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By Zuko Mdwaba, Area Vice President, Salesforce South Africa 

As technological innovations accelerate the transformation of all aspects of our society, the shift to a digital-only world has made digital proficiency a must for today’s jobs. Despite the increased demand for digital skills, the number of people who possess these abilities is insufficient. Recruiting and retaining digitally capable employees is increasingly becoming the most difficult task facing businesses.

The gap between people who have basic digital skills and those who don’t is widening, as is the gap between the types of digital skills required by the industry. Contrary to common belief, advanced levels of everyday digital capabilities like social media and web navigation may not always translate to the workplace collaboration and broader skills needed to achieve economic recovery and societal good.

As the digital demands of the workplace continue to rise, confidence among the workforce to meet these demands is falling. This is according to a new Global Digital Readiness Index from Salesforce. The survey of more than 23,000 workers across 19 countries revealed that only 27% of respondents feel ‘very equipped’ with the resources needed to learn the digital skills required to succeed now. This drops to 24% when considering resources needed in the next five years.

As core digital skills become as important as reading and writing, companies have an opportunity and responsibility to help close the digital divide that is holding back parts of our society and economy. By better understanding the challenge and shaping their response, and support, accordingly throughout every level of their organisation, they can embed the resilience and competitiveness needed to succeed in the digital economy.

Establishing a fresh approach to learning

The first step to ensuring top-to-bottom reskilling is challenging stereotypes that one generation is more prepared for digital-first jobs than another.

Take, for example, the urgent need to upskill ‘Gen Z’. While younger generations believe they have higher everyday digital skill levels than other generations they are quick to rate themselves as ‘beginners’ for several important workplace digital skills.

Whereas young people have experienced difficulties in accessing the skills training that might allow them to add value to new digital roles and advance in their organisation, the situation has been more stark for their mid-career colleagues.

In addition to the pandemic’s impact upon workplace dynamics, resulting technological developments have further amplified the need for upskilling at every level. Deployment of emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI and the cloud are just some examples – expected to rise by up to 50% in Europe and the US over the next decade, according to McKinsey.

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine how we work, yet this is not without its challenges. Companies which use this moment to cultivate a cultural mindset of continual learning, champion diversity in their workforce and implement deliberate inclusion initiatives will be in a better position to drive better outcomes.

Learning in a new way

Businesses with a digital readiness strategy at the heart of their agenda will be best placed to survive and thrive, by auditing the current skills of their workforce, and those needed for the future; identifying how skills can and will be developed within an increasingly hybrid working environment; taking action to ensure learnings are implemented effectively; and making themselves more attractive and relevant to job candidates.

It’s critical to encourage and invest in active participation in training programs – not only for their own workforce, but the eligible workforce across their region.

By building tailored training programs based not on what they think workers should know but on what workers actually want, and need to know, companies can create a working culture that empowers all employees, across all generations, to connect, learn and progress from anywhere.

To break down barriers to reskilling, resetting recruitment to focus less on traditional education and more on skills will open up digital roles to a wider, more diverse talent pool and deliver a more positive socio-economic impact.

As part of their re-evaluation, businesses should also consider the significant benefits of peer-to-peer learning.

including all aspects of society

Addressing the digital skills gap is not only crucial for improving corporate competitiveness, employee performance and happiness, and customer experience, but also for closing the digital skills gap itself. Participation in our new digital-first world is dependent on everyone possessing the necessary skills.

Now, more than ever, businesses must collaborate closely with governments and community stakeholders to ensure that training and recruiting scale up to meet digital demand and reach all levels of society.

We can unlock fresh growth and opportunity while addressing forthcoming issues, whether they be new pandemics, economic shocks, or sustainability-related, with a long-term commitment to reskilling.