Why up-skilling is the best route to meeting needs of future workplace


For firms and businesses to reap the immense benefits brought about by digital transformation, one of the key steps they can make is developing a workforce with the right set of tech skills.

But a major challenge that firms face when they embark on shifting their operations to digital mode is the internal resistance from staff, due to the fact that most of them are ill-prepared to handle the needs of the new dispensation.

Research shows there is a massive digital skills gap in the world with Africa’s being the widest. With a biting shortage of skilled and experienced employees, companies have no option but to redouble their efforts to train and mentor staff to align their skills with the needs of the rapidly rising digital economy.

International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that  two million jobs in artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity and blockchain will remain unfilled by 2023 due to lack of human talent. 

“Technology adoption in supply chain is challenging manufacturing workforces to quickly convert traditional manual skills into technical expertise,” says Doug Hunter, head of customer and ecosystem enablement for Syspro Africa, a software development firm.

“As technology modifies existing tasks, the most prominent challenge is overcoming the skills gaps between veteran employees and digitally native new hires.”

The Covid-19 crisis brought home the urgent need to continually adapt employees’ skill sets to meet ever changing requirements in a world where change is constant.

A silver lining in the disruptions caused by the pandemic is that many organisations have used the opportunity to put in place solid measures and prepare their technology infrastructure and workforce for a future of deepening automation and smarter process frameworks. This, the firms hope, will provide a resilient protective wall in case there is a recurrence of the Covid-like disruptions particularly in the supply chain.

Experts say with the future uncertain, continuous skills development is the best defence to ensure organisations are firm enough going forward to weather the storms of digital disruptions. The threats of pandemics will also linger in the horizon considering the huge negative impact that Covid had on business operations worldwide

A recent study showed that 38 percent of manufacturing businesses interviewed up-skilled staff to enable them fully use digital systems to drive effective and efficient business operations in the face of disruption.

The study, Realigning the Links of the Disconnected Supplychain, conducted by SYSPRO, further indicates that 61 percent of businesses had no intention of building long-term skills training programmes to produce a digital workforce.

For an increasing number of firms, the ever-changing business environment is now a major consideration when coming up with human resource strategies, as the constantly shifting business needs drive the growing demand for tech skills. 

According to the Global Skills Index, the demand for business skills such as sales or communications has been on a downward trend, while the need for skills in technology and data science is growing rapidly. The 4IR, it notes, will see innovations such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms, robots and bots occupy the workplace, alongside humans.  This means the kind of jobs that employees will handle will change as routine and repetitive jobs are left to smart machines.

The workplace of the future, Mr Hunter says, is taking shape quickly and it is vital for businesses to proactively continue with training initiatives in foundational business skills among employees.

“Training on latest technology trends will future-proof your company to the benefit of all those involved,” he says, noting that firms can become “masters of their own story” through properly packaged training modules.

“The way we experience and interact with the technologically-driven world around us continues to change, with the global appetite for technological expertise increasing at the expense of traditional business skills. But one thing remains the same – our desire and capacity to learn, grow and improve ourselves every day,” states Mr Hunter, adding that for any business, having well-trained people is a company’s greatest asset, and living and working in today’s digital world is about learning, upskilling and mastering new skills.

Training employees on new skills, Mr Hunter says, is also a way of motivating employees and retaining talents.

“Ensure your employees’ skillsets stay relevant and show your people you care about their careers and their futures. Boost morale; employees who have training and development opportunities are happier in their roles and have a positive outlook on their future within the company,” he notes.

“Keep your best people! If you don’t provide them with meaningful training, they’ll go to someone who does.”

Businesses that fail to pay sufficient attention to skills development are bound to experience productivity challenges. Studies show that failure to acquire or adequately train the future generation of workers for the digitally driven economy will lead to greater income disparity, increased unemployment, and overall global economic losses.

A recent Gartner survey found that 58 percent of the global workforce needs new skills to successfully do their job. But most employers, it says, fail to define the specific new skills their employees need.

Gartner is a technological research and consulting firm based in the United States.

Ultimately, human resource experts say, staff equipped with cutting-edge digital technology can help to create a more agile, efficient organisation. And this can only happen for corporations and small enterprises that plan for constant learning and long-term acquisition of skills in order to adapt to the shifting way of operations.

According to Syspro’s chief human resources officer Terence Moolman, training and development should not only begin and end with new employees. Statistics in the 2021 Advanced Manufacturing Outlook Survey show that 44 percent of businesses believe that decision making at their company is in the hands of elders who are frightened of change. Meanwhile, 15 percent do not see the value in investing in new technologies at their age.

“Because digital transformation translates to competitive advantage, a cultural shift needs to take place in those businesses. Ongoing training initiatives can ensure all employees adapt to change successfully, all while safeguarding any technological investment because employees need to be in touch with technological evolution,” Mr Moolman notes.

The pandemic demonstrated what types of employees businesses need to ride out the storms of disruption. And what are those needs?  One, employees who know how to use new diverse technologies in tandem with business objectives. Two, employees who are agile enough to quickly adapt new approaches and methods that can spur business growth.

Organisations can achieve this through upskilling to help employees become well-rounded and hence be in a position to remain on top of new business best practices and ensure the firm is ahead of the curve. Also, such an organisation can make the most of the opportunity arising from these difficult times and will emerge better and stronger.

It is now wise for firms to integrate assessment tools that will give them a fairly accurate understanding of the risks that may come in future and begin strategically planning their next move.  

However, while it is critical for firms to up-skill their workers, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge. Employers ought to look into specific data, including the skills that top companies look out for to fulfil their core functions. This way they will be in a position to craft tailor-made solutions for their skills challenges.

Mr Moolman adds that with a well-informed strategy and a better understanding of the target skill sets, employers can focus on providing the necessary training assets in new and emerging cloud software solutions, upgrading and driving adoption of collaboration tools, or equipping employees with the automation skills that allow them to unlock their own capacity.

For most companies, he notes, digital skills gap isn’t just a pain point anymore; it’s indispensable to operations and growth.  And to remedy this situation, he advises firms not to spend huge sums hiring new talent, but address their needs through upskilling programmes. 

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