Digital skills that will give your company a boost

Joe Svetlik

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Equipping your employees with the right digital skills can make a huge difference to your business. Here’s how to do just that.

Digital skills in short supply

Europe is facing a critical shortage of digital skills. The good news is that the relevant bodies recognise this and are attempting to address the issue. The bad news? It’s likely nowhere near enough.

According to the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies, the number of European workers employed in the ICT (information and communications technology) sector will grow by more than 670,000 by 2020. It’s a good start, but that same organisation says the market could take another 756,000 in this field, were they available.

Even those already working in the field sometimes lack key skills that would hugely benefit their company. So what are the main shortfalls? And what can employers do to address them?

Creating problems for ourselves

One expert says people are too quick to call their company’s helpdesk the minute they’re confronted with something unexpected.

“There’s a big disconnect between how people relate to their personal devices and work computers,” says Graham Thomas, Senior Technologist at Lenovo. “If they go to book their annual leave, and see a new system they haven’t seen before, they panic and call for help. Yet they have no trouble working out how to navigate and fill out forms on all manner of consumer websites while browsing the web at home.

“It’s not the systems they use all the time that are an issue, because they get used to them. It’s the ones they only use occasionally, like the holiday booking system or applying for new childcare vouchers.”

It’s not all the employees’ fault. The problem can be that the software isn’t as user-friendly as consumer websites, often because it was made in-house at the firm itself.

“Sometimes an organisation decides to digitise certain processes that previously used pen and paper, like filling out a holiday request form,” Thomas says. “It’s an admirable idea, but often they make it like for like – that is, they use exactly the same format but on a computer screen. They assume it will be easier for the employees to understand, that it will ease the transition to digital. But often it’s counterintuitive. By computerising it without taking advantage of the extra features digital devices bring, they just confuse the user. They’re not optimising the experience by computerising it, they’re just making someone have to use a computer. And sadly, for many people that’s a real obstacle.”

Even when software is bought in, companies can scrimp and buy the cheaper package, which means they miss out on plug-ins and other advanced features that make life easier for the user. Again, this can confuse and frustrate employees.

Buddying up to re-skill employees

Other problems? With the retirement age being pushed back all over Europe, companies are faced with a wide age range of workers, with wildly different levels of digital experience and skillsets. But they need to address this gap and provide adequate training for all workers. Mentoring can help here, where new starters are ‘buddied up’ with someone working in their field who can guide them through what’s expected of them.

Kitting out the IT department with the right tools can also prove invaluable. Give them Skype for Business, for example, and anyone who has an issue can share their screen with them, which is a lot quicker than having them try to describe the issue over the phone.

Proper inductions also help, as does a real explanation of how certain systems work. “You need to tell them why, from a security point of view, it’s not a good idea to work from a coffee shop with your laptop,” Thomas says. “You need to educate people about insecure wireless networks, so they think about how and why they’re connecting.”

Overall, it’s about empowering employees by giving them the confidence to use these devices. “Computers should be seen as tools to aid workers, rather than obstacles to getting things done,” Thomas says. “They should be as comfortable with it as they are with their DVD player or TV at home.”

Giving employees the right digital skills will reduce costs while making them happier and more productive. Ignore it at your peril.

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