Although the Covid-19 pandemic remains far from over, the rollout of vaccines around the world brings cause for hope during 2021. For the many organizations that have been on a reactive footing during the crisis, now is the time to switch to a more proactive phase of planning for the post-pandemic world and start to build the skills and talent base that will be needed.
Early in the pandemic, many companies shifted all or most of their employees to remote, online working and created new digital experiences for customers, some literally overnight. But not all had the necessary skills and knowledge to fully support totally digital environments. For some, it’s been a roller-coaster ride with the associated highs and lows.
As we start to see a path out of this crisis, organizations must start to plan for these fundamental changes to the way we all work, do business, and engage with customers. All of which has been accelerated by the pandemic and will be with us for the long term.
That includes embedding more flexible and remote hybrid working patterns for employees, as well as continuing to accelerate digital transformation and the digital customer experience. Against this backdrop, an overriding priority is to understand the complexities and benefits of this transformation, and that means identifying and building the skills and leadership capabilities that will be needed to deliver on these goals.
Doing this means building new capabilities and skills at unprecedented speed. This shift stands against the backdrop of a long-standing tech skills gap, particularly around digital technologies such as AI, analytics, and cybersecurity. Demand for these skills will only increase in the coming months and years as more organizations race to implement these technologies. A World Economic Forum study estimates there will actually be a net gain of some 12 million jobs across 26 countries by 2025, driven by the uptake of these technologies.
Plugging the skills gap
How can organizations plug these skills gaps? Upskilling the existing workforce will be key and it must become the norm. Look at the examples of Amazon investing $700 million to upskill its employees through 2025, or PwC’s $3 billion investment in a similar scheme for 275,000 of its staff worldwide.
Organizations will need to create a more structured learning ecosystem for employees, too. For example, setting up a learning and development program that includes an element of daily education, as well as peer coaching and regular rotations of staff across various roles and functions.
In the short term, organizations rushing to build new digital capabilities are hiring contractors and freelancers to fill their skills gaps. This can present an opportunity for those outsiders to share their knowledge with the existing workforce. At the same time, new virtual ways of working that everyone adopted during the pandemic can enable organizations to easily access a wider global talent pool.
The human element of digital
But it’s not just about hard tech skills. We must not forget the human element of digital experiences. If lockdowns and quarantines have taught us anything, it is how much we need and value that kind of interaction.
Organizations need to re-inject the human touch into customers’ digital experience. Look at how some banking apps have now gone beyond purely transactional functionality to offer interactive video chats with bank staff.
Businesses should also be prepared to adapt their digital experience to different customers and markets. Take the example of Uber, which accepts card payments from customers in the Western world and cash for other areas such as South Africa, where much of the population doesn’t have bank cards for electronic payments.
All of these changes require a high level of empathy and flexibility in leadership. Leaders must be able to provide the vision and empower employees as well as ensure they have the tools and skills to drive innovation and ensure agile execution.
Surviving difficult times requires first-rate planning. Spending time now preparing for the skills and leadership needed once the pandemic crisis subsides will set up organizations for success in 2021.
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