Article: The state of digital skilling

HR Technology

The state of digital skilling

This research feature looks at the key challenges, and opportunity areas that companies face while skilling their employees on digital technologies.
The state of digital skilling

Rapidly changing technologies are transforming the modern workplace. According to the World Economic Forum, the combination of machines, humans and algorithms will create at least 133 million new jobs, and these new roles will require a blend of technical, creative, and problem-solving skills. This shift is changing business priorities and streamlining workflows, while improving product quality and customer service.  First, companies need to identify the right opportunities. Then, it’s imperative to find the right talent. 

Digitally mature companies are making the most of the latest trends that are impacting their respective industries. They understand how to be data-driven but also understand that there are limitations. For companies just embarking on this transformational journey, keeping an eye out for future developments in digital technology is critical for success.

Digital skill-building is no longer a luxury or pioneering strategy, but a necessity to remain relevant- Pradeep Josiah, HR-GAMA; Learning & Development, UST Global

“Digital skill-building is no longer a luxury or pioneering strategy, but a necessity to remain relevant. As we step into the future, the role of humans and machines will become deeply intertwined, and how quickly we learn to work alongside machines will determine our readiness for the future of work,” said Pradeep Josiah, HR-GAMA; Learning & Development, UST Global. To understand where companies are on their digital journey, People Matters and Simplilearn launched a survey on “Skilling 4.0 – A Study on Digital Readiness.”  The study is based on input from over 100 companies regarding the approaches that leading organizations are adopting to integrate their employee learning strategies with their digital business goals.

Here are some of the key findings of the study:

[Trend 1] Rising demand for digital skills but lack of clear roadmap for training

The demand for digital skills is clear. 87 percent of the companies we surveyed said that “Digital Skilling” is important or very important. Whether it’s pharmaceuticals, banking and financial services, or information technology, the need for digital skills is resounding.

However, 65 percent say that they do not have a clearly defined roadmap. As companies turn to digital skilling programs, they are still unsure of which modalities to choose when embarking on the journey.

For the most part, survey respondents identified a functional leader or a C-suite member as the owner of the learning program. Only two percent said line managers, and four percent said employees were driving these initiatives. This clearly shows that digital skills are important enough that such programs are being driven by the top levels of leadership. “There is talent disparity between industry and academia; only a fraction of the students graduating each year have readily deployable skills. This puts tremendous pressure on the limited quality of talent as product-based organizations usually recruit the best talent in the market,” said Pradeep.

“Organizations need intense and engaging programs for existing mid-level leaders to transform project managers and delivery managers into digital project leaders,” he added

[Trend 2] Training and Upskilling is the 'No. 1' Talent Priority in the Context of Digitization and Automation

For companies that have already started a training and upskilling program, the top priority is “training and upskilling existing talent,” with 85 percent of respondents saying that it is critical for their business. This is closely followed by “enabling a digital mindset at the leadership level” with 74 percent of the respondents identifying it as a key priority. At 61 percent, “hiring the right digital talent” ranks third.

“From a leadership standpoint, it is important to create the right environment – where there is recognition for innovation and new ways of working,” said Suraj Chettri, HR – Head, Airbus India

In terms of readiness, HR departments feel more prepared to initiate conventional talent acquisition (TA) and learning and development (L&D) programs. When asked about other modes of learning, like mentoring and coaching, they are not as ready. Other challenges include the ability to accurately benchmark existing skill levels in the organization and enabling a digital mind-set in leadership.

[Trend 3] 63 percent say Òlearning awarenessÓ and Òaligning learning to business' are top digital skilling challenges

When asked about the practical challenges that learning teams encounter when providing digital skilling courses, a majority of respondents highlighted that “learning awareness” is a key challenge. 

Knowledge of courses and knowing when and what to learn can be a challenge unless companies are already employing resources to track shifts or are interfacing with industry entities. The fact remains that apart from a handful of industries (like information technology) that have access to robust learning roadmaps and experts at the forefront of digital transformation, the technical know-how is limited. Another key challenge is aligning learning to the needs of the business.  Again, companies that have access to both in-house and market experts are better positioned to align courses to business needs.  

The quality of courses (26 percent), leadership buy-in (30 percent), and learner engagement (30 percent) are a few areas that are not on the top of the agenda for many companies. This shows how far along on the journey that companies are with respect to L&D. It also shows that there are now more choices in the market for many vendors with the increasing use of technology to improve learner engagement through tools like gamification that are changing the landscape.

While companies have identified their challenges, which jobs are they recruiting for?

The survey shows that the most in-demand jobs are: Digital Business Analysts (63 percent), Data Scientist (59 percent), AI and ML Engineers (54 percent) and Digital Marketing Experts (52 percent). Jobs that are in lower demand, include, Full Stack Developers (17 percent), Cloud Architect (30 percent), Digital Project Manager (24 percent), etc.“Emerging technologies such as data science, AI, and ML have the potential to unlock multiple possibilities. While they are still at a nascent stage, and we are still understanding of the impact that these technologies could have, organizations are increasingly building digital-centric teams to accelerate their journey,” said Vikram Rao, Learning and Development Lead, JCPenny

[Trend 4] Longer courses that use a blended-learning approach to teach role-based competencies are the most preferred

Most companies (59 percent) prefer digital skilling programs that last between six to 12 months, thereby providing the learner with enough content and practice to truly master new skills needed for specific roles within the organization.

Increasingly, companies are giving importance to “experiential/ hands-on” learning courses. In fact, 89 percent of companies say it’s either important or very important. And, 80 percent say that expert mentorship for learners is also important or very important. Companies are also employing a variety of learning approaches for digital skilling. 80 percent of respondents say that they use a combination of online video learning, instructor-led classrooms, and virtual learning sessions. 

Although companies show an interest in incorporating practical, hands-on learning and mentorship courses, it is worth noting that these were also among the key challenges they identified. “Creating mentoring opportunities” was ranked as a top challenge area that HR teams are not prepared to handle. And, 37 percent of companies also said that the ‘lack of mentorship’ opportunities is a key challenge.

[Trend 5] Impact of the digital skilling program is determined by 'Job-ready employees,' 'Retention' and 'Engagement'

When asked about how they define the success of a digital skilling program, 63 percent said that a combination of three measures will determine success – ‘employees ready to be deployed to projects immediately’, ‘retention,’ and ‘improved engagement with employees’.  

As mentoring and hands-on training become the new norm in digital skilling, it will be easier for companies to link these metrics to their learning programs. Without a robust system to train and practice these skills, learning outcomes will be attenuated.  

The impact of a digital skilling program is also determined by the culture that is fostered at work. Are employees incentivized to learn? What kinds of opportunities are they exposed to after completing a learning program?  In this regard, 74 percent of the companies surveyed said they already have a rewards and recognition program associated with the digital skilling program. Many companies employ internal and external recognition (48 percent) while linking digital skilling programs to performance reviews (41 percent) and new job opportunities (43 percent). 

“One crucial aspect is to redesign existing learning and training methods by including hackathons, innovation labs, and micro-learning. Organizations must also offer co-payment models to fund expensive skilling programs and encourage their employees to enhance their skills through external platforms,” Pradeep said.

In light of the above shifts, companies also need to proactively measure the effectiveness of their learning models - the shift to continuous learning needs to be complemented with continuous tracking as well as continuous feedback. 


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Topics: HR Technology

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