The coronavirus pandemic presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the way we work for good. We must empower people with the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow
Rapid acceleration of digital transformation over the last 12 months has undoubtedly had many positives. Having forced companies to adapt their systems to allow for remote operations, the pandemic has demonstrated the value of flexible working to even those business leaders who were previously sceptical.
But as the need to quickly embrace technology has further increased demand for digital talent, it has also widened an already large digital skills gap.
Considering the skills gap was already a cause for concern before the pandemic, it’s an issue that should be a priority for all of us now, not least because it could lead to an even larger inequality crisis across many different communities and areas.
COVID-19 will leave a permanent mark on how people work, with the potential of a new-found flexibility that can enable better working environments for everyone, but to ensure nobody is left behind in the digital economy, it is crucial that businesses commit to digital reskilling.
“We need to be careful we don’t create a two-tier society in the digital economy,” says Adam Spearing, Europe, Middle East and Africa field chief technology officer at Salesforce.
“There will always be sectors of society that can’t work from home because of the nature of their job. It’s not just about coders and programmers, digital skills can encompass everything from creating a spreadsheet to even using Zoom. Those of us working from home today need a level of digital skills. We have to bring everybody along in this new world.
“We also can’t ignore the need for soft skills, even as simple as reading social cues. We’ve all got better at looking at multiple faces on a video call and spotting when somebody has their hand up or is leaning forward to say something, which we normally recognise instinctively in a physical office environment.
“Younger generations are much more comfortable with this technology. Companies need to think about the digital and soft skills they need, and how they can help people thrive in the new economy, whatever stage they are at in their career.”
A recent survey by Salesforce found half of UK and Irish workers are looking to reskill post-COVID, prioritising soft skills for the future of work. In the study, soft skills such as adaptability to change, resilience, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, empathy and inclusion were all ranked higher in importance than data analysis, data science and coding.
Worldwide, Salesforce and its ecosystem are expected to enable the creation of 4.2 million jobs between 2018 and 2024, according to IDC, while over the same period, the use of cloud computing by Salesforce customers will add $1.2 trillion in new business revenues to their local economies.
Many people think they are barred from these opportunities because they have no formal digital education. This is driven by a lack of understanding of just how accessible digital skills can be. Salesforce technology, for example, isn’t only for the digitally educated. Rather than just selling technology, the company is committed to making digital skills learning and opportunities accessible for everyone, whatever their background and wherever they live.
“There are large parts of society that companies are ignoring as potential talent of the future. They have to broaden the funnel of who they consider as potential employees,” says Spearing. “Most organisations have always been pretty rigorous in saying these are the hours you work, you’ve got to be in this specific location and you’ve got to work in this way. But now there’s a great opportunity for us to adapt the way we work to people’s lives.
“We know, and it’s evidenced everywhere, companies that embrace the different aspects of diversity are richer, stronger, more robust and successful. If we can empower everybody with digital skills, it means they can work to suit their own lifestyle. That could mean geographically, in terms of where they live, or if they have young children or other commitments. By reinventing the workplace around flexibility, we are able to give people opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise, ultimately increasing equality.”
Digital reskilling needs to be at the heart of that workplace reinvention. Recognising this, Salesforce provides free access globally to Trailhead, a digital learning environment it originally built for its own workforce. Anybody with access to the internet can utilise the platform to learn deep technical or soft skills, or domain knowledge on a range of subjects.
Being able to learn in a self-paced way allows people to build it into their own lifestyle. The learning tool opens up a career in technology to anybody who wants to join it, which is vital at a time when, for reasons relating to COVID-19, automation or other disruptors, people are being displaced from their jobs. Though they may feel excluded from technology, Salesforce is keen to remove the barriers and the uncertainties of digital by making technology accessible.
Companies have a responsibility to upskill the current and future workforce to ensure no one is left behind. If they commit to digital upskilling, they can future-proof their business and create opportunity for every person who wants to participate in the digital economy.
“This pandemic has been horrendous, but it has presented an opportunity to create a better society for everyone,” says Spearing. “If we gravitate back to how we used to work, we’ll lose this chance. Yes, companies need to be profitable and create value for shareholders, but if they prioritise purpose too, they will build a far stronger company in the long run.
“The companies that return to growth will be those embracing this opportunity to bring other people into their organisation and broaden their appeal to customers. It’s a chance of a lifetime to enhance social inclusion and our planet, improve the diversity of companies, make them stronger, and bring more of society along with us. There’s no logic to not doing it; it’s just about whether we’re bold enough to take the step.”
For more information please visit salesforce.com