Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most workers around the world had to be physically present in their workplace to perform their jobs. Teachers had to stand in front of the classroom and draw on whiteboards; clothing store managers had to be in store to welcome and serve their customers. When the pandemic hit, these workers had to look for new ways to cope and ensure the continuity of their livelihoods. What made this possible was digital technologies, which not only enabled remote working, but also unlocked a range of previously unrealised benefits.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly transformed the way we do things – from work, entertainment, to education. A survey conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2020 found that globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitisation of business operations by four years. Digitisation seems to be a win-win for all – workers become more productive, businesses realise new opportunities, while governments find ways to cope with declining productivities and boost their competitiveness.
However, workers today have yet to match this growing demand. A myriad of studies, including a past AlphaBeta study, has highlighted the digital skills gaps – that is, the supply of digital skills from workers are not sufficient to meet the growing demands. In light of this understanding of the need for digital skills in the workforce, AlphaBeta has worked across various studies to uncover how to close these digital skill gaps. Our work in the sphere of digital skills has led to 3 key insights:
Insight 1: Digital skills training brings significant benefits for employers and workers
In a study that we recently published with Amazon Web Services (AWS), we surveyed 2,166 employers and 7,193 workers across seven countries in APJ (Australia, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea).
From the survey, we found that digital skills training has become imperative for the future success of organisations and workers. It is not only important for organisations to successfully implement digital transformation and remain competitive, but also for ensuring employee retention and attracting good talent. This is because workers want to work in companies that care for their development and provide them with the avenue to drive growth. For workers, training has benefitted them in both their career and personal life – benefits mentioned include higher productivity, improved employability, and greater sense of personal fulfilment. Exhibit 1 below shows the benefits that employers and workers experience upon undertaking digital skills training.
Insight 2: Despite the need and benefits, worker training is still not up to par
Our survey found that 97% of organisations see a need to train their workers on digital skills. However, only 27% of them have developed a training plan for their workers – which involves having a clear set of objectives, curriculum, training scope, mechanisms for regular updates to the training program, as well as securing the needed resources to implement the program. This training shortfall is concerning, particularly with two-thirds of workers in APJ admitting that they are not confident that they are gaining digital skills fast enough to meet future career requirements.
We estimate that 86 million more people across the seven countries in APJ will need to undertake digital skills training over the next year alone. This number accounts for 14% of the total workforce in these countries. These workers will need to undergo training to keep pace with technological advancements and access new opportunities.
Insight 3: Workplace training needs to be a norm
Employers and workers have themselves acknowledged the need for and benefits of digital skills training. However, as our work in this space has shown, they are still not acting upon it. What could have caused this?
Through the same study, we discovered that employers and workers face certain barriers in accessing digital skills training. Employers and workers indicated that they do not know what types of courses are available, what skills they need, that they have no time, and that training courses can be costly. Some employers also struggle with manpower constraints to plan and organise training for their workers.
However, these hurdles can be overcome. Governments, training providers, employers, and workers can all work hand in hand to tackle them. For instance, to increase awareness of the widely available digital skills courses, governments can develop skills training portals. To address the lack of time, training providers can work with industry to develop short-term micro-skills training courses. With this support, employers can leverage free training courses provided by industry to upskill their workers. Finally, workers will need a mindset shift towards lifelong learning and realise that upskilling does not require them to take long-term formal degrees, but can be done through micro-skills courses, many of which are available on demand today.
We all know that the future is going to be digital. With the churn rate of digital skills growing rapidly and surpassing the churn rate of employees, the approach to meet such fast-growing and fast-changing needs is not through firing and hiring. Instead, it should be by training and accelerating training pace for employees. Therefore, a habit of lifelong learning needs to be inculcated in workers, and a culture of workplace upskilling must be a norm in organisations. For more information and to work with us on this critical area, please contact Swee Cheng Wei.