Reskillling and upskilling: the key to success in the digital revolution

Helping employees to develop is crucial to business success. Olivia Parrish from Haines Watts explains what employers need to know about reskilling and upskilling their staff.

The rise of technology has prompted the biggest change in work since the industrial revolution.

Not only has digitalisation transformed entire sectors, it also means that the nature of the work we do is evolving faster than ever.

But contrary to fears that automation will leave people without jobs, it is actually set to make human skills more important rather than less. Research by Korn Ferry shows that instead of making people obsolete, there is actually set to be an enormous deficit of skilled workers: 85.2 million globally by 2030.

With fierce competition for the right employees, and technology multiplying the value of human abilities, companies have a pressing need to develop staff with the skills which support the core purpose of the business and enable them to execute – and evolve – its strategy effectively.

Olivia Parrish, group head of HR at Haines Watts, explains more.

The answer inside your organisation: reskilling and upskilling

People who are completely prepared for the evolving challenges of the future are in extremely short supply, and attempting to buy in the right talent is an expensive solution that isn’t always available. What’s more, it doesn’t cut to the heart of the problem: the pace of change is set to grow ever-faster in tomorrow’s business environment, and personal development needs to become a way of life for every employee.

Reskilling and upskilling promote personal development

The most successful businesses will be those whose people are experienced and enthusiastic about adapting with the shifting demands of the business. A strong focus on upskilling and reskilling current staff is crucial to achieving this, and leaders and HR professionals need to be aware that these are not one-size-fits-all solutions, but must be tailored to the individual and the company.

Upskilling people requires identifying where an individual’s needs are in order to help them contribute more effectively towards the businesses’ goals. This will vary for different people: some may need more support in using technology effectively, particularly if they have not been using it for all of their working life. But just as important could be human skills such as emotional intelligence, empathy and team working.

Reskilling is more focused on what the company lacks rather than the individual. As certain roles become less important, or even obsolete, while demand for others increases, both people and businesses can benefit from new skills.

“Reskilling is more focused on what the company lacks rather than the individual”

To do so, businesses must identify where they have a surplus and deficit of skills in order to pinpoint where reskilling will be most useful.

The skills of the future

To upskill and reskill effectively, businesses need a profound understanding of what their company’s purpose is, how they can achieve that, and where it may change in future. These considerations are unique to different industries and organisations, and lead to far more complex solutions than simply developing more tech-savvy staff.

Although these requirements are set to expand for many businesses, ‘soft’ skills are likely to be just as important as ‘hard’ ones, and shouldn’t been seen as separate from one another. These rather old-fashioned terms imply a split in workforce capability which is no longer effective.

A mix of technical and emotional intelligence skills are now core requirements that everyone needs. Technology might be able to fulfil processing and number-crunching work, but it can’t compensate for the human element of workplaces or client interactions. In many ways, digitalisation and technology make human connectivity more critical than ever before.

“A mix of technical and emotional intelligence skills are now core requirements that everyone needs”

Technology on its own is useless: businesses need to think about tech at a strategic level, and make sure that it is adding value. As the business world goes through the digital revolution, it is critical that businesses focus not only on how to functionally use technology, but also on why they are using it. As a study by Harvard Business Review shows, even sophisticated data and digital analytics don’t ensure good decisions. For it to be valuable, leaders need the skills to make good decisions from complex data.

Business owners need to make good decisions based on complex data

Communication skills, empathy, and effective management of people and resources are all crucial for keeping business functions running smoothly in the majority of organisations. They enable people to work as a team, understand and address the concerns of key stakeholders and build strong personal connections with clients.

Of course, the more that leaders and management know about technology and how it can be effectively applied, the less likely they are to fall prey to the ‘shiny object trap’ and waste resources on digital products which can’t be used effectively or don’t contribute towards the company’s ultimate aims.

With a solid grounding in digital advancements, and these core people skills, every member of a business can use technology to produce truly valuable contributions – supporting clients and creating more sustainable work flows as well as building creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

The continuous development of an agile workforce

The benefits of upskilling and reskilling staff are more profound than simply plugging skills gaps in a business.

“As people move between different organisations and roles more regularly, the workforce becomes more dynamic and adaptable”

‘Job-hopping’ is on the increase. But rather than viewing the phenomenon of more and more employees moving companies every few years as a lack of loyalty, this can be viewed as an essential advantage in creating an agile workforce fit for the future.

As people move between different organisations and roles more regularly, the workforce becomes more dynamic and adaptable. Employees learn different skills and ways of working, and are forcing themselves to adapt to new environments.

Many businesses will benefit from capitalising on this diverse experience by considering staff from unconventional employment backgrounds. With support, it is possible to provide people with the skills they need to flourish, even in careers which traditionally have a fixed training route, such as accountancy. If however your organisation is cursed with a great culture that retains your best people over the long term, it’s vital to ensure that those opportunities for staff to move, change and get pushed out of their comfort zones exist internally too.

Those who have been made redundant from other professions or are looking for a career change may be able to bring new knowledge, experience and creativity to a company, and benefit diversity, dynamism and inclusive workplace. Creating this environment is already important for companies, but as the role of technology expands it will become even more vital.

For businesses to succeed, the more digital they become, the more human they must be.

Seb Dean (below), managing director of imaginaire, wants to upskill everyone on his team so that they have design capabilities.

Seb Dean talks about upskilling his staff

We’re planning to upskill our whole workforce by teaching everyone about using basic prototyping tools such as Sketch and designing user interfaces in 2019.

We used to only teach these skills to our design team as they’re the ones that would typically be involved in this process, but we feel teaching the marketing and support teams about it will help foster a more collaborative and creative environment.

It should also smooth communications as members of non-design teams will be able to get their ideas across by showing rather than relying on a designer to interpret the ideas.

The result we’re aiming for is to enhance the level of service we offer to our clients.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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