The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently announced his department was working on a "new, post-Covid digital strategy" – one that will give people the tools to "digitise their businesses and adjust to the tech-led economy of the future".
The challenge, Oliver Dowden went on to say, is... skills.
“Skills, skills, skills – it can sound like tired government lingo. But if we want to compete with other digital-led economies such as the United States and China, we need a highly skilled digital workforce that is fit for the modern workplace and all its Zoom-laden realities.”
Digital transformation has been in the air for years. Today, thanks to the pandemic, it’s an imperative. Covid-19 has provided rocket fuel to the acceleration of change. So what does this mean for you, as a learning and development (L&D) specialist?
Put simply, it means your time has come. Your organisation is counting on you to deliver the tech talent it needs to survive and thrive.
Are you ready to lead the revolution?
Three vital requirements of the new L&D department
Far too many organisations still regard their L&D department as an order taker rather than a true business partner. Research by McKinsey confirms this: 60% of companies fail to link their learning initiatives with business strategy.
This has to change.
There are three areas where your enterprise urgently needs you to play an absolutely critical role. The first is around enabling and driving digital transformation. People are critical to digital transformation success. Your department should be driving the change, developing the digital skills every single employee needs – from proficiency (in those crucial customer-facing roles) to expertise (in pure tech). L&D has never been so important. You are critical to enabling not only the change, but the speed at which it can be achieved.
Secondly, it’s about facilitating strategic interventions. Covid-19 has forced many businesses to restructure their operations. For example, shifts in business models may mean that many more employees are needed in one part of the business, and fewer in another. This scenario presents a huge opportunity to reskill existing employees for new roles. These are people who already understand your business. With the right tech skills, they can be deployed in ways that positively impact business performance as well as improving your company’s cost structure and boosting employee morale.
L&D needs to play a central role, facilitating the discussions and, critically, the strategic interventions.
Finally, it’s about inspiring a culture of innovation. Employees need to understand what digital transformation involves, and welcome the change. Wherever the organisation is on its journey, L&D needs to enable a culture of innovation, helping people to adapt to the changes and be ready for more of them.
Six steps to help you reinvent L&D
There are L&D departments that have always been relegated to the sidelines, and there are those that have always been business partners. The difference today is that we are all confronted with a very urgent need for change. Here are my top tips for helping you – and your enterprise – turn this change into a force for good.
1. Take a seat at the table
Mike Bedford from the Government’s Education & Skills Funding Agency made an excellent point about L&D departments when he said, "Business partners don’t take orders, they work in partnership with business, collaboratively, to find solutions. They are a key part of business, not a bolt-on of HR."
L&D must have a hand in shaping business strategy. You need to be at those strategy brainstorms, providing insight into alternative ways to build the required talent base. Not just at the receiving end of the strategy.
This is easier said than done, which leads to my next point.
2. Demonstrate value delivered
L&D departments earn their place at the table by adding value and demonstrating that they’ve added it.
This means you must quantify the value of reskilling and upskilling.
What’s the business impact? The direct impact to revenue and growth? The cost savings on hiring and attrition? The effect on employee retention and satisfaction?
Using the right metrics and tools to measure progress is critical. For example, to demonstrate the cost savings, you could quantify the money that would have been spent hiring externally, combine that with the cost of making some existing employees redundant and contrast the combined total against the cost of the reskilling initiative (which retains employees that would otherwise have been impacted, and reduces the need for external hiring).
The business case, in most cases, is likely to be positive. Reskilling metrics might include training completion, assessments passed and the progress of projects that leverage these reskilled resources. All of this can be quantified through learning tools, or a learning platform such as QA's Cloud Academy. This is how you demonstrate the value you have added commercially, and the readiness of the workforce to perform.
3. Get expert input on what good looks like
"Employees need to understand what digital transformation involves, and welcome the change. Wherever the organisation is on its journey, L&D needs to enable a culture of innovation, helping people to adapt to the changes and be ready for more of them."
The bar for learning and development has risen dramatically. What was ‘good’ a year ago may be totally inadequate now.
You need reliable information about what the best companies in your space are doing differently post-Covid-19. What learning methodologies are they using? What processes have they put in place? What goals and metrics are they applying to evaluate progress?
An external L&D partner can offer helpful perspectives. For example, at QA we serve a whole host of FTSE 100 and 350 companies. As a result, we’ve already accumulated valuable insights into what "excellent" looks like in a post-pandemic world.
4. Have your tech antenna up
What’s changing in the tech world and how is this going to affect your business? As an L&D leader, you want to be ahead of the curve in keeping track of which tech skills are seeing high demand, and discussing these areas proactively with your technology and business colleagues as you build L&D plans in support of overall corporate objectives.
The need to move quickly means there isn’t time for desk research. Instead this expertise should come from external partners with strong partnerships with the big tech players and, most importantly, successful practical experience in delivering relevant tech training to hundreds of thousands of people per year. (There’s safety, and evidence of expertise, in numbers.).
5. Make it all about the learner – every single one of them
How does someone who’s been working for the past 20 years learn? How different is this from, say, a digitally savvy millennial? A robust blended approach that combines online, offline, self-paced, labs, and experiential projects helps keep employees engaged with the learning experiences they prefer – when and how they need them.
6. Test and scale up. (You don’t have time to get it wrong)
Success breeds success (as well as that all-important C-level support).
If you’re upskilling or reskilling huge numbers of people across multiple departments, there are advantages to getting it right before a full-scale roll-out. For example, if you are introducing data literacy training across your organisation, you may want to start with a business group, a centre of excellence, or a particular technology group. Getting feedback from learners within your own organisation will really help improve the business impact of the final roll-out.
Seizing L&D’s moment of change
2020 has been described as the "reset moment" for HR. The same could be said of L&D: there’s so much to do and no time to do it all.
Which is why a trusted external expert can make all the difference.
At QA, we’ve helped L&D leaders like you rise to the challenge of delivering critical digital talent programmes. At scale, and at pace.
To discover more about accelerating your company’s digital transformation, sign up for our webinar on The 5 Principles of Emerging Stronger. And let’s talk.
This is the second in a series of blog posts on digital transformation. In future posts, we’ll be helping you assess your digital readiness and revealing how Tech Talent Acceleration is transforming businesses. Don’t miss them.
Srikanth IyengarSrikanth joined QA in November 2019. As Chief Client Officer he oversees all our sales activity for our customers globally, with particular focus on larger and international clients.