You’re going to need a bigger skillset

Think the skills your workforce has today are big enough to handle the working demands of tomorrow? Think again…
Read time 10min 50sec

Reskilling your workforce has become a strategic priority in the wake of digital transformation. The future of work, like your Google GPS, has arrived. And, as Forrester points out, the future of work is not just something that lands on an executive’s desk alongside the latest intelligent device. It’s something the business has to create in order to get the most from its digital transformation strategy. The problem is that many organisations are uncertain as to how to provide these skills to their employees, or how to invest in people to the point where they become the kind of workforce that’s capable of thriving in the maelstrom of digital and innovation.

For Forrester, the key word is ‘adaptive’. A business that’s capable of adapting to uncertain markets and conditions is one that’s populated with an adaptive workforce and driven by an adaptive culture. Employees that are adaptive are more open to continuous learning and to building their skillsets in alignment with changing technologies and business requirements. They’re also less inclined to dig in their heels at the first sight of change, which is one of the reasons why many digital transformation projects fail. If nobody’s using them, they’re not going to succeed.

It’s a completely pointless exercise if they don’t train their people into the new way of working.

Jacques van Wyk, Ricoh SA

The problem is that technology has evolved to the point where it can slip into almost any process and system and organisations are paying attention to this ubiquity. But they’re rarely paying attention to the people who will be using these technologies and who will ensure that any digital transformation investment is one that’s actually valid. A competitive advantage in the time of digital transformation is not the wallet that forks out the most for digital, it’s the culture that recognises the what and the how of upskilling its workforce so that digital is used to its fullest potential.

The adaptive and skilled workforce is also far less likely to be left behind by the robots that have, and will, take on a large number of the repetitive and tedious jobs. The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that as many as 375 million workers will have to either change roles or skillsets by 2030, thanks to automation and artificial intelligence. The report is interesting in that it doesn’t lift the lid on this change in skill and role with sombre negativity, but rather describes it as a ‘rich mosaic of potential shifts in occupations in the years ahead’. Work will be displaced, jobs will be replaced, but people will always be inherently essential to the success of any organisation.

Organisations have to take responsibility for how they’re going to approach digital transformation from a cultural and skills perspective. If these two pillars can be embedded into the structure of the business, then they can potentially change how the organisation manages internal structure, customers and projects. As Forrester suggests, the adaptive workforce can swarm into cross-functional groups that drive innovation, remove the need for silos and evolve alongside demand.

Standard, off-the-shelf content, lacking context and nuances particular to the organisation, is unlikely to be effective.

Bridget du Toit, EasyBiz Technologies

Automation, AI, robotic process automation and business process automation, along with machine learning and deep learning and the many other emergent layers of intelligent technology are part and parcel of the digital transformation process. It’s these technologies and the ongoing digitalisation of system and process that’s allowing for organisations to cut costs, move more efficiently into mercurial markets and redefine their shape in an uncertain world. The sudden and unexpected thrusting of an entire workforce and planet into remote working and digital transformation adoption is testament to the necessity and validity of technology. But, remember, that it’s these workforces, shoved onto dining room tables and garages and home offices, that were the real reason why the technology was a success. They learned, they adapted, and they’ve potentially changed the working dynamic forever.

Time for an upgrade

You have a skill; you have a skill. Everybody gets a skill.

Brainstorm: What are the business benefits of reskilling the workforce?

Marita Mitschein, senior vice-president, Digital Skills Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa, and MD, SAP Training & Development Institute: Skills and lifelong learning are the key enablers for innovation adoption and form the foundation for effectively executing digital strategies. If you’re able to create an innovative, collaborative and engaged workforce, you will build a resilient culture that will help to proactively respond to potential disruptions.

Jacques van Wyk, CEO of Ricoh SA: Organisations are taking strategic decisions to digitalise their operations. How they do that changes by industry, market, and individual businesses, even internally within organisations, but the fact remains that they’ve decided to change the way they operate. It’s a completely pointless exercise if they don’t train their people into the new way of working.

Talitha Muller, Future of Work Programme manager, Deloitte: Upskilling your people only yields benefits. From an employee perspective, it’s an improved experience; it’s an investment in your professionals, which can result in improved morale and team cohesion. From an organisational perspective, it will ensure that your teams can deliver the best service to your clients with the latest technology.

Anton Herbst, CEO, Tarsus On Demand: This is an evolutionary process and most certainly not a flick of a switch where we take the business-normal view of skills and we flip it to a view of what capabilities does an individual bring to the business. We know that every business needs skill sets to get the job done currently, but if we really want to put a business onto a new trajectory, it will require a distinctly different culture.

Brainstorm: How can organisations effectively reskill their people?

Thibault Dousson, GM, Lenovo South Africa: Focus on upskilling those who will be most affected by digital transformation. Institute this via measurable programmes and ensure that digital training and development opportunities are updated for skilled roles such as marketing, business services, HR, data and finance.

Gerhard Hartman, VP: Medium Business, Sage Africa and Middle East: Today, it’s important to also deliver experiential, bite-sized, in-the-moment learning as people do their jobs. This could take the form of mentoring from colleagues, building tutorials into the applications people use daily, and embracing immersive technologies like augmented and virtual reality as training solutions.

Ntombi Mphokane, HR and transformation executive, e4: Businesses, together with line partners, need to understand their business plans and how this translates to future skills required by business. Key activities include to conduct and assess the skills gap within your organisation, identify top talent and successors to upskill while providing opportunity to and allowing learning on the job.

Terence Moolman, chief human resource officer, SYSPRO: The reskilling process should be weaved into the day-to-day jobs of people and they should be measured on it. Social learning is key to ensure that each and every employee in your organisation becomes a trainer, mentor or coach in their own right.

Bridget du Toit, head of sales, EasyBiz Technologies: Adapting training to the roles and realities of an organisation is important. Standard, off-the-shelf content, lacking context and nuances particular to the organisation, is unlikely to be effective. Scenarios and stories based on real-life situations in the organisation are good examples of customised learning.

Brainstorm: What’s the value of skills development?

Diane Meyers, head of HR Digital Platforms, Merchants SA: Organisations need to ensure they’re providing training and insights on the `’why’ of digital transformation, and not focusing solely on the `’how’. Employees who feel energised and empowered in this regard will be more likely to engage with the organisation and its goals, ultimately delivering improved customer experience.

Elmarie Grant, head, Synthesis Academy: Digital transformation inherently requires investment in building specific technology skill sets. To truly innovate and use technology to transform our organisations, we have to look beyond the tech: we can build the smartest cars in the world, but if we don’t have excellent roads and traffic rules and road signs and driver education, we will never reach our destination.

Talking mentorship and leadership for skills development across South African organisations.

What defines skills development? For Mandla Mbonambi, CEO of Africonology, the key is to build a workforce that’s capable of handling whatever digital and transformation throw at the business in the future. This inspired the development of the company’s SkillUp-a-Buddy programme, a peer-to-peer skills development platform designed to bring manual and technical testers together to upskill one another.

“We realised that we needed to build the testers of the future, people who had the skills to be multi-faceted and technically proficient and capable of both manual and automated testing,” says Mbonambi. “Testers today need to know how to work with very specific tools, to manage stress tests and have an in-depth understanding of security testing tools. If one person isn’t on top of the changing trends and demands of this industry, then solutions and businesses can’t keep up.”

In the era of digital transformation, the processes, tools and skills required to manage testing are constantly changing. The measures of success, integration and deployment are constantly moving and organisations need the skills of a key individual who can control these factors seamlessly across multiple teams and deliverables. It’s a challenging and constantly changing environment so it’s hardly surprising that the role is fluid and demanding.

“This is what inspired us to develop this programme,” says Mbonambi. “To allow for seamless skills development across multiple areas, we’re putting manual and automated testers together so that they gain insight into each area of expertise. They then upskill one another within an interactive technical space so they can develop their skills in real-time and in relevant situations.”

Solid foundations

The training has been developed to give both manual and automated testers the space to explore different skillsets. Manual testers gain solid foundations and support in terms of training in automation scripts and full-on digital transformation automation solutions. In the current market, manual testers remain a valuable resource, but automation skills are scarce and becoming increasingly important. The test engineers upskill the manual testers in understanding and starting on the use of test automation using programming languages such as Java and C#. This enables the testers to learn different automation frameworks so they can structure their test cases to accommodate automation requirements and write automation scripts that include error-handling and result- interpretation.

“My belief is that there will always be a need for manual testers, but they won’t be as in demand as they are today,” says Mbonambi. “Most customers want to build a strong and easily maintainable test asset that can deliver quickly. Automation provides these efficiencies at scale.”

As a result of the programme, several manual testers have moved into the automation space and forged successful careers without any formal training. The skills learned on-hand at the sessions have allowed them to expand their careers and roles in ways that were not possible in the past. They’re now working as automation testers while undergoing their formal certification thanks to the deep level of understanding that the training has provided.

“We’ve given them a gateway to start careers as automation testers, which has really made a difference,” says Mbonambi. “The training sessions are purpose-driven and we’re currently revising them to adapt to the lockdown conditions. We’re developing the toolsets that testers need to continue their professional development in collaboration with one another and giving them the opportunity to apply this learning in the real environment. The need for training and skills development hasn’t stopped in the pandemic and the value that this peer-to-peer process provides to professionals is immeasurable.”

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