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Harriet Perks

AND Digital

Learning & Development Lead

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How can L&D overcome all three components to the digital skills gap?

The digital skills gap is often perceived as a singular, monumental threat, but we need to break it down to conquer the issue once and for all.

Companies have been talking about the ‘digital skills gap’ for years, yet the problem remains critical. Almost 6 in 10 workers (58%) in the UK have never received digital skills training from their employer, according to research from AND Digital. 

The scale and severity of this digital skills gap is putting growth ambitions at significant risk, with 81% of managing directors in AND Digital’s research admitting that a lack of digital skills is negatively impacting their organisation. 

The digital gap is actually made up of a multiplicity of gaps, from the understanding of what digital skills are, to alignment on the importance of digital skills and a focus on high-quality upskilling.

How can learning and development address these multiplicitous gaps? There are a number of practical steps L&D professionals can take to address each problem.

A performance needs analysis (PNA) will help build alignment on how digitally fit an organisation is.

1. The understanding gap

A significant number of people view ‘digital skills’ as simply programming and coding. Yet ideating, building, testing and scaling great tech solutions requires a far broader digital skill set. Beyond skills in delivery management, product management and data engineering, there is a need for:

  • Individuals with problem-solving and influencing skills who communicate with empathy
  • Teams with diversity of thought and cohesion who can deliver effective feedback
  • Organisations that are innovative, purpose-driven and customer-obsessed

L&D professionals can use impactful storytelling to address the understanding gap. Identifying and showcasing successful projects, where a range of digital capabilities have been demonstrated, can help the wider business understand the broader definition of ‘digital skills’ in a relatable context.

Organisations must also train employees on psychological safety to encourage openness about digital upskilling gaps. We need to bust the myth that the digital native generation has superior capability, or that soft digital skills (despite being rebranded as power skills) are easy or innate. Such unfounded beliefs can prevent people from openly sharing their needs.

2. The alignment gap

Senior and middle leaders’ perceptions of which digital skills are possessed and/or important are often misaligned. A performance needs analysis (PNA) will help build alignment on how digitally fit an organisation is. This explores factors such as culture, resources and wellbeing – not just training – to uncover gaps between current and desired performance.

A PNA enables learning professionals to relate to organisational strategy, capability and demand more holistically, confidently ruling out performance gaps that aren’t related to digital skills and making a more compelling case for the ones which are.

It also enables you to connect post-upskilling impact to wider business performance.

Organisations also need to build a skills matrix that explicitly defines what success looks like at various levels across the full range of digital skills. This diminishes any Dunning–Kruger effect by gathering more accurate data on digital capability and drives better collaboration between recruitment, mobility and HR teams.

There is a wealth of untapped potential at organisations’ fingertips.

3. The upskilling gap

Existing digital upskilling is not seen as effective, often failing to meet the growing demand on organisations to be fit for a digital future. L&D teams need to hold themselves accountable and practise what they preach when designing effective upskilling.

To achieve this, try the following:

Set expectations clearly

Explicitly share knowledge, skills and attitudes the digital upskilling targets to manage expectations and measure the impact of the upskilling on performance more easily.

Apply ‘flipped learning’

Ensure learners are first exposed to learning materials independently before training sessions, so that they can maximise valuable time with trainers, using it to process the learning and apply it to complex problem-solving.

Build spaced repetition into learning

Fight the ‘forgetting curve’ by dividing upskilling experiences into smaller chunks, allowing time to apply and consolidate on-the-job learning. 

Provide specific examples

Showcase where skills are used within career paths and how colleagues have benefited from them. This will foreground the value of those skills and help learners to visualise tangible success.

Build active communities

Give people mentors to support and assess their on-the-job application of learning, as well as learning buddies to build competitive spirit and keep up momentum for upskilling.

Identify specific organisational KPIs the upskilling will affect

Instead of reporting numbers of people on courses (which unhelpfully positions learning as an end state, not a mechanism for change), gather qualitative and quantitative data to assess wider impact on factors such as retention, profitability and customer satisfaction.

Make upskilling inclusive

Re-skilling is of increasing importance in ever-lengthening careers, yet nearly a third of over 55s (31%) are not being encouraged or supported to improve their digital skills despite wanting to do so. They can bring rich experience in power skills (previously known as soft skills) to improve the impact of current digital teams.

Avoid reinventing the wheel

When a step-change in capability is needed, organisations can’t afford to waste time duplicating efforts in siloes. Partner with experts to swap and/or curate content, rather than starting from scratch.

Get going

There is a wealth of untapped potential at organisations’ fingertips. Closing our substantial and growing digital skills gap is possible, but it takes perseverance and partnership to kick-start the process.

Read about why your digital upskilling strategy must align business and human needs.


One Response

  1. The use of the set of
    The use of the set of knowledge (Knowing how to do and knowing about doing) related to the use of communication tools, access, processing and production of information has become very common.

    Amaizing Article ! thanks for sharing your knowledge with us

Author Profile Picture
Harriet Perks

Learning & Development Lead

Read more from Harriet Perks

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