FUTURE FOCUS - Digital literacy
But if organisations like yours don’t act now to support their people, their futures will be in jeopardy.
Be a leader in the digital race
An insight guide for CIOs looking
to address the digital skills gap
Digital isn’t a dark art
But if organisations like yours don’t act now to support their people, their futures will be in jeopardy.
Digital literacy should be a central concern for individuals, governments and businesses alike. The pace of change is impacting every facet of our environment.
In the business arena, the opportunities presented by big data, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and more, are creating a new competitive landscape.
To evolve and thrive in this market, organisations must invest not just in the right technology, but also the right talent: people who can turn that technology into a business advantage.
The UK government considers digital skills to be the main driver of economic growth – the so-called “pipeline to prosperity.”
The need for upskilling on a national level is clear – and urgent. Businesses that don’t act will be left behind in the race to innovate and see their customer bases shrink and revenues dwindle.
People, then, must be at the heart of a digital strategy, and businesses need to prepare for the future today if they want to compete.
One of the key questions Capita poses in Beyond 2020: Helping you embrace transformation, is, 'How do we attract and retain the right talent?'
Here, in the first part of our series looking at the priorities for businesses in the digital age, we discuss the challenges of digital literacy.
How do we approach the digital literacy skills gap, how do business leaders enable continuous learning, and can we really all become data scientists? More importantly, what happens if we don’t do all of this?
More than 75 percent of executives experiencing challenges in digital recruitment (Deloitte)
We know more than ever, why the skills shortfall?
There is no simple answer to this, but we can certainly point to the speed at which technology has moved in the last few years as a major reason for the skills gap we’re seeing.
Many people – and organisations – don’t feel part of the digital progress going on around them. Schools are embracing digital, changing ways of teaching and learning, but education shouldn’t stop when we leave the classroom.
In fact, it needs to accelerate because we have to apply skills in practical situations to solve real business challenges.
Kathryn Parsons is founder of Decoded, an organisation that has been driving digital skills in the UK since 2011.
'We may have up to 30 different careers in our increasingly long life-times.' She says, 'So, there’s suddenly this huge skills gap and this huge need for an education revolution, and it is important that government and business and individuals all play a role in that.'
The current workforce includes everyone from digital natives to those who started their careers before the now-ubiquitous Microsoft Office tools such as Word and Excel were invented. As a result, there is great diversity in the typical organisation’s workforce.
Given the make-up of the modern workplace, it is a mistake to prioritise digital-native, tech-oriented talent at the expense of the older, more experienced but less technically aware members of your employee base.
Anyone with the desire to learn can easily master digital skills with the right support.
To successfully bridge the skills shortfall, companies need to invest in continual upskilling, so that they can manage employees’ divergent experiences and expectations, and cultivate expertise ‒ from whatever angle it comes ‒ for the benefit of the business.
It is estimated that 65% of students today will end up working in job that doesn’t currently exist 2
Calling all pioneers!
It is estimated that 12.6 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills, which could cost the economy £63 billion in lost GDP a year 1.
We all need to do more to turn this trend around. But perhaps the biggest onus is in the workplace.
Organisations across the UK have most to lose if this situation isn’t remedied.
Without upping digital literacy, the pool of talent that businesses will have to draw from will diminish along with their market share as customers migrate to more digitally savvy competitors.
An example of the positive steps being made to plug the skills gap in the UK is the Institute of Coding and government £5 million joint project, which is creating closer ties between stakeholders in the digital economy.
The initiative aims to deliver thousands of courses, including upskilling professionals to better meet the increasingly digital needs of their roles.
In the workplace, business leaders have a critical role to play in the skills revolution.
They need to be pioneers, actively seeking information on new-wave techs, leading education initiatives, and driving a learning-for-life culture.
But they also need to be confident enough to learn alongside their workforces, exploring new ways of working and applications of technology.
Successful businesses have been investing heavily in digital literacy, both in their own workplaces and beyond, for some time already.
For example, Google’s $1 billion investment in digital education and IBM’s $70 million digital skills initiative in Africa.
1) Science and Technology committee report 2) McKinsey, Class of 2030 study
The danger of not being on top of digital is clear. It’s not just that your organisation will lose a bit of business if it doesn’t employ next-gen tools, it’s that your business will ultimately fail.
There is a huge amount of promise around what big data, analytics, AI and other digital developments will help businesses achieve, but you won’t be able to capitalise on this unless you know what it all means and how it applies to your organisation.
You and every member of your organisation need to have that awareness. From office administrator to CFO, each person must understand how to use data in their role to make a difference.
Andrew Grill highlights digital curiosity as a necessity. He says,
“It’s a massive problem if you don’t know what is happening digitally in your industry or to your own company: you’re not just sleep-walking, you’re walking completely blind into a minefield. You need to disrupt before you’re disrupted.”
The truth is, there is nothing mysterious about digital.
You don’t need to be a computing graduate to be a data scientist, you just need access to relevant technologies ‒ which are increasingly available to everyone thanks to open-source software ‒ and, crucially, the aptitude, motivation and time to learn.
The shift businesses need to make is the realignment of learning as a priority led not by HR, or even the C-suite, but by every member of staff. Your business success relies on having a diverse workforce with the desire to learn and adapt.
The beauty of our fast-changing world is that anyone can learn anything ‒ knowledge and skills once the preserve of the few are being democratised.
it’s not all about the big bucks
Most organisations don’t have an unlimited budget for technology or training.
While businesses such as Google are buying up entire university departments in an effort to fuel their need for digital talent, the rest must rely on smart strategies rather than raw buying power.
Education, upskilling and re-skilling are the answer. Harnessing the potential of big data analytics or machine learning within your organisation, for example, requires use of what have always been regarded as specialist data analysis and data mining tools.
But there are open-source as well as proprietary versions of these tools available to anyone with the willingness to learn.
Kathryn Parsons has a real-life example of this in action. She says,
“In one month a Decoded Data Academy student, who had never written a line of code in their life, learnt how to use new tools to do clustering analysis on the sales data sets in their business, allowing them to predict customer purchasing decisions."
However, the majority of companies aren’t embracing the transformation potential of learning – or giving their employees the time and freedom they need.
Business leaders must spearhead enlightened approaches to learning. For example, giving staff time during their working days to acquire new role-based skills.
Or enabling time off work to learn skills that aren’t directly related to their role, but that will be advantageous for their career and personal progression.
This approach is still regarded as progressive in most industries and among most companies, with few embracing training to this extent.
However, these types of initiative should be regarded as an investment in the future of your business rather than as lost productivity or an expense that cannot be recouped.
Without everyone on-board working towards digital skills attainment, your company will not be prepared for the opportunities beyond 2020.
The march of AI, robotics and automation, among numerous other developments, is driving an urgent need for a more technically skilled workforce.
Successful disruptors will be those that invest in every member of their workforce to get digital.
As we have explored, the role of business leaders is critical in this skills revolution.
What starts in the classroom is a life-long endeavour that must be fostered by organisations and those who lead them in order to realise the benefits that digital holds for all our futures.
Around 500,000 highly skilled workers will be needed to fulfil digital roles by 2022 3
Key actions for business leaders
- Understand what tools and skills you need.
Whether it’s expertise in AI or analytics, you must understand what your business requires to digitally transform.
Your ability to drive customer loyalty, increase sales or shake-up operational processes all rely on your employees using data effectively. Everyone in your organisation needs to be a data scientist.
Outcome: With a strategic approach to your digital requirements and a data-driven workforce, your business will be ready to adapt when market dynamics change, allowing you to capitalise on opportunities ahead of the competition.
- Instil and enable a passion for life-long learning.
Cultivate an environment that puts a high value on learning and individual skills progression. This doesn’t just mean training staff to meet the digital challenges of their jobs – it means supporting personal development too.
All parts of our lives are affected by digital, and increasingly we can no longer draw a line between personal and career development. Those with the curiosity and motivation to learn will be the most valuable assets to your business.
Outcome: You will be supported by a forward-thinking team that is loyal, reducing your attrition and attracting the best talent to your organisation.
- Champion diversity of talent.
It’s not just digital natives who will help your business transform. You need a broad spectrum of talent within your workforce – those with experience in different industries and technologies, from the traditional to the next-gen, and with decade-long careers versus those with no practical experience within the workplace. All these voices need to be heard.
Outcome: By supporting talent from different eras, ages and experiences, you will create a wealth of knowledge to inform your transformation journey.
- Enable agility in all areas of work.
People with different life and work experiences will naturally have different preferred methods of working. Support flexibility and encourage your people to work in whatever way maximises their productivity and creativity – choosing the device, time of day and environment that work best for them.
Outcome: Agile working is a key business driver. By supporting bring-your-own-device policies and giving your staff access to technology that enables them to work from anywhere, your business will gain competitive advantage.
- Start big or start small – but start.
Digital literacy can be a small, incremental journey, not a huge step change. It’s not about the amount spent, but the culture instilled. Even the smallest changes can reap significant changes for your business.
If you don’t provide training, provide funding. If you don’t provide funding, provide the time and freedom for staff to follow their own choices. The only wrong choice is to do nothing.
Outcome: By having the confidence to start the journey, you become a leader in your field – not merely reactive to what your competitors do.
3) McKinsey, Class of 2030 study