María Balbás, President, Elev8

At a time of economic uncertainty, business leaders are naturally more preoccupied than ever on how to maintain profitability. Adopting new technologies can help secure a competitive edge but for the full benefits to be felt, the workforce also needs to be equipped with the right skills to deploy these technological advances.

Unfortunately, according to research published by Eurostat, the statistical office for the European Union, only 13 % of people aged between 16-29 are able to perform technical digital tasks, such as writing code. Rapid technological change has led to skills gaps that Europe’s industries are struggling to address.

To turn the tide, business leaders should adopt a strategic approach to digital upskilling, pinpointing and plugging specific skills gaps to create a more resilient and adaptable organisation and – because upskilling requires a direct investment in peoplea more motivated and loyal workforce.

The digital upskilling challenge is one that is being faced by a wide range of industries. What they all have in common, however, is that the strongest players have placed upskilling high on their corporate agenda.

Automate, innovate, grow

With McKinsey & Co reporting that more than 50 per cent of duties in the manufacturing industry can be automated, it is no surprise that tech adoption here is high. However, the industry has not undergone a process of merely replacing manual labour with new machines, as these new technologies require a digitally skilled workforce to operate and maintain them.

Industry leaders such as Jaguar Land Rover have therefore committed heavily to digital upskilling, recognizing that it is vital to develop the skilled global workforces needed to design, build and maintain the vehicles of the future.

This is an industry which illustrates how investment in new technology must occur in tandem with investment in upskilling to create efficient hybrid workflows between man and machine, which can be harnessed for growth.

TMT survival of the fittest

In the telecommunications and media sector, rapid changes in the way the public consumes media have placed long-established players under threat from new challengers. A recent EY survey found that 42% of media companies are prioritising enhancing the analytics and data skills of the organization, and more than a third of senior media and entertainment executives said that their company would cease to exist in five years unless they reinvented themselves. The report placed talent management above competition, technology and changing customer expectations as one of the biggest drivers of change in their business.

Some companies have risen to the challenge. In the US, for instance, when telecoms company AT&T found that nearly half of their employees lacked key skills such as data science, cybersecurity, and computer science, the company undertook a huge reskilling project.

AT&T became empowered to update its operations and product offering, evolving from a voice network to a data network and moving from the landline to the cloud. Overall, the business was able to fend off competition from newer arrivals in the market and become future proof.

Money talks

As an industry driven by the ability to spot the next big opportunity and back the right horse, the financial industry has long embraced technological innovation. The potential of blockchain, artificial intelligence and cloud computing in financial markets are attracting huge attention. For example, blockchain is entering the mainstream and giving rise to DeFi decentralised finance – technologies.

However, to leverage these technologies and provide a boost to the bottom line, it is vital that employees are not just financial experts, but digitally proficient too. Jamie Dimon, Chairman of JP Morgan Chase & Co believes, the new world of work is about skills, not necessarily degrees” and with a $350 million training budget in play, it would seem that training has indeed been prioritised.

Leaders in the financial sector must be comfortable at the forefront of technological advances, and therefore they need their teams need to have a constantly evolving skillset to keep up with complex emerging technologies. Only those with the right digital skills will be able to capitalise on these, whilst others will be playing catch-up.

Investing in people

Research suggests that workers are keen to reskill and upskill. Post-Covid, many have reassessed their employment options and are seeking out employers who value and invest in them. Far from a luxury, training and upskilling are vital ongoing investments that should form the bedrock of any successful business.

When the only constant is change, the only way to succeed is to evolve. Digital upskilling is nothing short of a fourth industrial revolution – businesses slow to react risk getting left behind.