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Do you have the digital skills it takes in today's digital economy?

INSIGHTS | August 11th 2021

A question many people ask of themselves in their daily lives and their teams in the workplace. But what are digital skills, why are they so important and how can you learn them?

Article by Nathan Baranowski

Why we need to embrace a changing digital world


The reality today is every business now relies on digital, and every business needs to ensure that their staff are equipped to use the current technologies deployed and are also ready to embrace new technologies that will drive their business forward in a digitally maturing age.

We have seen huge digital transformation across most sectors, with many jobs and many roles that never relied on computers in the past are now relying on technology to generate greater efficiency, enable organisations to have greater institutional knowledge and access more customers.

Fear of computers and technology is still a very real thing and when considering digital skills, people’s approach to technology is also very important to consider.

Many people do not join their jobs to work on computers. For example, if you're a doctor, the appeal to the profession was probably to help people, not to work on a digital case management system. However, the benefits that a digital case management system can bring to improving the wider health system and ultimately the patient is real, and the reality of late demonstrated that online consultations enabled doctors to keep doing what they do in a global pandemic.

Digital skills have become increasingly important as they underpin how we work more efficiently and effectively - so it is true to say that for many professions digital skills have now become quite simply part of the essential skills everyone needs, given that a European Commission study found that over 93% of workplaces use computers.


Basic digital skills – a great place to start


So, what skills do people need to be able to affectively succeed today and enable business success? And how do we break down the inequalities that still exist due to lack of digital skills in our developed world, let alone developing countries?

In broad terms, and according to UNESCO, digital skills are defined as those needed to “use digital devices, communication appliances and networks to access and manage information”. Of course, this ultimately breaks down into different tiering, spanning a range and variety of skills, starting with foundation level you would find defined by the UK Department for Education (DfE) which have become second nature to the Millennials and Gen Z digital natives.

From digital communications, handling information and content, transacting online, problem solving by presenting solutions through software and improving productivity, through to being safe and legal online through best practise, many people have enough for the traditional workplaces who have adopted digital systems to do their job well.

Catching up with our Head of Strategy, Deborah Fortescue, she gave us an insight around her journey into digital in the workplace.

“When I left university, I joined a small consultancy, where I was promptly presented with a very smart Sony Vaio probably worth more than my car at the time. I had used a computer to write my dissertation but that was about it.

One of our client’s was Microsoft and I distinctly remember to this day in an early meeting when something had gone slightly awry, I announced, “I'm slightly scared I'm going to break this thing” to which one of the colleagues turned to me to and said, “with respect, you are not bright enough to break your computer”. It was probably the best thing anyone could have ever said to me and from that moment forward I had a level of confidence that I was indeed not bright enough to break the computer and therefore felt very comfortable to play around, never feeling threatened by the computer again.”

Advancing digital skillsets has become a growing trait within the business world today, with the digital sector in growth, and many businesses now founded on technology there are many attaining more advanced skills pertaining to specific sectors or areas – things like (digital) marketing, social media, analytics, UX (User Experience), Artificial Intelligence (AI), web and app development, CRM software only represent a handful of the sorts of higher-level digital skills evolving all the time.

There is still a skills gap in the UK according to DfE; despite their importance it is reported that 10% of working adults don’t have the basic levels, and this gap is more pronounced in highly skilled professions. Many businesses intend to invest in training to rectify this internally, and/or partner with organisations like ourselves who can help them achieve the things they need in technology terms to ensure their growth.


Understanding capabilities with digital


We are often asked to look at the digital skill capabilities as part of our digital transformation programmes. A skills audit is a good way to be able to understand the current digital capabilities within your organisation and examine some of the digital skills that you wish to have in place in order to deliver your future goals.

For example, if you've already set out your digital strategy and you know where you're heading and the skills to get you there but you're unclear about where your current workforce currently sits. Or you are in the middle of building your digital strategy and need to understand, based on the current skill set how ambitious and what time scales are realistic to deliver it.

There are a few “off the shelf” digital skills audits out there and the government’s essential digital skills framework is a nice place to start if you have not explored this area before. This might be too low level for your business needs; however, the areas that they explore are useful even as a reminder.

Other areas that are worth considering are collaboration, as many organisations move to remote or blending working environments. How the team use digital tools to collaborate and communicate are going to be really important.

If you are reviewing your digital strategy, our latest e-Book describes how digital maturity modelling will help here too.

Data handling can add real value to a business and many people in an organisation don't understand the data that the organisation holds and how to optimise its value at the same time as ensuring data integrity and knowing when and how you can use that data ethically and legally. Understanding if your team have those skills and creating an effective training and development plan if you don’t.

There are several threats that digital can pose to an organisation, and your staff are a potential weak link if they do not have the skills to stay safe online, ensure security updates and know how to spot suspicious activity or emails.

Technology allows us to problem solve by enabling access to a plethora of information. But are you secure that your people are going to the right places, that the resources they are using are reputable? Having the skills to research and filter the right information is a skill and should be explored.

It is also beneficial to explore your leader’s digital skills independently. As you look across the table, (or gaze into zoom) do the people leading your organisation have the technical skills to drive your digital strategy. Are they living breathing digital champions? Are they articulating their digital visions and embracing innovation and experimentation? Where are you now and where do your team need to be.


Taking people on the journey


If you decide to go down the bespoke route, it is just as important to understand the level of aptitude and appetite for digital in your organisation. We can easily teach skills and bring in training but how comfortable are people with technology, what level of fear or excitement do they have to try something new. If you want to create a digital first culture, skills will only get you so far. Are there people in your organisation scared they might break the computer?

Now is also a great opportunity to explore your people’s experience of different technologies, even if they are not currently using them at work. What are people using outside work. Where are the opportunities to use tools that people are most comfortable with? Digital natives will represent nearly 75% of the workforce by 2030, so when you look at the workforce are you setting the right digital skill standards to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce.

If you're a smaller organisation this is where you might also identify some digital champions in your team. They don't have to be digital experts; they could be people who are keen and have a desire to embrace more technology. They can be the people that help embed your digital change across the business.

Finally, if you are looking to assess the skills within your organisation, keep your end goal in mind and ask questions that will help you ensure you know you have the skills in the organisation to deliver your strategy, not just your digital strategy. Any digital innovation you introduce, such as new digital service or platform, needs to be supported by a digitally enabled team with the right skills to ensure its success.


What next?


In the coming years, major technology breakthroughs will continue to impact the way we live and work across all sectors, and our need to adapt, change, re-learn, upskill will increase and no longer be optional but critical. And ensuring everyone has the ability to thrive in a digital first world is one of our main purposes as an organisation.

Contact us to find out how we can help you on your digital journey.

Download our FREE eBook for our top tips on realising your digital ambitions.




About the author

Nathan Baranowski

Digital Strategy & Solutions Architect

Chief Wondermaker and Head of Big Thinking, Tech Innovation & Solution Design at the wonderlab of all things digital, Nathan is the lead data scientist and "Super Thinker" in the team - and makes a great cup of coffee (or two).

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