Known unknowns: how a digital skills audit can help transform your workforce

Firms continue to suffer from a shortage of digital skills and managers are finding that it’s not just the more advanced skills that are lacking. A digital skills audit could help business leaders map the gaps so they can train and recruit appropriately

A young manager discusses digital training with her team

It’s widely accepted that strong digital skills power successful digital transformations. While we’ve seen countless reports warning that companies are lagging in closing digital skills gaps, it’s also becoming clear that many businesses don’t know where those skills gaps are in the first place.

Regardless of an organisation’s industry or resources, a digital skills audit might be the first step in making sure that digital transformation goes ahead in a way that makes sense for the business. Organisations that get it right not only avoid costly mistakes in the digital transformation process but can gain insights into their business and culture. 

Hiten Sheth is director of research and advisory, HR tech and transformation at Gartner. He thinks organisations should prioritise trying to understand the gaps in their workforce and says that begins with developing a thorough understanding of the skills you already have. 

“There are a few things driving the urgency on digital skills gaps audits. The macro-economic changes we’ve seen after the pandemic, along with problems in the supply chain, and a high number of people leaving their jobs, have all highlighted the need to find the right talent with the right skills to drive the business forward. Organisations need to start identifying the skills they have in their organisation and which ones are missing.” 

Starting from square one

Even in the most seemingly advanced teams, a digital skills audit will help businesses understand what they’re up against. Without the proper infrastructure in place, it’s easy to fall behind. 

You could spend millions of pounds giving everyone training in Python, but how many people in your organisation actually need Python?

Fay Bordbar, digital skills lead at Mazars, emphasises that audits are key to finding out how tuned in your people are to the rapidly changing digital climate. “People don’t know that they don’t know. Technology is evolving so quickly. You might think you’ve trained everyone on Excel, but it turns out that there was a new functionality that no one knew they’d released. It’s key to develop a framework to plug the gaps and support the personal development of your team.” 

As a starting point, it’s a good idea for businesses to get back to basics with skills auditing. Think about the skills that everyone within the organisation needs to get by. Mazars launched a partnership with Microsoft’s Enterprise Skills Initiative, which allows upskilling in Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint, alongside more advanced tools. This can be used in collaboration with the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which provides a common language for digital skills and digital competency globally. As the technology and the benchmark for digital skills change continually, the SFIA framework itself is regularly updated by the SFIA foundation. 

Collaboration is key in identifying and filling the gaps

It’s important to note that digital skills won’t – and shouldn’t – look the same for everyone. It’s obvious that the set of digital skills needed for marketing probably won’t be the same for finance. Getting an understanding of each profession and the specific skills it needs is vital. A blanket approach to digital skills could be expensive. As Barber points out: “You could spend millions of pounds giving everyone training in Python, but how many people in your organisation actually need Python?”

Traditionally, it’s been down to either individual employees or line managers to unpick skills gaps within the teams. Sheth adds that an altogether more collaborative approach to skills assessment can help organisations think about skills in a more sustainable way. Through doing so, businesses can make sure that transformation projects align with business needs overall. 

Bringing together key figures in talent acquisition, corporate strategy, and diversity and inclusion can help ensure that any digital skills gaps are addressed in a way that is cohesive and sustainable. Drawing on the data from these stakeholders can help businesses to work out how to close the gaps. 

Mazars, for instance, has been looking into how training can be delivered consistently across multiple regions in the business. The company is looking into offering subtitles and multiple language options in its training. “It’s exciting because it allows us to think about how we can remove barriers to digital upskilling. Through modernising our process, we can make it all more available.” 

Mentors on the front line

Collaboration in auditing shouldn’t just be confined to leadership. Involving employees at all levels could provide deeper insights into what is needed. Once businesses understand the skills available, they can identify ‘skills disseminators’. These are employees who can train and coach others within their teams. They don’t necessarily have to be employees with the most technical capabilities, but rather people with the right influence and emotional and personal skills to act as mentors within their networks. 

Sheth points out that Gartner has found that skills disseminators help to fulfil a few different needs within audits. When people on the front line deliver training, there is a stronger feeling of investment in digital skills training. The process also means that disseminators can report to senior staff about skills gaps or areas for improvement they might have missed. “It helps everyone in the workforce to see digital audits as something motivational rather than an additional task.” At this stage, it might be clear that digital skills auditing is an ongoing process. While it would make sense to formally assess and quantify digital skills on an annual basis with the right tools, an additional workplace culture that values consistent training and feedback is just as valuable. In that way, auditing the skills of your people by understanding exactly where they are now, might be far more helpful than predicting the skills needed in an uncertain future.