We often speak about the digital education of the workforce from the point of view of the pertinent skills gap. An excellent starting point, but perhaps only the first chapter of a much broader issue around an individual’s relationship with technology. Many businesses are worried about the digital skills gap and how they can educate and engage their employees around new technologies to better support business growth.
A very common approach to reducing a business’ skills gap is to hire so-called “Digitally Competent” younger professionals, only to realise that you’re just acquiring passionate and “Digitally Confident” candidates. Candidates that often need further investment to reach the digital competency levels that the business requires. Which leads to the question, “Just because you’re digitally confident, does that mean you’re digitally competent?”.
Now, of course, this issue is multi-layered, but I find the somewhat knee-jerk approach of plugging the digital skills gap within a business with digitally confident candidates, both interesting and confounding. The solution? Invest in the upskilling of your current employee base.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into exactly what this looks like.
A good place to start would be by peeling back a layer and defining competence. For the sake of this article, we define competence as having the basic digital skills needed for the current and future workspace. To be competent, you need to have mastered tools such as digital devices, platforms, and services; you should have an understanding of a digital mindset; you should combine these skills with information selection, personal data protection and the spirit of online creation and collaboration. If someone has mastered these skills, then we can consider them digitally competent.
Measuring skills and competencies in the ever-changing world of digital is a big task. The rapid evolution of new and emerging digital technologies not only makes it difficult to adapt our measurements but also presents challenges in acquiring a comprehensive view of just how competent individuals really are. Data on this subject is also at risk of being skewed by the fact that we often think we’re more digitally competent than we actually are. In fact, recent studies found 67% of the Swiss population overestimating their digital skills and competencies (ECDL Foundation, 2015).
Across the UK and Europe, there are many incredibly inspiring programmes designed to boost digital competency levels for younger people. These have gathered some interesting insights; the European Commission recently built its Digital competence framework 2.0. to help define what digital skills are required for the future digital citizen. There is a similar framework (Essential Digital Skills) in the UK which has been adapted to ensure it is applicable to the workplace. So we can see that there are effective programmes are out there, but how can we start applying these frameworks ourselves?
What matters here is our perception. A prime misconception is that the younger workforce (Millennials / Gen Z / Natives) are much more competent as they’ve grown up with digital devices, tools or products (many of the factors that contribute to being competent). We assume that they have all the skills they need to thrive in a digital workplace. I believe that this is far from the case. Their lower barrier of intimidation and stronger desire to get hands-on with new technologies is a fantastic quality that, if harnessed correctly, can be hugely beneficial to any potential employer. They’re confident exploring the ever-changing digital space, but we cannot overlook that they need further support, from areas such as critical thinking to business acumen, so that they can thrive in the workplace.
43% of millennials expect to leave their jobs within 2 years (2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey). That means almost half of young professionals do not expect to stay in one position for more than 2 years, which could prove a costly mindset for any business. Therefore we need to take another look at how we support a seemingly restless and constantly evolving workforce. When building an in-work training program, identification and assessment of the core competencies that are needed internally is essential. If your recruitment focus is on young talent over upskilling your current workforce, be cautious not to overlook the importance of self-efficacy and experience over perceived expertise. Consider areas and skill sets that your current talent needs to excel in the workplace or help you to grow your business where you need it most.
Some of the older workforce that, although arguably, are better experienced and suited to adapting to business acumen and “bigger picture” thinking may not perceive themselves to be digitally confident. One step to ease digital intimidation and increase digital confidence would be to foster a more positive relationship with digital tools, more specifically empowering legacy employees to enjoy new digital tools as enablers rather than a hindrance through the creation and development of a true digital mindset.
With your younger recruits, tap into the digital confidence and skills they already possess to build their competencies on specific platforms and tools; their energy and fresh approach can help to boost productivity and drive digital marketing to achieve a strategic goal. Using new platforms such as using G-Suite, Microsoft Teams or Social Monitoring platforms is an example of a quick, easy and cost-effective way to do this.
In essence, new fresh talent isn’t always the answer to digital culture shift challenges. Yes, people from younger generations generally have higher digital confidence and lack digital intimidation which can prove such a barrier when it comes to getting to grips with new devices, apps and platforms but empower your existing workforce to feel digitally confident and digital competence will follow.
We have to accept that ‘digitally confident’ doesn’t always mean ‘digitally competent’ and keep in mind that being willing to adopt new platforms does not mean that younger professionals are more competent on them; training and mentoring on how to use the technology is still required. Of course being digitally confident likely means that will more quickly engage in learning and perhaps become more digitally competent faster, but with the correct training, someone with less confidence is able to become just as competent and is far less likely to jump ship in a year or two.
Reverse mentoring approach although there are challenges that may produce a barrier to learning around cross-generational programs.
Businesses have a major role to play in ensuring that employees upskill and reskill, so they can adapt to the ever-changing demands on the workforce. Upskilling your employees in relevant skills requires time and investment, which is why it is crucial to define the core competencies the business requires to achieve its goals before investing in resources. This way your business will ensure that the upskilling process aligns with its goals. Building frameworks of competency is a particularly exciting exercise as it enables you to quantify the areas in which you excel and the areas in which you can see space to grow. The business is then able to put in place benchmarks of competencies for both existing staff as well as within their recruitment process.
Once you have established where your business’ strengths and growth-opportunities lie, take an assessment to gauge the competency levels of your current workforce against your quantified benchmark and ensure your teams meet the competence levels needed to help your business succeed. You will also be able to use this test on potential employees to assess their competencies, adding an additional level of surety in your hiring process and enabling you to implement the necessary support and training from the first day of the onboarding process.
Our narrative around digital competence has found that the younger or more confident members of the workforce will benefit from structured training to meet business goals, whilst the less confident will benefit from a focus on improving their digital mindset. Peer-learning helps break barriers and boost confidence, harnessing the strengths of each demographic.
Let’s break the stereotype that digital confidence means digital competence, or is a substitute for it. Digital competence is not an innate ability that the younger generation has been born into and one that we can help ALL your employees achieve.