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Practical tips to digitally upskill your employees

Education doesn’t finish in the classroom. In order to continue developing new skills, ongoing learning and training is needed far beyond leaving school or university. Malcolm Gladwell once famously stated that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field – and given the majority of an adult’s life is spent at work, it seems like the ideal place to master a new skill and put it to use.

Despite this, according to new research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) UK employers are spending less on training than other major economies. It’s a worrying revelation – when you consider that the skills gap is growing all the time. With the new challenges that face businesses, and with employees as an organisation’s biggest asset it is hard to understand why this investment to ensure upskilling is not there.

The government has recognised its importance, and is making it a top priority. When its Digital Strategy was launched in March, a new Digital Skills Partnership was announced, bringing together businesses, local authorities and charities in order to raise awareness of the digital training available and to ensure everyone has the right skills for jobs in their area. Businesses meanwhile are defined or enabled by the latest technologies – and so should also be taking an active responsibility in ensuring that their own employees have the access to training and the chance to upskill.

UK companies of any shape or size need to have teams that are actively able to work with – and master – the huge amounts of digital information available, such as data scientists, application developers, and business analysts, if they are to succeed today. However, not all businesses have the resources to be able to hire and train a data analyst or equivalent. And, even if they could, it’s often the employees closest to the situation who are able to garner the best insights from say their department or customers’ data. This means data literacy – the ability to read, work with and analyse data – has changed from being a ‘nice-to-have’ to a must-have skill for all employees. If more people are enabled with great self-service technology, it will facilitate data literacy.

We’re already seeing organisations move towards a business model where all staff are data literate. Take Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust for instance. The Trust has created an application that provides live A&E intelligence to all staff – doctors, nurses, clinicians and the board, giving a greater understanding of where patients are in their journey through the hospital. They’ve decreased waiting times by 30 minutes, saved over £1 million due to improved workforce planning and are, ultimately, all using data to save lives. The key to WWL’s success was by empowering all staff to work with data analytics by creating an easy to use, and visually appealing application. Information generated from this application also feeds into a live, interactive screen in the A&E department –giving real-time updates into Trust performance, and fostering inter-departmental collaboration and discussion.

Meanwhile, National Express has instilled a culture of data literacy across the organisation so anyone from the Business Intelligence team to drivers across their fleet can check in on the latest information and see how they can improve anything from coach schedules to driving routes. A successful adoption was achieved because the organisation let staff individually analyse and work with data in the specific ways they needed to for their role – as opposed to laying out set drill-paths

Encouraging the development of these skills is an initiative that needs to be set from the top. Organisations need to not only be willing to invest in the right training to upskill all staff, but be committed to change readiness. This requires five important steps:

  1. Communication is key:

The leadership of a business must explain the benefits of adopting data literacy (or any new skill or tool) to anyone who may be affected. Employees have to believe that the change will benefit them in their day to day work in order to be successful, and of course willing.

  1. Accept the fact that there will be resistance:

Whenever there is a change in to the way we work, there will always be hesitancy, resistance and barriers to adoption. Organisations will need to address the reasons for these barriers head on to overcome them, and prevent disruption to innovation.

  1. Be prepared for change:

There are bound to be changes to a business when everyone becomes data literate. The key is to embrace this change – but still ensure the new ways of working align with the organisation’s culture, mission, and strategy.

  1. Adopt a holistic approach:

Your employees are all individual, with different roles and facing differing challenges. With this in mind, the enablement of data literacy should not be a one size fits all approach, and leadership should recognise that there are different training needs and tools required at different times, for different users.

  1. Think about role design:

As with training, a blanket approach should also not be taken when it comes to roles and responsibilities. It will be vital to define how each job role will affected with regards to working with data, and ensure that this message is fed back to them.

This week marks Learning at Work Week in the UK and it would be great to see more UK organisations getting behind the initiative to help their staff embrace the right digital skills needed to do their jobs. And, for a lot of companies, that will mean investment and dedication from the top to upskill.

Simon Blunn is UK MD of leading data visualisation company Qlik

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