The emergence of COVID-19 in 2020 may have brought the IT skills shortage to the fore, but Gartner IT Symposium made clear that, two years on, a receding pandemic has done little to alleviate the pressure organisations are feeling in this area.
Instead, the skills deficit seems to have become entrenched. Ahead of the Federal Government’s recent Job and Skills Summit, Accenture and the Tech Council of Australia released a report stating that under business as usual conditions, there will be a shortfall of 186,000 trained tech workers.
Meanwhile, geopolitics and economic pressures in both the government and private sectors are generating seemingly endless waves of disruption.
The continued uncertainty prompted more than one Gartner conference attendee to suggest that we no longer class ‘disruption’ as an episodic phenomenon but as an ever-present reality that is constantly evolving in response to cumulating digital innovation, social change and economic upheaval.
Adopting a continuous disruption mindset would mean re-thinking conventional wisdom about upskilling and our other responses to disruption.
If disruption is the ‘new normal’, skills development must become normal, too, rather than something that is rolled out on an ad-hoc basis. Importantly, it isn’t enough to just ‘hire’ in necessary skills, as soon enough you’ll need further skills to add to these.
In this scenario, a managed lifecycle approach to skills development and talent curation becomes critical for ongoing success.
Research shows that this shift in thinking is well overdue. Salesforce’s 2022 Global Digital Skills Index found that nearly three quarters of the 23,000+ workers surveyed felt they hadn’t been given the necessary resources to learn the digital skills they need right now and in the future.
And employers can no longer rely on tech-savvy graduates to pick up the slack. The Global Skills Index shows only 31% of respondents from the Gen Z cohort — the first truly digital-native generation — felt ‘very equipped’ for a digital-first job right now.
The challenge is even greater for public sector organisations, which must now figure out how to keep pace with digital advances while retaining tenured employees and their indispensable organisational wisdom.
However, as several speakers at the Gartner conference noted, there are reasons to be optimistic. Here are five key takeaways:
1. Your workforce is ready to learn
We’re never going back to pre-pandemic workplace norms, and employees have welcomed the change. Post-pandemic, they expect flexible work arrangements and greater autonomy — but they also understand that new skills are required to make a hybrid-work setup sustainable.
More than eight in ten Digital Skills Index respondents said they plan to learn new skills to help them grow in their current career or a new career. They may not all be digital natives, but low-code and no-code tools are the perfect bridge between your IT experts and broader workforce.
2. Skills investment can reduce employee churn
Organisations have long struggled to retain ambitious IT staff who see job-hopping as a way to develop skills and experience more quickly than they could if they stayed in one place.
In March this year, a Gartner survey of 18,000 global employees found that only 29% of IT workers have a high propensity to stay with their current employer, with a 10.2% lower intent to stay than non-IT employees — the lowest out of all corporate functions.
Post-pandemic, employee churn has become an even thornier issue, but providing meaningful, ongoing skills training can reduce attrition and improve retention. For public sector organisations, digital upskilling makes internal secondments and rotations more viable, which in turn helps retain impossible to hire organisational wisdom.
3. Digital upskilling can empower, not disenfranchise, your organisation’s IT experts
Resistance from IT staff to digital skills democratisation is real, say CIOs and CDOs, but that doesn’t mean the problem is intractable. Readers of a certain vintage will remember similar resistance when PCs were first made widely available; or more recently as data visualisation technology fast became a ubiquitous tool for modern enterprise employees.
In both cases, leaders are helping resolve the contentions of previously specialist IT skills being made available to all staff, recasting tech experts as enablers and gurus, encouraging them to activate communities of practice rather than hoard their knowledge to protect their value.
In the public sector, knowledge and attachment to agency mission is a key determinant of staff engagement and connection to the cause of their organisation.
By democratising technology skills across the broader workforce, it demonstrates the intent of the agency to invest in the careers of their staff, and provides staff with the full range of skills and capabilities to allow them to achieve the purposes of their organisation.
Further, by equipping and encouraging IT staff to facilitate this continuous digital skills uplift throughout their agencies, it joins them to the ongoing mission of their organisations.
4. The digital skills of today are complementary
The benefits of digital upskilling have sometimes been difficult to quantify, but the advent of low-code and no-code tools and the development of seamless software ecosystems such as Salesforce’s make the business case for skills training incredibly robust.
Connecting your workforce with intuitive internal communications software such as Slack can provide permanent productivity benefits for your organisation and raise overall digital confidence.
Slack’s integration with other Salesforce products means it’s equally valuable for your creative teams and your tech gurus.
An important takeaway from the Gartner conference was the importance of building communities of practice.
These communities explicitly acknowledge that a small percentage of staff actually drive thought leadership in adopting new tools and technologies to solve business problems.
However, a much greater percentage benefit from exposure to these thought leaders so they can adopt new ideas, applying the benefits of their experience to solve a much broader range of organisational problems and operational requirements.
Knowing there’s an expert only a Slack message, phone call, chat forum or coffee away, gives other staff the confidence to use new technologies. For public sector organisations, this can stimulate productivity and accelerate overall digital transformation.
5. Continuing disruption requires an ongoing focus on rebuilding trust
There’s no denying that the elevated levels of disruption we are currently experiencing pose significant challenges for organisations of all shapes and sizes. Change brings uncertainty and challenges conventional norms and assumptions.
Throughout the Gartner Symposium, discussions returned to the importance of maintaining trust. The need for citizens to trust government moves to increase digital engagement.
Employers and staff to re-establish trust as we move to hybrid and remote working. Customers trust organisations with their private data, or organisations to trust the devices that are accessing sensitive corporate systems through remote working environments. Shifting trust dynamics are everywhere.
One key way of rebuilding trust is to keep communication lines open and transparent. It’s heartening to note that the digital tools required to shape the nimble organisations of the future already exist.
Collaboration tools such as Slack bring teams, organisations, partners and customers together.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools allow agencies to respect the preferences of citizens and service them across channels. Integration tools like Mulesoft are integrating data within and across agencies for better citizen experiences.
And business intelligence tools such as Tableau are turning data into real-time insight and AI-powered foresight.
As always, Gartner Symposium provided invaluable insights on the future of work and the role of technology in our progress. As technology leaders, we have the knowledge and tools to do what’s right for our staff, our organisations and our society.
As leaders we are entrusted to take our society forward through difficult and challenging times. As Leigh Sales said on the topic of earning trust in her conference keynote: “you just need to do what you say you’re going to do.”
For some public sector organisations, moving to digital will trigger growing pains. But the benefits have never been clearer — and workers have never been more willing.