While these trends have long been clear, this generation-defining event presents an unmistakable inflection point that is not lost on employees. Recent research from techUK found that 60 percent of online adults in the UK have since shown interest in developing their digital skills over the next year. Yet many of those who seek upskilling the most face the greatest challenges, with younger workers significantly affected by unemployment and the impact of COVID-19 on our education system.
As employees actively seek to improve their digital competences, and the next generation enters the workforce, how can businesses help guide the development of digital skills for the future? The answer starts with one fundamental truth: post-COVID more than ever, the future is in the cloud.
Skills for the cloud era
Cloud is the industry-defining shift of our generation. It offers frictionless rollout of innovation, democratises cutting-edge technology, and allows for scale unimaginable not long ago. These factors fundamentally change the model of how we consume technology. A model based on demand, where companies can pay for what they need, when they need it and developers can get virtually anything on demand - compute, storage, databases and more.
Yet implementing the cloud is not automatic or something that can simple be accomplished with the flick of a switch. IT requires significant skills in areas like backup, data protection and data management, security provisioning, and more. As businesses pursue advancement in the cloud, a potential lack of talent presents very real threats to success, and in turn the larger economy. According to the EU Skills Agenda, even the pre-COVID demand for digital experts could not be met. In cyber security alone, there’s a skills gap in excess of a quarter of a million workers.
Furthermore, while layoffs stemming from the current pandemic meaning more mobility in the talent pools, those with the most critical skills are the least likely to have been affected – meaning digital talent shortages prior to the pandemic will only be exacerbated as companies compete for an edge in the next normal.
Cultivating skills internally
For companies to have the talent critical to digital success, they must actively cultivate skills internally. The good news is, there has never been a better time to reskill existing workers and upskill young workers. By leveraging the significant variation in existing workload (i.e., employees with less immediate work to do) companies can take advantage of downtime to cultivate talent. According to a recent Gartner study, 79 percent of HR leaders are currently,
or are considering, leveraging the fluctuating workloads during the pandemic as an opportunity to upskill employees.
As HR leaders look towards these future skills, they are actively navigating a changing landscape – determining competencies that will be required in order to support a more remote economy reliant on cloud technology. Working with the cloud doesn’t just require skills in cloud migration, but in customer service, cybersecurity and DevOps.
With modern SaaS services, many of those skills can now be learned on the job. Employees no longer require in-depth competencies like sophisticated coding. Instead, new talent can lean on higher-level knowledge of aspects central to cloud computing to make them effective at engaging with SaaS providers, shaping and implementing the most relevant solutions in a timely and cost-effective fashion.
As Gartner emphasises, such training must be directly tied to day-to-day work realities: built in as readily-consumed, bite-sized increments. Upskilling must also be tied to coaching and on-the-job experience, the latter of which can account for as much as 70 percent of learning.
By honing talent development to the areas of greatest need and making upskilling tools accessible to those with capacity to learn – companies stand to emerge from the pandemic better prepared to tackle the competitive demands of the cloud era, with a more diverse and capable workforce than ever before.