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    Why modern workforce needs to develop digital skills for digital fluency


    It is imperative to develop the right skill sets, which in this era includes digital literacy and digital fluency, in order to stay ahead of the competition.

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    The current state of digital literacy or fluency is far behind the heavy investments being made by enterprises in digital technologies.
    Possessing digital skills is an essential attribute of the modern workforce; those who possess them will thrive in the digital workplace and create an advantage for their employers. Understanding how to navigate the opportunities presented by technology and leveraging it to drive productive outcomes is needed to succeed in an increasingly digitalised workspace. The ability to adapt and utilise tools quickly and interact with others through digital technology will provide individuals with the foundation they need to compete in a changing world. Developing such skillsets is necessary to stay ahead in a highly competitive field and secure success.

    It is important to break-down the grassroot challenges faced by the workforce to truly understand some realities. Why is it so difficult for the highly skilled, capable, and responsible workforce to adopt the technologies thrusted down on them by ever-changing workplace trends? Why do employees struggle to keep up with the innumerable applications they are expected to utilise? Why can’t employees make the time and put in the effort to master all the applications they must work with? The answer is quite simple – on an average, an enterprise, a large enterprise uses 788 applications, which makes it nearly impossible for employees to learn and master them all. Besides, the workforce is not ready to embrace the upsurge in digital technology permeation in the workplace. McKinsey states that 60% could have nearly a third of their work activity automated with the application of already existing technologies – indicating acute skill gaps in the modern-day workforce.

    Go beyond Digital Literacy
    It was not long ago that employees were being taught how to use the Microsoft Suite including MS Word, MS Excel, MS Outlook and the likes. Today, not only is knowledge of such tools a basic requirement, but enterprises expect employees to arrive fully trained and having mastered the digital technologies associated with their roles. This creates an ever-widening gulf between the enterprise technology upgrades and the employees’ ability to leverage them. Digital literacy and more importantly digital fluency is an imperative for the enterprises to boost employee productivity, enhance experience, and realise the full value of their technology investments.

    Digital literacy is the ability of employees to use a certain digital technology – it can be as simple as writing an email to a colleague, drafting presentations for customers, or reporting data back to the leadership using MS Excel. However, digital fluency refers to the ability to create new knowledge, innovate via critical thinking and solve complex challenges. It is a combination of several technical, cognitive, and social skills coming together to benefit the employee meaningfully. This is where enterprises need to step up and foster digital fluency at the workplace by adopting a supportive stance.

    The current state of digital literacy or fluency is far behind the heavy investments being made by enterprises in digital technologies. Research suggests that 8 out of 10 jobs today require digital literacy and a majority of these are inching towards demanding outright digital fluency in order to truly realise the potential of the technologies available. However, over half of the US workforce and probably worldwide, are considerably hesitant towards adopting technology, especially when asked to learn something new.

    This is in direct conflict with the objectives of digital transformations and hinders with the scalability and effectiveness of such efforts. The National Skills Coalition shares that one in three U.S. workers have either very few skills or no skills at all needed to use digital devices, communication applications and networks to access and manage information (collectively known as digital skills), even though between 38% and 43% of those workers are employed in jobs that require moderate or complex computer use.

    Such fundamental challenges coupled with the operational pressures of the pandemic heightened the sense of criticality for enterprises to make digital literacy an absolute priority. Only once, digital literacy is fully embraced and in actual effect, can an enterprise begin to strive for digital fluency.

    Repurposing job roles
    While a majority of enterprises were quick to react to the pandemic and switch to remote operations, the workforce had to focus on upskilling and ensuring the same level of productivity and efficiency. As time passes and the future of work becomes the present of work, it is imperative that both enterprises and their workforce view the job roles from a renewed lens. This lens is of assessing the ability of employees and prospects to function effectively in the new work structure loaded with digital technologies, working partially or fully in remote setups and creating impactful contributions through their roles.

    Let us face it, now there are platforms for reporting time, generating documents, maintaining supplier relations, apps for multi-factor authentication, and VPNs. The once small toolbox of software solutions has now transformed into a large tree with numerous branches.

    Despite the obvious correlation between digital skills and technologies, digital skills encompass a wide array of associated capabilities required by an employee to effectively function in a modern workplace. These include:

    • Cognitive skills
    • Social/collaboration skills
    • Creativity and innovation
    An employee needs to look at digital technologies as an effective means of boosting capabilities across all these aspects. Similarly, an enterprise needs to fully understand that the most critical component of digital transformation is striking the right balance between technology and humans and bridging the gap in the skills of the workforce.

    The pandemic exposed a lot of cracks in the state of digital skills of the enterprise workforce. However, a great deal of progress was achieved in a relatively short time frame.

    Collaboration skills via the extensive use of video conferencing and internal messaging platforms, accessing internal systems remotely via cloud, and onboarding new employees without any physical interaction are some of the many vital tasks that enterprises have been able to optimise in the last few years. Digital technologies are meant to augment the ability of the employees to deliver their work faster, more accurately and optimise the time spent on each task.

    The fundamental shift in the job market is a testament to the imminent changes in the job roles and expectations of employers. It is time for enterprises to prepare their workforce for changes in responsibilities, skillsets, and strengthen their resilience to the inevitable changes. Four out of ten jobs created in the past ten years were in digital-intensive sectors while for those countries that experienced declines in employment, most of the job losses were in less digitally intensive sectors. As highlighted above, employees need to be empowered with a mix of skills to succeed in the modern workplace. These are the top 10 essential skills that enable them to thrive in a digital workplace.

    While digital transformation manifested the belief of businesses in a brighter tomorrow, the real daunting question still unanswered is the ability of businesses to successfully implement transformation programs. McKinsey states that 70% of digital transformations programs fail, mostly due to resistance from employees who struggle to timely ramp up capabilities, align expectations from digital tools, and most importantly scale the adoption of digital technologies across the enterprise. More often or not, the inability of the end users to fully understand the potential of digital technologies is the innate downfall of digital transformation programs.

    Citizen automation is focused on the most critical element in the digital transformation program – humans. Gartner states, “45.6% of employees experienced information overload during a change, and 35.6% faced challenges adapting to digital trends and new technologies.” So how does citizen automation help overcome this challenge? Well, it does so by tapping into the most powerful resource known to mankind, the ability to learn, unlearn, and re-learn. It is the means to achieve higher efficiency and build a more resilient future in the face of unforeseeable adversities. So, instead of a process led transformation, enterprises should look at people led enablement.

    The writer is Co-Chair- EPIC Foundation, Co-Founder- HCL.
    (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of
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