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We’re Facing a Widening Digital Skills Gap — It’s Time to Take Action

The digital skills shortage has accelerated, and reskilling is now a worldwide priority. Alexandra McDonald outlines the findings from the Salesforce Global Digital Skills Index 2022 and points towards a future where we can work together to close it.

Over the past 20 years Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) have produced amazing technology companies like Canva, Afterpay, Atlassian and Xero. As a region we’ve shown that we have the big picture thinking to transform the way people do business from anywhere.

And while it’s promising to see homegrown companies lead digital innovation and transformation across the globe, the recent findings of Salesforce’s Global Digital Skills Index 2022 reveals we may have underestimated certain impacts of such innovation, especially around the digital readiness of our workforce and the shortage of digital skills.

In December, Salesforce surveyed people’s attitudes and thoughts across 19 nations on their readiness to acquire the digital skills needed to close the skills gap and succeed in the workplace. The global index score for digital readiness (the average) is 33 out of 100. New Zealand scored 28 and Australia scored 21.

These numerical differentiations might not sound huge, but in reality they are. They indicate that digital reskilling and upskilling is now a worldwide priority, particularly in ANZ.

So, why are we not digitally ready?

The pandemic changed the world overnight, and as businesses rallied and pivoted to new ways of working, the digital skills shortage was amplified. Of the surveyed Australian respondents for the report, 55% are only somewhat digital ready and 19% are not ready at all. In New Zealand, those figures are 57% and 16%.

When it comes to increasingly relevant digital skills such as database management, data science and visualisation, coding and app development, encryption/cyber security (and the list goes on), the overwhelming majority of ANZ workers claimed only a beginner’s skill level. Which is a good start, but it might not be enough to keep pace with the rapid digital transformation of business; the IDC predicts that by 2026, Australia and New Zealand will have 130,400 net new technology jobs.

But despite living in a world where demand is outstripping the skills available, 85% of the Australian respondents and 78% of the New Zealand repondants don’t feel adequately equipped with sufficient digital learning resources to upskill, and only 14% of Australian respondents and 20% in New Zealand are actively engaged in the appropriate digital skill development. 

So, unless we make changes on several fronts, starting now, the digital skills gap will continue to widen.

What’s needed to tackle the digital skills shortage

The online world is already an extension of our own, which means core workplace digital skills will be, if not already, as important as reading and writing. 

For a business to thrive today and over the next five years, a future-minded, digitally fluent workforce needs to be nurtured. According to the report the top five skills that are now most desirable for organisations are:

  1. Collaboration technology: Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat
  2. Digital administrative: Digitising and filing paperwork, virtual stakeholder meetings, digital-first processes, digitally presented pressing information
  3. Encryption and cyber security: Skills to protect data and systems from unauthorised parties
  4. Ecommerce and digital trade: Sales order management, payments to shipping and fulfilment processes
  5. Project management technology: Utilising project management software to manage projects, processes, people, timelines, and more

To give you an example of people’s sentiment towards these skill departments, 59% of Australian respondents and 64% of New Zealand respondents say digital collaboration skills are of the utmost importance now and will be over the next five years, yet only 17% (Australia) and 22% (New Zealand) rate themselves as advanced in that department. 

In an all-digital world, we need to invest more in enabling our workforce to reskill.

Going from what to learn to how to learn it

Now more than ever, the public and private sector must work together to start ensuring education, training and recruitment scales up to match the digital skills demand. New perspectives and strategies need to come into play. Recruitment teams now need to rethink the way they assess employee suitability — focusing less on established educational programs and more on environments that allow for the development of ‘real world’ digital skills.

This means the stock-standard CV is only part of the equation. Businesses must now look out for those with prioritised digital skills, or the potential to pick them up quickly — whether through partnering with learning facilities or developing internal upskilling/cross-skilling programs.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we have the ability to move quickly and rethink the way we do things. We can’t rely on university degrees as the only opportunity to skill-up. It’s why we created our own technology learning platform Trailhead to help bridge the skills gap back in 2014. As of January 2022, 1.22 million modules were completed in ANZ using Trailhead, helping people from all aspects of society learn new skills.

Recently, we partnered with the Australian technology sector to launch Skill Finder, a world-first, totally free micro-skills marketplace available to all Australians. Similarly, we also joined the Victorian government’s Digital Jobs program to help skill, upskill and reskill up to 5,000 Victorians looking to expand their specialised (and relevant) digital expertise.

Rethinking the way we close the digital skills gap

At Salesforce, we are always keeping an eye on skills gaps and actively facilitating ways to close them — including working with our partners to find innovative and inclusive solutions. The opportunities to do so are out there, we just need to grab hold of them and work out how to scale them — especially when it comes to unlocking the talents of women and diverse groups.

Case in point, Supermums is a Salesforce training and recruitment solution that empowers mothers (and fathers) with well-paid and flexible work within the technological Salesforce ecosystem — allowing for parental responsibilities and work opportunities to go hand-in-hand. Interested parties can be upskilled or reskilled through a range of specialised courses, from consultancy to administration to career coaching.

Throughout the process of giving birth to two young daughters, founder Heather Black, managed to work with Salesforce (even out of a camper van). This flexibility allowed her to see that Salesforce is an enabler to flexibility, so she went on to create Supermums, welcoming 500+ trainees since 2016.

Then there’s TupuToa, a nonprofit that partners with companies to develop employment pathways for Māori and Pacific tertiary students. Starting with a 12-week paid internship placement, the aim is to better equip students with the skills needed to succeed in a modern workplace environment, and to see them finish their internship with a full-time job offer. With 80% of eligible interns being offered full time roles, the program provides visibility to a group that is often left out of the recruitment loop by businesses.

There is no denying there is a clear sense of urgency to upskill, so it’s time to think about what your business can do to close the digital skills gap to ensure we’re ready for a work-from-anywhere world and that Australia and New Zealand’s lower digital readiness scores are temporary.

Take a look at the Digital Skills Readiness Index

Alexandra McDonald

Alexandra McDonald is Senior Director, Sustainability, Skills & Reconciliation Lead at Salesforce.

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