Skills for the digital era

Renate Strazdina
Dr. Renate Strazdina, Country Manager, Microsoft Baltics

Nowadays, we all can read and hear daily about how important digital technologies are for businesses, countries, governments, individuals. We also are informed via different media how important it is to learn and technologically upskill to be competitive in the labor market. World Economic Forum was predicting that by 2022 54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling[1], PwC in a report even call this phenomenon “New world. New skills,” where another Big 4 company Deloitte is claiming that learning and upskilling must be embedded into not only the flow of work but the flow of life.[2] Business Insider has released an article about the World Economic Forum in Davos, where according to the author, workforce “upskilling” was a major topic of discussion[3].

No doubts, technical upskilling should be a top priority for each individual and organization. But is this enough for the digital era? Is it enough to be just technically advanced to be successful in today’s world? Here I fully agree with the World Economic forum that technical proficiency is not enough to be successful, productive, and competitive. According to them “Proficiency in new technologies is only one part of the 2022 skills equation, however, as ‘human’ skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation will likewise retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving. Emotional intelligence, leadership, and social influence, as well as service orientation, also see an outsized increase in demand relative to their current prominence.”[4]

But where to start? Understanding of the importance of the skill set that is needed for “New World” is the first step in the right direction. But what next? How to make it practical? How to make it happen in your organization and for each employee individually?

I believe that the best way to approach this is by understanding where we are as an organization in terms of skills for the future and what our aspiration is. If we are already relatively advanced, we can go deeper into specific technological areas or focus on “another side of equitation.” Let’s try it. Assume that all your employees can be grouped into four groups[5]:

  • A: Digital Citizen who competently accesses and engages with digital technologies and communities (device and internet literacy; information and media literacy; critical thinking and problem-solving skills; skills of ethical, responsible, and safe participation in the digital community)
  • B: Collaborator who uses digital technologies in meaningful and productive ways for life and work (day-to-day use of digital content, networks, and systems; digital communication and collaboration)
  • C: Innovator who uses digital technologies for creative and analytical purposes (development of digital content; implementation and management of digital systems, networks, and platforms; digital design; data analysis and visualization)
  • D: Creator who uses technology to create or advance new digital applications in transformative ways (advanced and innovative application of computer science (e.g., software programming), app and software design; data science, HCI (human-computer interfaces) development, working with emerging technologies and devices (e.g., AI, cloud computing, VR, blockchain, IoT); risk-taking, iterative development, inventing new technologies).

What is your score – are all your employees already Digital Citizens or maybe already at Collaborators level? How many Innovators and Creators do you have? And now the most critical question – where do you want to be? Rarely everyone in the company will be in the Innovator or Creator group in comparison to Digital Citizens and Collaborators – it means you will have different learning paths for different people.

You can also use other digital transformation maturity tests like the one by Latvian Information and Communication Technology association. It has been developed in cooperation with Diginno, and allows companies to evaluate if they are in Champions’ league (very high), Sports stars (high), Fitness club (medium) or still in Tomorrow’s heroes (low) league and get an initial advice what would be necessary as next step to move forward.

The next step is to define a learning path for each group and define how knowledge and skills acquired will be applied in everyday work. You can always develop something very specific for your company. Still, you can also use extensive resources that are available already like MS Learn[6], where you can learn on your own schedule, use a predefined learning path, or define one for you or your company.

For example, in MS Learn, you can choose the role of Business User and choose that you want to learn about how to collaborate virtually as a team. You will be able to learn how to create a team’s virtual workplace, how to work together on the same document by not sending every version in an e-mail to the whole team, and then at one moment recognizing that you do not know which is the last version. You will learn how to add to the team’s virtual workplace sales report that will show the latest data every time anyone from the team opens it. And then you all can agree that you will start to organize your virtual work in such a way starting from today – share information in a modern way, save your time and efforts to get all together in one place. In the next article on skills for the digital era, I will go deeper into how to build a learning path for those that used to be far from technologies such as marketing, HR, or salespeople but now need to learn how to innovate in their roles by using technologies.

For the Digital Citizen group, there are also many local initiatives in many countries that allow people to learn basic concepts of digital transformation in the local language. One of these is the #ThinkDigital[7] (#DomāDigiāli) initiative that was organized by more than 20 organizations in 2020 in Latvia -to help people in 10 days to get from offline to online. This was a series of webinars that is available online for everyone.

For Innovators and Creators group, there is a possibility not only to learn and apply knowledge and skills at work but also to build personal knowledge capital by using certification options. According to research 10, certification programs can also be part of a reliable development road map to help organizations build skills during every phase of a transformation journey. IDC analysis has determined that IT professionals should get at least 10 hours of job role–related training every year to remain current.

But still, I’m more talking about digital. It is enough. As it was said at the beginning – digital skills are just one part of the equation – switching off, being mindful, being physically active is something for individuals to focus on also – both by learning and practicing. As well as creativity, critical thinking, remote and virtual team management are skills that are critical for each organization as, without them, no organization will succeed in today’s world. I will share more about this in my next article.

For each organization and person starting an upskilling journey – there is one main thing to remember – if you learned something – try to apply this in your work. It could be a new customer behavior analysis model; it could be reported with more clear visualizations; it can be physical exercise while sitting at your desk. Try it and start to change your daily routines. Share with colleagues or friends your new knowledge and go even further – train them because, as we all know, training of others is the best way how to learn.


[5] Based on Microsoft 21st century skills framework

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