Upskilling your team to prepare for digital transformation

March 27, 2020 | 5 mins David Daly

The current wave of digital transformation is creating a seismic wave that will have a huge impact on the future of work. On the one hand, automation is threatening the current workforce with redundancy as machines take over jobs. But at the same time, the rise of complex new technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence calls for new skills that most current employees are not equipped with. In a recent study by IBM, AI and automation mean that up to 120 million workers will need to improve their digital skills or change role in the next three years.

Right now, the Covid-19 crisis has created a need for business everywhere to adapt and focus on technology as the main business driver for critical functions like global payroll to help manage staff absences. Remote working skills and technology are being depended on like never before due to a global necessity.

These changes have combined to create a skills gap between employer requirements and current employee skill sets. In the UK, around 12 million people and 1 million small businesses aren’t equipped with sufficient digital skills. And the issue hasn’t gone unnoticed by bosses. According to PWC’s 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey, 79 per cent of CEOs cite a lack of skilled workers as one of their top three worries. 46 per cent plan to introduce upskilling to close the gap.

And whilst we’ve seen transitions like this in business before, none have developed as quickly as this one. Antonis Christidis, a partner at Mercer warns that “If we don’t start upskilling/reskilling now, we run the risk of a big part of society becoming irrelevant.”


The benefits of upskilling current employees


So what are the benefits to your business of implementing an upskilling programme?

Business Continuity

At this moment, this has become the most important benefit. Any businesses who have used their digital resources to test business continuity procedures and contingency plans are ahead of the curve. Other business are forced to upskill on the go, make immediate investments in remote working technology and rely on the adaptability of their workforce to rise to a hugely unexpected series of challenges brought about by a global pandemic.

Create qualified candidates

In the current job market, hiring managers are noticing a lack of qualified candidates. Statistics show that in the US, the number of software-related jobs is growing twice as fast as the number of general jobs, and there simply is not the personnel to fill all the new roles.

By 2020, it’s predicted that the high-tech skills gap will amount to 500,000 empty roles. The solution is to upskill your workforce to fill these new positions.

Boost employee value

Even if there were a wealth of eligible candidates on the job market, it is more cost-effective to train existing employees in the required technical skills than to lay off redundant staff and rehire and onboard new talent. Plus, the newly upskilled employee becomes more valuable to the business.

The recent Career Builder Survey highlights than 60 per cent of US employers’ vacancies stay open for 12 weeks or longer. This can cost businesses up to $800,000 a year.

The current crisis offers employees an opportunity to use innovation and creativity to boost their own value to a company. Unforeseen challenges are in place and those demonstrating flexibility and an ability to think outside the box now have a very visible platform on which to make a lasting impression.

Employee engagement

It’s not just C-suite and hiring managers who are worrying about the employability of the current workforce. Employees themselves fear that their skills are becoming obsolete. They also have concerns about their ability to carry out their duties effectively during remote working measures- many need reassurances during this time when they are clearly outside of their comfort zone.

The most common result amongst employees is a disengagement with the employer. 55 per cent of employees would switch company if they felt their digital skills were losing relevance. 47 per cent would choose instead to work for a company with better digital upskilling initiatives.

Investing in upskilling boosts employee engagement.

Productivity & revenue

And of course, this impacts productivity and ultimately bottom-line revenue. According to a 2017 report by Capgemini and LinkedIn, 54 per cent of businesses said that their digital skills gap was impeding their digital transformation, costing them their competitive edge.

Productivity issues and staff turnover cause revenue loss which can be avoided by retraining existing personnel.


How to upskill internal talent?

For successful reskilling of an existing workforce, HR managers must ensure the employee training is:


In an ever-changing environment, new skills requirements emerge regularly. A report by the World Economic Forum says that by 2020, a third of essential job skills will be ones that aren’t seen as fundamental today.

It’s about delivering the right opportunities at the right time via a holistic offering of videos, workshops, seminars, in-house, outsourced and online content. But more than that, establishing a culture of lifelong learning where upskilling is the norm.


Successful professional development is personal to the staff member and their role. Take into account the employee’s age, learning style, existing skills, current job and career path.

IBM has a digital learning system called Your Learning which allows staff to undertake employee training at their own pace. The system uses AI to offer insights into the employee’s unique learning requirements.


In allowing employees to learn at their own pace, they should also be allowed to learn in their preferred environment. Think about your audience and the nature of work. In this digital age, that means offering access to learning on any device at any time.

Few workers enjoy prescriptive, classroom-style learning. Instead, the best examples of upskilling involve microlearning and access to the content from anywhere in the world on any device.


Provide innovative technology that helps them do their jobs better. Technology which automates tasks, helps communications and supports remote delivery will help them feel empowered to deliver results, especially during testing circumstances like business continuity.


Another successful initiative in training employees with the right skills is the use of gamification. Training that is interactive, competitive, and practical offers much better results.

PwC uses a mobile app which tests technical knowledge and soft skills. The feedback is used to identify potential skills gaps, connecting the user to training content within the app that takes the form of podcasts, articles, videos and quizzes.


Preparation for technological change that is informal and offers opportunities for users to share their experiences and expertise are more successful in achieving professional development.


Monitor progress to ensure success


Success should be monitored, not only in terms of employees’ success in their new jobs but also taking into account their feedback. As an HR manager, you must remain agile and open to change if initial trials raise new skills gaps or areas in which the training could be improved.


Digital transformation: both the problem and the solution


Of course, though it is digital transformation that has caused this demand for new skills and new employees, it is also digital transformation which offers the solution. It is currently the solution that allows businesses to deliver critical services during a crisis.

Training tools that are personalised, mobile, agile and gamified require the help of AI and automation technology. Cloud software such as Payslip allows HR managers to gain that all-important insight into where their skills gaps lie. You can predict employee potential, help plan for vacancies and maximise staff retention with the use of data analytics and global reporting. Crucially, right now, the Payslip platform helps with business continuity in a number of ways: staff can remotely access payroll data, they can switch tasks between team members across countries and they can also quickly replace a vendor in the event of a service delivery failure.

Upskilling has never been more important. Human resources managers must identify the most at-risk group of employees, investing in their upskilling first before moving group by group through the business.

It’s what successful businesses are doing. In IBM’s report, The Value of Training 84 per cent of employees in the highest performing organisations feels they are receiving the training they need, compared to only 16 per cent in poorly performing companies. As a return on investment, analysis suggests that for every $1 invested in upskilling, the return is $2 million in revenue or savings.


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