Reskilling in the Age of Digital Transformation

Digital transformation and the results of it are nothing new — yet with the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, it can feel like the latest business buzzword appearing in every corporate monthly magazine and hot on the lips of every senior executive. In fact, one could wager that Apple’s introduction of the iPod represents, among a certain age demographic, their first time witnessing digitalisation really disrupting an industry — it changed the way the ‘man on the street’ consumed entertainment.

A total game-changer, the transformation of the music industry was a precursor for a lot of what we witness on the high street and wider society today — for better and for worse, one could argue. Indeed, while many reap the benefits of industry digitalisation when it comes to easier banking processes, or ordering a taxi from their phones — many blue-collar workers are facing uncertainty with the automation revolution closer than many think.

An era of unprecedented transformation

Even before this year’s Covid crisis, new or changing technologies and ways of working were disrupting industries and jobs, plus the skills that employees need to possess in order to do them. As far back as 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as many as 375 million workers — or 14% of the global workforce — would have to change occupations or acquire new skills by the end of the current decade because of automation and AI.

Covid-19 has accelerated what was already a fast-moving trend. In order to remain competitive, businesses across industries have been digitising their offerings, and digitalising their internal processes for staff and external buying options for customers. Whether that’s all-digital HR functions so employees can request leave, inform about sickness, and have an overview on team absence — or Original Equipment Manufacturers such as automakers allowing prospective buyers to choose, customise (and even virtually test drive), and purchase vehicles entirely online.

Both of these examples are net wins for both employee and the consumer, but things aren’t as rosy for workers in jobs that can be done either by machines directly, or automated processes — streamline operations so businesses can become more cost-effective.

Many US coastal journalists felt the ire of heartland America when they suggested coal miners should “learn to code” in the face of widespread job losses, perhaps pointing to a disconnect between those who live in larger metropolitan areas and those in rural communities with the less digital industry. However, in reality, it isn’t only blue-collar workers who should be concerned with the rise of robots. In industries such as logistics, artificial intelligence may feasibly replace many human positions in the not-too-distant future. Which begs the question… How important is reskilling for digital transformation as we head into this uncharted territory?

Reskilling for digital transformation: plugging the skills gap

If we look back to McKinsey again, their February 2020 survey revealed that 87% of the executives and managers asked said their organisations either have skill gaps already — or expect them to develop between now and the middle of the decade.

With an April Gartner study showing that 75% of CFOs intend to keep at least 5% of their workforce permanently remote, and companies such as Facebook and Slack declaring their intention to allow permanent remote working for nearly all their staff — a seismic shift that was perhaps inevitable in time has been pushed to the forefront with immediacy and some may say necessity.




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