The rapid advent and adoption of new technologies in the workplace is creating a significant gap between those workers who are proficient and those who are not. At the same time, automation is phasing out previously critical positions, forcing workers to adapt to new roles — and in some cases, entirely new careers.
According to McKinsey & Company, 87% of companies say they have skill gaps among their workforce. Such gaps not only impact a company’s productivity but can also lead to low morale and a sense of frustration with one’s position, stunting employees’ long-term career growth.
Thus, upskilling — the process of developing skills to maintain one’s job — and reskilling — the process of developing skills to qualify for a different job — are vital to ensure employees are properly trained to fulfill the needs of their business. This is especially true where technology is concerned. Whether it’s software or hardware, the tech brought in to improve a company’s functions will be a wasted investment if no one can skillfully operate it. Training should be an integral part of transformation, not a caveat to it.
However, the burden of training cannot fall solely on the employees themselves. Bridging the digital skills gap is a cross-industrial, cross-organizational and cross-generational effort. It requires time, ample resources and individual engagement on the part of every learner. Coalescing all those factors can seem daunting, but it’s necessary.
The key is to create value for employees. Give them credentials for their new skills. Offer pathways to raises and promotions. By creating and implementing valuable, credential-driven training programs, companies will foster a true learning incentive and manifest meaningful skill growth.
Aligning Skills Development With the Digital Transformation
As the workplace evolves, so do the skills needed to function and be productive within it. To give a broad example, before the pandemic, being familiar with Zoom might have simply been a “nice to have,” but not a core competency. Now? It’s vital. This is a digital transformation that happened in the space of months — albeit precipitated by seismic world events — but nevertheless a widely felt example of how the skills necessary for a job can change in an instant.
On a more granular level, individual roles and niches, especially within the technology industry, are often subject to more incremental transformations. Software developers, for example, are consistently learning new coding languages and PaaS/IaaS platforms. Other companies, as their reliance on enterprise technology grows, are requiring deep specialization in programs like Marketo and Salesforce. These breakneck changes are gouging a wider divide in proficiency, and if workers can’t keep up the pace, their roles could be phased out.
There is also a generational component to the digital skills gap. Younger, “digital native” employees may have a leg up on other generations when it comes to adopting new programs and technologies — with such early and incessant exposure, they simply have the cognitive schemata to figure them out. On the other hand, older and longer-tenured employees may be more familiar with how training takes place at their company, even if they aren’t as familiar with the new technologies management is implementing.
The conditional “may” is critical language here. Everyone’s experience is different. People’s disparate backgrounds and exposures are part of what creates these skill gaps, but they also bring a valuable diversity of perspectives. By thoroughly considering the variations in their employees’ skill competencies, whether through surveys or on-site observation, companies can better design training programs that are truly equitable. From there, the challenge is in creating and sourcing training materials that everyone can firstly understand, and secondly, in which they can see value for themselves as well as the organization.
Here are a few steps to ensure no learner is left behind:
- When implementing a new software system in the office, choose “ambassadors” to become experts on the program. They can then help train new employees.
- Invest in and develop courses with digital certifications and badges. Not only will it help you keep up with who’s qualified, but learners can share them on social media and use them to fuel their own career growth.
- Make learning feel less like a chore by building it into daily operations. For example, managers can help their direct reports organize their schedules and tasks so training can happen on the clock. Holding interactive, full-team trainings can also get employees more engaged.
- If possible, try to match the pace of integration/implementation with the pace at which your employees can realistically receive training.
Keep in mind that skills development should also be happening at the individual level. With the recent growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and widespread automation, workers are seeking to create highly specialized roles for themselves to reinforce their value. To that end, people’s unique talents and interests are more powerful than ever before.
Upskilling: A Meaningful Investment in the Workforce
Many workers will leave a job because they either don’t see an opportunity for growth, or they aren’t given the opportunity to gain the skills necessary for an upward move. Moreover, if they don’t have the proper skills to meet the evolving demands of the business, they’ll be less effective and less fulfilled in their roles. In short: People aren’t going to work hard if they don’t feel their hard work is leading them anywhere.
Investing in upskilling and reskilling employees is thus instrumental in maintaining a productive and engaged workforce. New skills not only give employees more satisfaction in their jobs, but they also afford increased leverage when asking for raises and can be bridges to higher-paying jobs. Take Amazon’s upskilling program for example, which trains hourly workers in software development and other high-demand skills, allowing them to access higher-paying positions while keeping talent within the company and reducing turnover. Amazon has seen 70,000 employees take advantage of the program.
Amidst its challenges, digital transformation offers a wealth of opportunities. As new technology gains a foothold in the workplace, it creates the potential for a groundswell of specialized experts. People are building their own positions and finding a genuine passion for their work — but not without the support of their organizations. Ultimately, effective professional development requires synergy between managers and employees to identify the upskilling/reskilling programs that will reignite their motivation and propel them toward their goals.
The Importance of Verification
It’s not enough to simply teach someone a new skill — learners need proof of their accomplishments, whether that’s to land a promotion, secure a higher-paying job, or justify their competence in a new program their company is adopting.
By implementing upskilling programs that offer digital credentials, employers not only have the opportunity to address the technological skills gap, but to invest more meaningfully in their workers, giving them well-earned credentials, they can take with them anywhere.
And that means anywhere. Their credentials need to be transferable and easily verified — this is why more companies and training organizations are opting for digital credentials, which can be searched in a repository and displayed on social media for optimized visibility.
Digital credentials are also more secure than traditional paper or PDF credentials, with many platforms offering bank-level encryption or even blockchain-backing, so employees know their proof of accomplishment is safe — and companies know their qualifications are real.
Digital transformation is more than just another workplace buzzword — it’s the here and now, impacting all our lives as we forge our careers. But while this great wave of change is creating the skills gap leaders must work to remedy, it’s also creating opportunities for growth, specialization and more efficient work overall. The key to bridging the skills gap is not to resist these changes or remove anyone who can’t keep up. Rather, it’s to find harmony between necessary training and employees’ interests, arming them with the tools and encouragement to achieve their potential.