According to research from IBM, about 120 million workers from across the globe will need retraining within the next two years due to the impact of artificial intelligence and automation. Drilling down, a report from (ISC)² estimates a worldwide shortfall of skilled cybersecurity staff in 2020 needs to improve by 89% to be adequate. And while a study by professional services company Capita found 70% of respondents felt internet of things (IoT) was relevant to their companies, three-quarters reported they weren’t able to capitalize because their workforce didn’t have the right skills.
As technology evolves, some jobs become redundant and are lost. On the other hand, new needs arise and roles are added. Regardless, a digital skills gap continues to make workforce planning a serious challenge, one that could jeopardize the future of many enterprises. Continuous reskilling and upskilling have become essential, not just to handle new functions, but to fill in the spaces that emerge as the allocation of turf between humans and technology is continually redrawn.
Culture and COVID-19
Across industries and throughout business operations, elevating the digital skills of employees has become imperative. If for nothing else, it enables effective collaboration between colleagues, partners and customers via various channels. A workforce versed in technology can also help their companies respond to change quickly and better compete. And, of course, there’s the cost savings of streamlined operations and a remote workforce. The latter has earned a permanent place in business to at least some degree due to the success of the pandemic migration.
Of course, many tasks are becoming more reliant on advanced technologies. From remote diagnosis in telehealth to digital twins in manufacturing to predictive analytics in so many industries, progress holds tremendous promise. However, few tech developments will bear fruit for a company if they fail to provide the right training, especially for nontech professionals. To cultivate the right digital chops, companies must create a culture that emphasizes ongoing learning and training for employees.
In some ways, COVID-19 has actually moved progress forward. Many organizations enlisted new technologies to handle issues from physical distancing to supply chain disruptions due to closings and delays. In particular, many were able to ramp up digital learning initiatives, which in turn has expedited their overall digital transformations.
This trend will continue long after the pandemic has passed. In fact, a recent Gartner survey of human resources, legal and compliance leaders showed that 82% of respondents intend to permit remote working some of the time after employees can return to offices, and nearly half say they’ll allow staff to work remotely full time.
For enterprises, facilitating the digital skills development of employees across departments and locations requires new learning approaches. Traditionally, many organizations favored instructor-led, classroom-based, face-to-face training. In-person instruction offers benefits like heightened engagement and prompt feedback. But while that may help the transfer-of-knowledge, face-to-face isn’t practical for delivering complex upskilling and reskilling programs at scale cost-effectively, especially when a workforce is spread across the globe.
The pandemic effectively brought classroom-based instruction to a halt, while opening the floodgates to virtual instructor-led training (VILT) and self-paced learning. With social distancing, many enterprises quickly discovered the flexibility of self-paced programs is particularly ideal for large-scale training. It offers control over when and how employees engage in learning, yet enables them to progress on their own and customize experiences rather than follow a rigid program and schedule that might conflict with activities on the home front.
Still, while moving training online can serve larger audiences, proper tools and processes are critical for tracking and supervising. Without these, training effectiveness will actually decline. That said, self-paced learning should leverage technology that ensures learning continuity for every employee, real-time support and feedback, tracking of progress, as well as the ability to gather usage analytics that instructors can draw upon to fine-tune their efforts.
Virtual Gets Real
Virtual training can optimize the implementation and use of new self-paced and hybrid learning methods. Through advanced cloud technologies – particularly time-saving business acceleration clouds (BAC) that feature purpose-built tools – organizations can provide realistic, personalized environments. Most important, they can offer hands-on experiences on the same software and tools employees will use on the job.
The latter – the learning by doing method – is proven to dramatically improve knowledge transfer alone.
If an environment freezes, crashes or the employee encounters any other technical issue when training, they can simply start over without fear of damage. This is because the environments are safely isolated, enabling them to learn from their mistakes and overcome hesitancies. Additionally, training leaders can examine data and analytics to understand environment usage, effectively calculate program costs, accurately assess class-to-class performance, determine instructor success and more.
As technology, business and social trends continue to reshape the workplace, flexible, real-world learning that can speed digital skills development and allow a company to adapt and pivot is vital. Its clear virtual capabilities bring real benefits for training at scale, whether it’s for a changed or expanded role or a changing and expanding company.
Amir Hofman is chief product officer at CloudShare. He has deep expertise in technical architecture and software development, having led large global operations and multifunctional teams involved in product creation, engineering and user experience (UX). Previously, he was vice president of product for event platform company Bizzabo. Prior to that he held the same position for enabely, the training platform formerly called Time to Know. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @CloudShare on Twitter.