The last year has completely changed how we work, and every employer has had to reimagine their business and people strategies as a result. The intersection of these two priorities is the digitization of work — the use of technology and digital tools to create value, enhance operations and build a more inclusive and skilled workforce. In the early days of the pandemic, it became clear that those who had invested in technology and building digital skills internally were better prepared for the challenging year ahead.

Changes we have seen over the last year have forever shaped the way we work. Leaders are coming to a consensus: Digital skills are needed by all employees to drive productivity, innovation and growth. But creating a more digitally fit workforce shouldn’t be a problem for hiring and recruitment teams to solve alone.

Digital skills are central to recruitment, talent mapping, employee engagement and creating inclusive cultures. Organizations of any size should make key considerations that put their people at the center of their digital strategy before investing in upskilling.

Launching an upskilling effort. The first step is to take stock of employees’ current digital skills and identify any skill gaps. This helps build the foundation for any upskilling program and can be the first indicator of where investment can create the most benefit. Having the right tools is important, but real transformation comes from having the right people with the right skills who can make the most of new technology.

Evaluating  an organization’s baseline skills also provides crucial data to benchmark against current and future industry trends. For example, the baseline skills may show that the IT and security departments are already proficient at data analytics and visualization, and they’re ready to learn more advanced skills that incorporate artificial intelligence. Organizations can use data to inform where the greatest needs are, and then develop a roadmap to upskill individuals, teams and the organization as a whole.

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Prioritize opportunities for growth. After identifying  skill gaps, organizations should prioritize which skills will have the greatest ROI for their employees and business.

Equipping employees with new automation software like robotic process automation (RPA) could reduce time-consuming office processes across multiple departments, like finance, operations and sales. Learning this software is a valuable digital skill, but it also enables teams to more effectively use their time. Instead of spending hours on data cleansing or back-end customer relationship management, employees can be more productive by analyzing the clean data or connecting with customers.

Create a framework for success. Leaders also should create a holistic approach to upskilling that allows employees to chart their own path to success. To enable true change, upskilling needs to be an always-on initiative. Organizations can use the key learnings of their skills gap audit to create a learning plan with specific courses and lessons for employees to start, practice and grow their digital skills.

As employees advance in their lessons, earn credentials, and create new automations to share within their organization, they will unlock new methods of productivity and collaboration. Specific skills may even open up a new career path for them. Organizations can see the greatest measure of success when employees develop a digital-forward mentality and build a culture of employee-led innovation.

Plan for strategic outcomes. Upskilling programs help empower employees to take charge of their own career path and build skills that drive productivity, collaboration and innovation. Company leaders can see tangible outcomes from their efforts, including  improved employee retention and happiness, hours and dollars saved through automation and productivity, and unlocking new areas of growth for their business.

For organizations considering an employee upskilling program, now is the time to begin the process to audit capabilities, identify areas of growth and create a holistic framework. Employees are eager to learn new skills and value the resources offered by employers to help them advance in their careers. Upskilling provides an inclusive environment where all employees have the opportunity to gain knowledge in key areas for career advancement, learn new tools and enhance their ability to use advanced technologies in the workplace. The greatest result can be an entirely new company culture where employees lead  innovation.

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