People and processesChange ManagementThe code to improving digital skills

The code to improving digital skills

James Potten, managing director of RED Academy, discusses how the public sector can overcome the sector’s skills shortage problems

James Potten, managing director of RED Academy, discusses how the public sector can overcome its skills shortage problems

According to a recent survey, four in ten individuals in the public sector consider staff shortages and skills to be among the biggest issues for the industry, with more than half (54 per cent) expecting the challenge of building a workforce with the right skills to get harder.

With the rapid increase of technology entering the public sector, the need for skills to match these developments is crucial. Quite simply, we need employees behind the technology with evolving expertise to drive it, develop it and improve it.

Currently, I’d say we’re both using and perhaps investing in technology too quickly, without devoting enough to the skills that are needed in order to maximise its impact. However, for the public sector, which may not fully recognise the true value of technology, the awareness of these assumptions may not be as obvious and therefore not as poignant when it comes to training and upskilling employees to accommodate the changes.

Training should be encouraged where possible though; After all, it provides obvious benefits for both parties, not just employees!


Top tips for employers

One of the most important things that employers should consider is how to effectively retain staff. Of course, there is always that underlying fear of developing your staff to the point that they leave, however, the impact of not training them and them staying is far worse. You need experienced staff that can keep up with the rapid changes in the sector who have the willingness and ability to learn more. It’s our responsibility as employers to help staff understand their potential and purpose in life, and support them in achieving their goals.

One of the best ways to help an employee to improve is feedback. No matter what job, it’s important to always give and receive feedback so that they’re able to achieve more, and the process becomes a more natural and mutual learning environment. For teams and individuals to become proactive in developing their skills, feedback has to be consistent and provide employees with benefits, so that they are aware of their work, are able to self-critique and review their strengths but also identify what needs to be done to strengthen their areas of development. It of course comes down to trust; the manager must truly care and be completely honest, and likewise the team member needs to be open to feedback. Only then will this result in both rapid personal and professional development.

As an employer, you will want to recruit and retain the best of the best in your team. Once you’ve established your employees’ strengths, you need to give them the tools that will allow them to develop and broaden those skills, helping to create their most effective selves.

When it comes to digital skills specifically, this may warrant a bigger focus on training – both internal and external – in order to ensure they are constantly learning and evolving in line with the industry. While time and resource are always a challenge, it’s important to make space for training opportunities. After all, you can’t keep cooking without doing the washing up!

External training doesn’t always have to come with a hefty cost either. There are plenty of companies who host evening workshops, networking opportunities and free events which provide individuals with an overview of the current developments and relevant digital skills related to industry jobs such as User Experience Design, Digital Marketing and Web Development. These training opportunities will help give employees a broad knowledge of the latest updates in the sector and will help them identify what specific areas they might need to develop or upskill in as a consequence. Employers can then research relevant courses or training programmes to help develop their employees’ existing skillsets.


Advice for employees

As an employee, it’s important to remember that your progression and training isn’t just the responsibility of your employer. It’s yours, too! Whatever you learn will likely be important for future jobs, therefore look for as many opportunities that will allow you to build on what you already know and put you ahead of the competition, whatever your next step may be.

Don’t be afraid to ‘unlearn’ too. Sometimes you have to adapt to new ways of thinking and learning in order to stay current with sector developments – especially in this digital age. Give yourself that space to consider new approaches and then equip yourself with as much experience as possible.

The best piece of advice is to be curious; read, explore new things, attend events and workshops, meet like-minded people, and try out the skills you’ve learned! One of the most effective ways to gain skills is to simply learn by doing; immerse yourself in opportunities and find your knowledge edge.

For those who haven’t even entered the job market yet, there’s plenty to be doing to build your digital skills too! Gaining real-world and client facing experience is really important. Understandably, this can be difficult to arrange, but if you’re able to get work experience somewhere, that can be a good starting point to give you real insight into a potential career. Whether it’s a course like RED, a paid opportunity, or simply some pro-bono work, the best CVs have examples of where people have got out there and tried to gain exposure and insight into new ways of thinking in order to stand out from the crowd. This is why our courses are based around real-client projects, it’s all very well learning the theory behind something, but until you apply it you can’t truly understand it.

With the increased use of technology within the varying sectors, digital skills are becoming increasingly important. Employers, employees and future employees can all play a part to improve digital skills. For employers, the emphasis lies with providing training opportunities and for employees, it’s to be self-determined to improve what you already know. Technology and digital skills aren’t going anywhere, they are just going to become more prevalent. The skills needed to fill the current gap should be at the forefront of any sector, including the public sector’s, minds!

DON’T MISS: Building your digital transformation dream team – what teams need to be built in order for digital transformation to be as smooth and as effective as possible? Click here to read more.

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