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Back to school: the importance of upskilling for the digital age

February 6, 2020

Mark Weait   

Vice President and Head of Europe at Tata Communications

In a world where education in schools and universities has not necessarily delivered the skills required for today’s businesses, Mark Weait considers why companies must invest in their own digital curriculum.

We now know that digitisation is not an option for organisations anymore – it’s a necessity. To enable complete and successful digital transformation, companies are investing heavily into their technology infrastructure. Whether transitioning to cloud-based platforms or using new solutions to analyse the vast amount of data at their fingertips, this investment is worthless unless their employees have the skills to utilise the new tools available to them.

But the problem faced by many companies is that a big proportion of the workforce, especially those in their 30s, 40s and 50s, often haven’t had any training let alone formal education related to new technologies.

“This means that businesses must take on the role of educator if their digital transformation is to be a success. This is critical for businesses’ competitiveness.”

Skilled workforce also plays a major role in an organisation’s ability to leverage technology to its full potential. For example, AI has the potential to be both threat as well as opportunity for employees, depending on how its utilised. AI can take over more rule-based tasks and help free up time of employees for more evolved duties. It can create new roles, albeit ones that don’t exist yet. In fact, Gartner predicts that AI will actually create more jobs than it replaces. However, it should be noted that in this new world our new automated colleagues will require special supervision that can only be provided by someone with the necessary skills.

“Skill development isn’t restricted to the organisational level either – countries have identified it as a means for growth too.”

While not every country can afford to invest $22 billion in new technology like China, many around the world are setting aside funds to upskill their workforce and prepare their industries for the changing technological landscape.

In the UK, where lower-skilled jobs in the north and the Midlands are thought to be most at risk from automation, a government scheme will help affected workers by retraining them for roles that are better-suited to the evolving economy. Experts are urging people to see the benefits of the shift, with automation freeing them up to use their brains for things that robots aren’t capable of – like creativity or emotionally led roles.

In France, the government is planning to invest nearly €1.5 billion in AI. New education programmes aim to double the number of students in this field by 2020, while there are already measures in place to familiarise school children with the technology ecosystem. With some of the world’s largest tech companies, including Microsoft, Facebook and IBM, building AI labs in Paris, and others choosing France for their R&D centres thanks to the quality of French engineering, there are already clear pathways emerging for those that do choose to study in these areas. The plan is to close the skills gap in the long term, with public and private sector collaborations designed to attract young people to careers in tech spheres and increase the availability of digital training for people of all ages.

On the other hand, across the border in Germany, very few people have proper hands-on experience with innovations like AI, blockchain and IoT. So, digital transformation can be a difficult journey for German businesses to embark on, let alone complete successfully. That’s why the government has dedicated almost €3 billion to AI and related applications.

“It’s an important first step, but organisations also need to make sure that talent isn’t tempted to leave Germany and head to other countries with a better reputation for innovation.”

Looking outside of Europe, in the United States, home to many of the world’s leading tech firms, companies are investing in courses to train people for the many roles that they currently struggle to fill. Last year, Google launched

 

an IT Support Professional Certificate on Coursera, an online learning portal. It’s designed to equip anyone with the skills needed for an entry level IT job in as little as eight months – and in the first 10 weeks 18,000 people had enrolled, many of them without college degrees. Having the Google name attached helps, of course, but with major employers also available for newly qualified people to submit their CVs to directly, it also offers a clear pathway to potential work.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s Community Boost initiative aims to equip people across the USA with the digital skills needed to compete in the new economy, teaching small businesses in 30 cities how to make the most of what the internet offers.

Many businesses in emerging markets have realised the importance of upskilling too. In India, Quantified Commerce, a direct-response e-commerce company that launched in 2014, has set up an internal training programme after finding it difficult to recruit staff at management level.

The courses are designed to equip staff with the skills they need to stay relevant in the digital age, with particular focus on automation, AI and machine learning.

“As the speed of innovation gathers momentum, there may well come a point where people must retrain for a new role several times during their career as a reaction to newly adopted technologies, but businesses that embrace upskilling early will put themselves in the best position to thrive.”

Getting into this habit now can only be beneficial for the future.

 

Conquer your fear of digital transformation failure with this article by Srini CR.