Digital skills for businesses


11th March, 2022

Digital skills: How they help futureproof your workforce

Our economy is becoming more digitised by the day, bringing digital skills and capabilities further into the spotlight among business owners and operators.

As society continues to evolve, so does the way we do business.

The world is swiftly moving towards an all-digital future. Whether it be the way we communicate with our colleagues and customers, the internal processes we set up for administration, the way we monitor business performance, or how we deliver our products or services, every traditional process now has a more efficient digital alternative.

An all-digital economy is an exciting prospect, but as technology advances, the global workforce needs to adapt and transition to remain effective.

The more digital processes a business takes on, the more important it is to provide digital skills training to its existing team, as well as to recruit talent that has the digital skillsets and know-how to navigate those processes into the future.

What are digital skills?

Digital skills are outlined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as a “range of abilities to use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information.”

Of course, this broad definition takes on different meanings when looked at through the lenses of specific industries.

For instance, the digital skills required for those working in the hospitality industry would generally relate to the use and configuration of delivery optimisation software, while for those working in the professional services industry, fluency in Microsoft Office and Adobe tools would be more relevant.

Why are digital skills important?

With digital technology underpinning most business activities that are undertaken in today’s day and age, the skills required to utilise these technologies are becoming increasingly important.

In fact, it is estimated that more than 250,000 Australian jobs will be created through digitation by 2025, and by 2030, the entire Australian economy – from individuals, businesses, non-profits, and Government bodies, will have transitioned to become completely digitally driven.

Moreover, the New Zealand Digital Skills Forum Report highlights that the technology and digital sectors are the fastest growing industries in the country and a major contributor to the broader economy – underlining the important role digital skills play in the country’s business ecosystem.

Basic versus advanced digital skills

Digital skills can generally be divided into two categories: basic, and advanced – and both sets of skills form a fundamental part of the evolving digital economy.

Basic digital skills refer to the fundamental skills that exist across most (if not all) industries.

While this subset casts a wide net across many types of digital skills, some examples include:

  • Proficiency in sending emails or messages on platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack or Skype
  • The ability to use the internet safely – knowing how to choose and store passwords securely, and which websites to avoid
  • Using search engines effectively and developing an awareness of which web sources are reliable
  • Being able to navigate essential Software as a Service (SaaS) products through internet-based resources such as YouTube videos or FAQ pages

Advanced digital skills are far more niche in that they involve deeper and more specialised expertise in digital spheres.

Some examples of these skills can be:

  • A comprehensive understanding of how to develop predictive algorithms based on data trends that have been analysed in a range of environments. In the tech world, these skills are paired with artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation technologies
  • Expertise in developing systems that leverage business intelligence data to improve employee and/or customer experience
  • Knowledge and ability to utilise various coding languages to develop web pages and applications that reflect an organisation’s offering
  • Insight into creating content that is optimised for search engines, so it ranks as highly as possible when being searched for online

In other words, the need for basic digital skills can be expected to appear in all industries and at every level, while the need for more advanced skills tends to surface in more unique circumstances.

The digital skills gap

Notwithstanding the apparent importance of digital skills and the role they play in our growing digital economies, access to people who possess these skills is scarce, a problem that is referred to globally as ‘the digital skills gap’.

How bad is this gap? Well, according to WeForum, 54 percent of employees worldwide need reskilling in order to keep up with the digitisation of traditional business processes.

In both Australia and New Zealand, statistics continue to show that as the economy moves closer to being completely technological, the digital skills gap continues to grow rapidly, pushing these ecosystems to crisis point.

And however wide this skills gap already was, the pandemic blew things out even further. As entire industries were forced to digitise their products and services as their target markets were plunged into lockdown, the demand for digital skills continued to surge.

How to improve digital skills and capabilities in your business

Eventually, every business will need to adapt to a series of digital practices in order to remain competitive, and as made very clear from this concept of the global digital skills gap, this change doesn’t come without its challenges – so it’s important to be prepared.

The good news is that as a business, there is plenty that can be done to improve digital adaptability – both when it comes to upskilling your existing workforce, and when bringing new talent on board.

1. Create your own learning materials

Learning and development (L&D) are integral to all workplaces, and digital upskilling is something that can be embedded into the broader L&D strategy.

For example, consider the creation of mini courses that can be taken by employees through Learning Management Systems online.

2. Run regular, practical workshops in person where possible

The facilitation of regular internal workshops run by experts shouldn’t be overlooked as a valuable L&D tool that can also work towards team building and social cohesion outcomes.

Be sure to take into account the needs and career development journeys of your employees when planning these sessions so that they’re designed to be truly valuable.

The worst thing you can do is deliver events and activities that end up wasting your staff’s time, as that’s time they could have been spending delivering value into your business.

3. Encourage staff to attend accredited events & courses

Providing paid time off for employees to attend external L&D events, or to spend time completing micro-degrees in which specific digital skills are taught on a practical level will not only pay off when bringing new skills into your organisation, you’ll see results for employee engagement, too.

This is because modern employees are expecting more outcomes from their employers that can be listed proudly on a CV. So keep in mind: you’d rather employees left your organisation having gained some great experiences than stay while having a bad one.

4. Develop a robust mentoring program in your workplace

Creating mentor programs where employees who possess higher digital skills levels are able to train those who are still developing those skills.

Mentoring can be either formal or informal, but they should be nevertheless endorsed from the top down and supported by clear guidelines and expectations.

5. Recruit new, savvy talent

Any recruitment expert will tell you that hiring new talent requires a strategic approach and choosing optimal candidates for job vacancies needs to be done with a careful balance of filling an immediate need and planning for the long term.

Accordingly, improving your organisation’s digital capabilities through new hires involves the following key things:

  • Strategically drafting position descriptions to include knowledge of specific digital skills that your business may eventually require
  • Casting a wider net to include candidates with experience in digitally diverse environments
  • Throughout the onboarding process, provide focused training on a range of digital skills to new hires so they’re able to pick up on these processes early on

Digital skills are skills for life

Even if your business doesn’t have the internal capability to create digital skills training content for the purpose of upskilling existing employees or onboarding new resources, there are organisations like the Digital Skills Organisation in Australia and Digital Boost NZ that create this content for you.

There are also programs that facilitate their own digital skills training programs, She Codes, as well as organisations like General Assembly and Academi Xi.

The future of business is digital, and embracing this evolution effectively requires a strategic mindset.

Yes, upskilling and training is required, but by adapting to this change, your business will be able to take full advantage of the incredible advancements that digitisation has to offer.

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