Post-pandemic Employability: Filling the Digital Upskilling Gap
The issue of a growing upskilling gap was prevalent even before COVID-19 devastated entire industries. For years, whispers of an augmented workforce and robots taking jobs pervaded just about every industry. This drove fears of uncertainty over what future employability would look like for workers.
Now, a PwC analysis has found that post-pandemic, enhanced digital and data skills will be desperately sought-after by employers in all industries. Since COVID-19 has accelerated Australia’s digital shift, the technological skills relevant to the future of work are no longer as simple as knowing how to join a remote meeting. Crucial enterprise skills will be centred around strategic digital acumen and understanding the implications of data.
However, after years of organisations ignoring the need to upskill and retrain employees for digital and data-centric workplaces, the issue of filling the digital upskilling gap is now more urgent and complicated than it was pre-COVID.
On top of this, it appears many organisations are still not willing – or able – to offer training to employees, as noted in these statistics from PwC’s analysis of post-pandemic skills:
- 72% of Australians surveyed said their employers had not provided them skills training in the last 12 months.
- 28% of employees said their employer is providing them with upskilling relevant to their role.
- 78% of Australian CEOs say that “availability of key skills is a top threat to growth”.
These figures show that, while upskilling is imperative to remaining employable in a post-COVID world, for many Australians, the onus to do so remains with themselves.
The Digital Divide is Widening
The pandemic has catapulted much of the world across the digital divide. It happened faster than anyone anticipated pre-COVID, but it has proven the adaptability of organisations and people, many of whom now rely on digital connectivity and technology.
For some, this has been a silver lining of the pandemic. For others, it adds to the fear of falling out of touch with a new world.
Richard Edelman, President and CEO of PR and Marketing Company, Edelman, told PwC, “People are governed by their fears at the moment.”
“By two to one, they think that the pace of innovation is too fast,” he said.
The digital revolution is indeed a great cause of anxiety for workers across industries. Some industries are predicted to lose up to 50% of jobs to technology by 2023, and the question of how employees can remain relevant is one many are still struggling to answer.
Deloitte found that even millennials, who’ve had much of their professional lives shaped by new and changing technologies, have had a spike in concern since the pandemic. Notably, an 8% increase in anxiety over how Industry 4.0 will affect their livelihoods, and a 7% increase in the number of people who are unsure whether they have the right capabilities required for future success.
increase in anxiety over how industry 4.0 will affect lives
increase in the number of people unsure if they have the right skills
According to PwC, these capabilities centre around digital and data.
“What we’re not saying is that everybody needs to be a data scientist. But what we are saying is that actually, in order to survive – not thrive, but just survive – in the future of work, you really need to understand the implications that technology has. And you need to be able to work with technology in a way to make it more meaningful.”
Carol Stubbings, Global Joint Leader, People and Organisation Partner, PwC UK
The concern now is that people may not have access to opportunities they need to improve their digital capacity and understanding. This could see swathes of workers left behind on the wrong side of the digital divide.
While Deloitte found a growing number of executives accept it is their responsibility to develop their workforces, of employees surveyed by PwC, only 28% said their employers are giving them digital upskilling opportunities.
For the 78% who aren’t, upskilling must be self-driven and embraced quickly.
Developing Digital Skills in the Individual
Among workers, PwC found there is a readiness to “learn new skills or completely retrain” – this exists in 77% of 18 to 34-year-olds, and 69% of adults.
For the individual, filling the upskilling gap isn’t necessarily about understanding the “big technical skills of the future”, like robotics and AI. PwC’s report, “Where Next for Skills?” details that transferable digital capabilities will be just as useful and relevant.
The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) found four of the most critical digital skill requirements to be:
Thinking entrepreneurially, creatively and experimentally about utilising digital tools.
Functioning effectively within a digitalised workplace.
Confidently using advanced digital technologies – both generic and industry-specific.
Digital tools and devices
Troubleshooting problems with digital tools and understanding the “security, societal and environmental implications of digital technologies” (NCVER).
Upskilling can come in the form of micro-credentials, university degrees, VET certificates, even free online content. Some skills can be self-taught; others will require guidance and mentorship. NCVER caution in their report, however, that many students go through traditional courses without attaining any digital skills. This highlights the need to be aware of which courses will offer students a digital capability framework.
Looking to the future, PwC suggests the Australian government places greater emphasis on the value of short micro-credentials. These would ideally simplify what is a complex education system in Australia, allowing professionals access to quick upskilling opportunities.
Among it all, it’s becoming clear that the concept of ‘lifelong learning’ is no longer an ideal but a necessity for people, irrespective of industry or skill-level.
The global conversation previously framed the rise of digital tools and technologies in the workplace as “disruptive”. Since COVID-19 has accelerated the shift, these technologies are no longer simply disrupting, but becoming commonplace. Unfortunately, many workers now find themselves at the precipice of the digital divide, ill-equipped with the necessary skills to survive in the future of work.
Yet, there is a willingness among individuals to upskill in an effort to improve their future employability. Those who jump on opportunities – whether self-directed or within their workplace – will gain crucial transferable digital capabilities that will allow them to adapt in a rapidly changing future of work.
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