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Learning digital skills is critical – on the job and to get the job

Software engineer Agapi Davradou wanted to head home to Greece to find work after getting her master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Portugal. However, this was no easy task given Greece’s challenging job market, especially for young people.

To build upon her technical background and broaden her career options, Davradou decided to enroll in the AI and Cloud Academy, part of Microsoft’s GR for GRowth initiative, a commitment to support people, governments and businesses of all sizes in Greece with technology and resources to create new opportunities. Taking part in the initiative helped her realize that with the right skills, everyone can find a job they love.

Agapi Davradou
Agapi Davradou.

“Personally, the program gave me a lot of professional confidence. I had always felt a bit distant from the industry as I had worked in research centers and academia, so the technical skills I learned were really important,” she says, reflecting on the month-long course.

Today, the pace of digitization has meant that digital skills are increasingly important in every sector. Even for people who already have a technical background, retraining and upskilling are crucial.

“I always try to upskill. It’s imperative – especially in this field because things move so fast and we have to keep up with change,” Davradou says.

This is particularly true in emerging professions, such as AI engineers, machine learning specialists or software developers, where skills shortages negatively impact the ability of companies to make the most of new opportunities.

But upskilling can also positively impact the ways in which people approach their jobs. Davradou was also impressed by the “soft skills” the course covered, such as collaboration and communication, which gave her more belief in her own abilities and made her “more aware of the different career possibilities out there.”

Just two weeks after completing the program, she was hired at Dynamic Integrated Solutions (D.I.S), enabling her to put her new skills to good use and – most importantly – return home to Greece.

Davradou emphasizes how important it is for people to find the upskilling opportunity that suits them best and look for gaps to fill in the ever-changing digital job market.

And for both people with technical backgrounds – like Davradou – as well as professionals from all sectors looking to enhance their careers via digital skills, but who are unsure where to start, programs such as Microsoft Learn can help. It is a free, open platform to help people skill up on cloud-based services and programs. So far, in Central and Eastern Europe, over 3.6 million professionals from a variety of backgrounds and sectors have benefitted from the opportunities for learning the program provides.

Traditional sectors, digital opportunities

When looking to make the most of digital opportunities nine out of 10 business leaders across “traditional” and emerging sectors face skills shortages, meaning that initiatives to promote upskilling in every industry are now more important than ever.

Take doctors, for example, part of a profession that has human interaction at its core. Physicians now have more digital health care tools at their disposal, including telemedicine and the use of AI, when it comes to looking after their patients, provided that they have the skills to make the most of them.

In Poland, at the start of the pandemic, pediatric allergist Tomasz Grzelewski found himself working one of the hardest shifts of his life.

“New patients were coming in every five minutes, all of them worried that they wouldn’t be able to get their urgently needed prescriptions during lockdown,” he says.

Even in normal circumstances, balancing the amount of paperwork and providing emotional support for patients would have been a monumental task. However, Dr. Grzelewski was able to rely on the digital skills he had learned through using the Telemedico platform. As a result, he was able to process prescriptions digitally, freeing up more time to be with his patients.

Telemedico enables patient/doctor interaction via video call or secure chat, providing a lifeline for people during the pandemic or for those living in places where doctors’ offices are not easily accessible. To respond to increasing demand, over 500 doctors have upskilled to be able to run virtual clinics and better interact with patients online.

By learning how to work with technology in this way, and seeing the impact it can have, he now firmly believes that both AI and telemedicine, “will be very important in medicine, both in the future and now.”

Telemedico’s use of AI and analytics helps patients and doctors use their limited time together more efficiently. Based on automated assessments and input from health care staff, the system’s analytical capabilities help in diagnosis and leave more time for discussion during appointments.

“The deeper questions that doctors need to ask their patients took much longer during the pandemic and there was very little time,” says Monika Lubecka, Telemedico chief operating officer. However, Telemedico’s AI capabilities streamlined this process and made pre-consultation and diagnosis faster and easier.

Practically, this means Dr. Grzelewski can use his time to provide more in-depth consultations, ask more questions and deliver even better care for his patients. “The main thing is for doctors to listen to patients and react positively, but the problems begin when we don’t have time to listen or have a conversation,” he says. And by saving time in diagnosis and monitoring, “AI helps doctors focus on patients’ problems – that’s what medicine is all about.”

That’s why Microsoft works with customers and partners to support their employees in building technical expertise on the cloud via Enterprise Skills Initiative (ESI). The program facilitates the creation of a modern learning culture that enables digital transformation – something that Dr. Grzelewski believes is key.

“Working with Telemedico has improved my career 200% – I’m a totally different doctor, but I’m still learning, of course,” he says. “It’s important to keep learning every single day and telemedicine gives me such a possibility.”

Embarking on new career paths

Learning also plays a key role in helping people find and fill the jobs of the future.

Estimates suggest that by 2025, 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor among humans, machines and algorithms.

For example, much like telemedicine, automation and AI can help streamline processes and reduce the burden on staff in almost every profession.

Mariusz Pultyn.

Mariusz Pultyn, chief technology officer for Polish technology provider Digital Teammates, is convinced that digitalization will result in more job opportunities. With that in mind, his company, also a member of Microsoft for Startups, looks to make sure that people have the skills needed in this digital transformation.

“The point is to make sure that people whose existing skills may not be relevant in the digital age can reskill and be a part of it,” Pultyn explains. “The most crucial part is to enable people potentially threatened by automation to a world where those same IT skills are actually a part of their careers.  Digital Teammates is proof that it can be done.”

Based on the belief that humans are more valuable preforming certain tasks than others, Digital Teammates’ “Rent-a-Robot” service speeds up processes and boosts productivity by implementing AI and automation to take care of certain workplace tasks, such as data processing and stock management, generating template-based documents for customers and invoicing.

Employees are also provided with a chance to develop their skills and become “Robo Shepherds,” a completely new role that is responsible for designing, building and maintaining these robots.

By reskilling, these Robo Shepherds can embark upon a career in the world of information technology and robotics, even with no previous technical experience or background. And for Pultyn, helping provide people from all backgrounds with the digital skills to succeed is vital, as he believes that in the future, “everyone will probably be involved in some form of technical activity.”

“Our Robo Shepherds have many different backgrounds, including business, economics, public administration, environmental protection, land management, finance and dietitians. We have also had a philosopher and an author of children’s books,” he explains. “I can see the real passion and commitment toward the journey from where they have been to where they are now.”

Patrycja Chmielecka
Patrycja Chmielecka.

Former mathematician Patrycja Chmielecka doesn’t know where she would be if she hadn’t decided to become a Robo Shepherd, after making the leap to Digital Teammates from her previous job in a bank office three years ago.

The opportunity for personal development gave Chmielecka the chance to learn new skills and transform her career down a path that she never expected. “Before, my work was very routine – it was stable, and I knew what I was doing every day, but I wanted to do something new,” she says. Becoming a Robo Shepherd now means that every day is different and, on a personal level, Chmielecka is also able to use her people skills interacting with customers and colleagues.

“I’m quite shy, so for me there is now a chance to be more open with people,” she explains. “As well as the technical skills I learned, I also now have the opportunity to present our solutions at events and share my story.”

Digital Teammates operates with the motto of “automating boredom at work,” and for Chmielecka, this is what they do for both customers and employees alike – an unexpected bonus of her new skills’ profile.

Initiatives like Microsoft’s AI Business School can help business leaders and professionals understand how AI can benefit their work, illustrating the importance of raising awareness when it comes to how new skills and technologies can benefit business leaders and their staff in their day-to-day operations. The initiative also helps people understand how to build the right culture and strategy to get the most out of tech investments, while establishing the right approach to using AI responsibly along the way.

The journey is just beginning

In Central and Eastern Europe in particular, the drive to learn is certainly strong. Microsoft’s research on AI and skills found that 96% of employees across all types of companies in the region say they are highly motivated to participate in digital skilling programs.

But much like technology itself, skills profiles evolve fast. Whether in terms of retaining talent, maximizing employee contributions and satisfaction, or adopting a more forward-thinking approach to the ways in which we operate, it’s important that all of us – businesses and individuals – never stop learning.

And the idea of skilling as a journey – rather than a destination – is something Davradou strongly believes: “If we want to be competitive and strong candidates, we have to upskill non-stop.”