Mind the skills gap…

Digital disruption is causing business models to change at a rapid pace. However, the skills pipeline needed to fuel this technological renaissance is struggling to keep up.

If the market is moving so quickly, how can businesses expect to even staff up their workforce with the right skills, if those skills that were important are no longer relevant? In this blog I’m hoping to explore and address how organisations can address this widening skills gap.

Let’s first look at an example of what’s changing. In the utilities sector, British Gas is moving away from the ‘traditional’ model of sending someone out to fix your boiler. Instead, boilers will be managed as part of a connected home, using the internet of things. The skills needed to service that boiler will need to change – and may not even require someone to visit at all.

This may mean your engineer in this space has to learn the skills more alike to an IT support technician – accessing and supporting customers remotely.

Here are just two instances where different sets of knowledge and skills will be needed. But here lies the challenge – there is a widening gulf between the UK population’s STEM skills base, versus the growth of industries where those skills are required.

A recent study titled: ‘The App Generation: how employees of the future are shaping the world of work’ reports just 12% of 15 to 18 year olds – have received lessons in how to code computing languages at school.

Furthermore, a study by the OECD found English teenagers aged 16 to 19 rank just 22nd out of 23 developed nations, when it comes in numeracy skills.

Businesses are changing at a faster rate than academia can keep up – but the good news is technology can be used as away of trying to bridge this skills gap.

Embracing new technology to close the gap

We see utilising emerging technologies as a way for businesses to regain ground on this widening gulf.

Augmented reality (AR) has the potential to completely changing the way education and skills are delivered to people of any age.

It creates training which we believe is much more engaging, can be deployed anywhere in the field, and it also enables learners to experience new environments without having to leave the classroom.

Businesses can even use technology to bridge beyond the skills gap in certain cases – robotic process automation (RPA) can be used to take over where skills many no longer be required.

Drones can also be used to remotely monitor large sites, and perform tasks such as checking pylons and pipelines.

By automating manual (and often dangerous) jobs, a business can free up its workforce to perform higher value tasks. This means it can start to work in knowledge, rather than a task based environment.

If businesses want to keep pace in the age of digital disruption, they should embrace technology to reduce the skills gap. 

Managing the generational differences

Another challenge for organisations is grappling the nuances between the wants and desires of different generations in the workforce – Generation Z is arriving, and Generation Y is already here.

Businesses have to understand there big differences in the way people want to interact with each other, and the way in which they receive training. I don’t think a lot of younger people are as interested in traditional classroom training as the older generations – so what is being offered has to be adapted.

This learning process has to be tailored the right way from day one or there is a real risk different generations become disenfranchised.

On top of that, talent retention is also increasingly important – and many businesses should be looking at what they’re doing to keep hold of workers with the skills they will need to grow and win in the future.

In the past you learned how to do a job and that was it – now jobs are constantly evolving and continuous self-learning should be fostered and encouraged.

I think a lot of this comes down to knowledge management – which is about ensuring people are learning quickly, and in an agile way. On top of this, skilling up should be something that enriches a workforce, and makes them feel invested in by a company. This could come in the form of augmented reality, or even empowering workers to go out and learn while on the clock.

Addressing this will make a workforce more connected, more engaged, and therefore productive and successful in the age of digital disruption.

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