Building digital skills in the workplace

I helped facilitate a session on digital skills at the 2015 Digital Leaders conference, today. This network is worth getting involved with, or revisiting if you haven’t attended any of their events lately.

There was a lot of discussion about digital skills in the public and private sector. Quite rightly, much of this focussed on preparing tomorrow’s workforce.

My concern is with today’s workforce – particularly the managers and leaders who will still be in post in five or even ten years’ time, and will need to understand and inspire their new colleagues.

I recounted the story of a senior civil servant who, during an experimental digital coaching session, told me of his experience of learning new technologies in the workplace:

First, I was trained in how to make use of the typing pool. Then came personal computers at everyone’s desks. Now you’re here showing me how to use the internet to understand what people are saying about our policies.

These are big steps. These people (however senior) need to be ready and able to inspire their next cohort of recruits.

They must be able to think and ‘do’ digital in practice – not just talk about strategies and throw around vague words like ‘impact’ and ‘vision’.

I suggest there are four traits we need to keep an eye out for, in the workplace:

  1. Get staff confident. Recognise that fear often hides behind talk of security or lack of time. Level the playing field, and explain that no-one is the definitive expert. We’re all learning.
  2. Encourage staff to draw direct links between the things they do online at home, and how this might be relevant to work. Think: online services, sharing and building of information, news consumption.
  3. Properly incentivise and reward learning in the workplace. Skills won’t be developed if people aren’t confident, and the only thing that’s rewarded is long hours and a perception of ‘busy’.
  4. Don’t make digital a silo. That’s the whole reason that most organisations are in a pickle today. Not only does this prevent digital skills establishing a baseline, but it also gives those lacking confidence an excuse not to bother.  The guys in jeans downstairs will take care of it.
    Some of my colleagues at the conference made compelling cases for retraining the staff you have – the DWP Academy is a good example.


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