PwC: Digital upskilling - key to future success

By Georgia Wilson
Upskilling your employees with digital and transferable skills will build confidence and drive a competitive advantage post-COVID, report PwC...

One of the biggest challenges facing CEOs in the workplace today is upskilling its workforce with digital and transferable skills to drive a competitive advantage in a post-COVID economy.

A well-designed programme to deliver a workforce with digital skills, resilience and agility is critical, report PwC who found that 74% of CEOs said these key skills are hard to find.

“There is an upskilling dividend benefitting companies as they face an uncertain economy,” according to Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader of PwC’s People and Organisation practice. 

“If words are followed up by real actions, it demonstrates leadership’s commitment to its people. Retaining the right talented people and enhancing their skills can help them survive today’s challenges and drives competitive advantage in the future.”

PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey showed companies with the most advanced upskilling programmes saw three times the improvement in innovation and accelerated digital transformation and 60% say they saw a clear improvement in corporate culture.

“Those companies that have started the digital-upskilling journey will find themselves in a better position to benefit from growth when the economic climate improves because they will have a workforce that is ready,” commented PwC.

What skills to teach

When CEOs took the survey last year before the pandemic, there was a clear link between progress on upskilling and the level of confidence that CEOs displayed. 

But with such an uncertain future what skills should CEO’s teach?

Given the changes forced on businesses by COVID-19, CEOs are seeing in real time both the challenges and possibilities of shifting to digital and virtual models. But skills such as creativity, problem solving, an understanding of how digital technology can be used - are a moving target.

Carol Stubbings, Joint Global Leader of PwC’s People and Organisation practice, says it’s about creating a culture of adaptability: people need to learn how to think, act and thrive in a digital world that is much less predictable than we once thought. 

“Companies need to invest in their people. That’s how many companies will survive this crisis and become stronger. It’s about people, not about jobs,” says Stubbings.

Key findings of the report include:

  • 74% of CEOs were concerned about the availability of key skills (vs 79% in the previous year’s survey). Of those, 32% were “extremely concerned”
  • 38% of CEOs who are the most advanced in delivering their upskilling programmes were very confident about growth over the next 12 months - only 20% of those who are just starting their upskilling journey agreed
  • 41% said that their upskilling programme has been “very effective” in creating a stronger corporate culture and engaging employees
  • 18% of CEOs said they have made “significant progress” in “establishing an upskilling programme that develops a mix of soft, technical and digital skills”

According to PwC’s report, Upskilling: Building confidence in an uncertain world, employers who make good-faith efforts to upskill their employees build trust – “an increasingly valuable commodity” comment PwC.

How CEO’s can upskill their employees

Clear direction and lead from the front
Leaders need to clearly explain their strategy and future vision - including the objectives for investing in their upskilling programmes. And they need to be seen to be part of the upskilling journey themselves: walking the talk. 

Identify your priority skills and gaps
This may be one of the hardest exercises as leaders are struggling to know what skills they need now and in the future. PwC has a five-step plan for upskilling that starts with analysing the transferable skills that work today and in the future.
PwC says this helps organisations determine their most pressing skills gaps and mismatches, the populations of employees whose roles will become redundant and the key challenges to upskill their organisation.

Importance of upskilling
According to PwC this will raise employees’ productivity as digital transformations progress and more people find themselves working alongside machines - both in factories and in the services industries - as automation takes over repetitive tasks.

Build on cultural foundations
Employees will only learn new skills if your culture and your upskilling programmes are aligned, report PwC.
“At PwC, an important element of our culture is rapidly forming multidisciplinary teams and building innovative solutions for our clients in bursts of problem solving, creativity and innovation.”

Time and motivation to learn
“When restrictions on movement are lifted and people start returning to workplaces, it will be imperative that leaders and managers understand that employees need the space to decelerate, reflect and learn from peers,” says the report.

Track and measure results
Upskilling takes time and money so a return on investment is critical. “Success can be measured in terms of financial results, customer satisfaction, employee retention and talent attraction. It can also be measured for its societal impact: your company will be seen as playing its part in preparing people to thrive in the future.

“Those companies that have started the digital-upskilling journey will find themselves in a better position to benefit from growth when the economic climate improves because they will have a workforce that is ready. CEOs who have already taken action to upskill their people are seeing the advantages. That sends a pretty clear message to those still on the fence,” concludes PwC.

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