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Bridging the Digital Dexterity Skills Gap

The digitalization process has focused on digitalizing information. Business processes have changed, too -- but often with organizations not getting the impact that they thought they would. Do employees have the digital skills they need?

In January, 2022, Salesforce issued its Global Digital Skills Index. The results for digital readiness of corporate workforces were sobering. After surveying 23,000 employees across 19 countries, Salesforce found that nearly three out of four respondents said that they weren’t equipped with the resources needed to learn digital skills and only 31% of Gen Z respondents felt “very equipped” for a digital-first job.

This survey comes at a time when companies are investing heavily in digitalization. The global digital transformation market is projected to grow to $1,009.8 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.5% over five years, according to MarketsandMarkets.

While companies are investing heavily in digitization, the skills of their workforces aren't keeping up.

“The missing ingredient of most digital transformation initiatives is a sustained and successful focus on improving employees’ and leaders’ digital dexterity: the ambition and ability to use technology for better business outcomes. If people aren’t able to use the technology, then the investments will be wasted and, in fact, can heighten employee change fatigue,” noted Brian Kropp, Alison Smith, and Matt Cain, in an article in Harvard Business Review.

If companies want to improve employee digital performance, they must find ways to link HR, IT, and the end business into a collective effort to raise digital mastery.

Here are some ways to do it.

1. Use digital competency as a developmental incentive for employees

If employees are actively encouraged by their managers and their job descriptions to master new digital skills with the possibility of of promotions and self-enrichment, they will be more motivated to actively pursue digital training.

2. Move employees into work processes that require new digital skills

Digital training doesn’t guarantee digital mastery of a skill. To develop digital mastery and feel confident in a newly acquired digital skill, an employee must use it. The best way for an employee to use a new digital skill is in actual company work that uses the new skill.

3. Provide departmental mentors

A program that places “star” digital workers in every company department so they can support other departmental employees is the best approach for on the spot help and learning. In this way, employees have immediate access to someone who knows the daily work that they do and who already has mastery of the digital skills they are striving to learn. Localizing digital training support is a better option than centralizing digital training programs in HR or IT.

4. Create user-friendly digital processes

It’s one thing to train employees in new digital skills and quite another for employees to apply these newly acquired skills to the business.

For this reason, it's imperative that IT and end user departments define and design digital processes that are easy to use, free from errors, easy to learn, and tested for usability before they are deployed. If you place an employee with a newly honed digital skill into a work process that doesn’t work or is overly complex, the employee is going to get discouraged.

5. Redefine the requisite skills for positions throughout the company

Historically, it has been HR’s job to go around to different departments (IT included) and address the need to modify existing job descriptions so these job descriptions can be brought up to date. This includes adding new digital skills that will now be required.

However, because it is digital skills that we are talking about, it may become necessary for IT, end users and HR to all meet and collaborate on this process. This is because we are talking about not only changing our expectations of employees (HR), but also changing our work processes (end users) and our technology (IT).

An HR/IT/end user collaboration should be a first step before any job descriptions are sent out to departments for review and revision.

IT’s Special Role in Digital Skills Acquisition

Without active support from CIOs and IT, it is difficult for companies to digitalize their workforces. Yes, there are boomers who aren’t anxious to learn new digital skills, but there are also Gen Z-ers who experience difficulty with critical thinking and struggle with developing the right analytics queries to get at the insights they want to uncover.

Both issues can have an adverse impact on company digital performance, and both can be helped by IT.

IT can use its decades of experience to help users develop meaningful reports to assist new end users with no code analytics. It can work with end users in the design of easy-to-use digital work processes that boomers can quickly gain confidence in.

Both efforts can go far in ensuring that digitalization hits the marks that the end business expects, and that CIOs want.

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