to greater employee retention. In addition, engaged employees have been shown to have higher overall productivity, which impacts a company’s bottom line.
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Finally, upskilling and a culture of continuous learning can stimulate innovation and out-of-the-box thinking in an organization. Innovation isn’t only about automating process, but is about identifying new ways to gain insight about the business and finding unique paths to generate increased business results.
Scott Matteson: How should companies inspire continuous learning?
Suneet Dua: Companies inspire continuous learning by making it front and center in daily operations. Tying company results to learning activities engages people and promotes the notion that learning is not a side activity but that it is core to the success of the business. Some techniques that we’ve found to work include:
- Publicize the outcomes and results of new digital solutions created by employees. Acknowledge and reward people to generate excitement, enthusiasm and a sense of shared success.
- Give people protected time so they can learn new skills in the normal course of work. At PwC we have entire work days allocated to skill-building called Infinite Learning Days.
- Set the tone from the top. If leadership encourages learning and holds employees accountable—and backs up what they say with incentives and rewards—people will see the culture as authentic.
- Make it fun! Gamify some of the rewards systems to create excitement, engagement and friendly competition. At PwC we do this through firm-wide upskilling trivia games and other initiatives.
Scott Matteson: Can you tell us about the digital transformation you engaged in and what was involved?
Suneet Dua: We started our digital transformation a few years ago. PwC recognized that a significant change needed to be made to scale and realize the growth potential of the business. It was for this reason we took the leap into upskilling our entire workforce.
We committed to “leave no one behind” with a firm-wide Digital Fitness program that would help both accelerate adoption and upskill employees. Our 55,000 people have access to programs where they can learn how to use digital tools for data visualization, automation, data cleansing and more. When our people use these tools to solve common problems, they help us become more efficient and growth-oriented now and more innovative later.
Now, employees are learning to build bots and other digital assets. Thus far, over 7,000 of these assets have been created, and close to 9 million hours have been eliminated from our work. We have been able to increase our revenue at a far higher rate than we’ve had to increase headcount, which has a direct impact on our operating margins.
By combining our learnings along the way with our years of experience, we ultimately found success. We knew there had to be a better way—a way we could help streamline this process for others with a single platform that provides a systematic upskilling process from beginning to end.
This realization—as well as insights gathered from our own experience—inspired the creation of ProEdge, a product which focuses exclusively on achieving these goals we have discussed.