L&D’s crucial role in digital transformation

New skills and capabilities are needed if your organisation is to flourish in the digital world, according to Lynsey Whitmarsh and David Knight.

Traditional businesses are being disrupted and outmanoeuvred by digitally-adept competitors, who are proving better able to meet the needs of customers. In response, many traditional organisations are investing in digital technology or establishing digital academies to drive internal change.

These are commendable endeavours. But the real challenge of digital transformation is to bridge the skills gaps of your employees.

In a global study by Fujitsu, 70% of organisations claim they lack the necessary ‘digital skills’ to compete. This presents a significant opportunity for L&D teams. If you can bridge the digital talent gap – by nurturing, engaging and retaining digitally-skilled employees – you can secure your organisation’s future in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

Furthermore, a study by Capgemini found that 47% of employees would move to another employer that offered better digital skills development. In other words, providing robust digital development will not only help you to retain your talent, it will also enhance your employer brand and position your organisation as a more attractive environment for skilled digital workers.

What skills are required?

Fundamentally, businesses need to shift the mindsets and skills of their employees so they can engage with and confidently deploy digital technologies and practices in their everyday working lives. We are not talking here simply about IT staff; we are talking about the entire workforce.

A necessary preliminary step is to excite and engage senior executives and to communicate to the business the value of a digitally-enabled culture.

As well as being proficient with technology, digital working involves the ability to quickly realign priorities and alter work practices. It’s about empowering people, breaking down barriers and collaborating in self-organising teams. However, it’s also about welcoming diverse ideas, encouraging mistakes, proactively making improvements and interpreting customer needs.

Digital transformation therefore requires both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ digital skills. The hard skills include the specialist technical skills that are essential in new and leading-edge roles such as data scientists and AI experts.

However, all employees will also require a range of complementary soft skills, capabilities and behaviours if they are to flourish at work. This includes the ability to manage information, share knowledge, interact with others and solve problems in a modern, digital environment.

The key competencies that underpin these particular skills include: a willingness to learn; an openness to change; agility; flexibility; curiosity and resilience.

How can these skills be developed?

Some employers assume that they can bridge their digital talent gap simply by recruiting skilled staff. Sadly, that’s not the case because, globally, there is a digital skills shortage. Schools and universities are largely failing to equip young people with the digital skills that are needed in the workplace.

Demand for these skills outstrips supply and this means that only the most renowned employers – or the highest payers – will be able to attract the top digital talent.

Developing the digital capabilities of your existing employees is the most cost effective strategy in the long term. That’s why the UK government is advising employers to take greater ownership of their digital skills development. 

Unfortunately, according to Capgemini’s study, 45% of today’s digital talent describe their employer’s development programmes as ‘useless and boring’. L&D teams therefore need to create blended learning programmes which will excite and engage employees – and help them to embed their learning.

A necessary preliminary step is to excite and engage senior executives and to communicate to the business the value of a digitally-enabled culture. Formal and informal learning opportunities should then be created, using ‘next generation’ learning environments in which learners can free their imagination.

To achieve successful digital transformation, your organisation’s mission must emphasise that digital skills are critical at all levels.

Digital learning resources can also help L&D teams to up-skill employees quickly and effectively, and support them at the point of need in the workplace. Coaching and face-to-face training can be provided for leaders and managers who struggle to make the necessary behavioural and operational changes.

Making a strategic commitment

To achieve successful digital transformation, your organisation’s mission must emphasise that digital skills are critical at all levels. When clear and definitive goals have been established, agile work processes and practices can be developed to support digital working and resources can be assigned to accomplish the mission.

This may involve redesigning certain aspects such as job descriptions, recruitment practices (to hire ‘trainable’ individuals), reward packages and performance management processes.

Ultimately, every organisation can benefit by nurturing and developing the digital skills of its existing employees. However, this is particularly important if you want to unleash innovation and free people up to think differently, so they can respond more effectively to customer needs.

Companies which ignore the digital revolution – and rely on the ‘proven’ methods of the past – will rapidly fall behind, because they won’t be able to respond quickly or appropriately enough to compete.

By developing the necessary hard and soft digital skills in your organisation, you can not only enhance your employer brand, you can benefit from significant improvements in productivity, engagement, innovation and customer satisfaction.

A white paper – entitled ‘Bridging the digital talent gap’ – is freely available from www.hemsleyfraser.co.uk/resources


About the author

Lynsey Whitmarsh is Director of Digital and Innovation at learning and development specialist Hemsley Fraser. David Knight is Chairman and Director of Innovation at digital education specialist DEfactoED




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