Digital skills: important in the present, vital for the future

Digital skills are the basis of intelligent organisations that have understood that digitization is not just a process that relates to hardware or software, but a change that mainly concerns people and the dissemination of specific knowledge. If a company wishes to become the kind of company that continues to grow and achieve results, it needs to have people who can adapt to change, or even better, who have already done so, and that already possess strong skills in this regard. It is well-known that organisations whose members have these digital skills are more competitive. A study conducted by VMware of 5,700 employees revealed that in Italy, 75% of respondents believe that the widespread use of digital skills could improve the competitive advantage of their organisations. Another study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) calculated that the dissemination of basic digital skills on 100% of the UK population could lead to an economic benefit of &pound 14.3 billion. Just a few studies are required to prove it we see it every day: the most digitized colleagues are those who manage to work best at a distance, who waste less time with technology, who are able to fit into innovative projects and more easily keep up to date on the most diverse subjects. It is strongly believed that these skills bring benefits to organisations, but there is less confidence on what digital skills actually are, on how to assess and develop them.

What are digital skills

With the European Recommendation on key skills, digital skills have been recognised as one of the eight key competences for learning. It can generally be defined as the safe, critical and creative use of information technology to achieve goals related to work, employability, learning and participation in society. It’s a transverse key skill that, as such, allows you to acquire other important competences and achieve business results in a competitive manner. The European Union has identified five key areas:

  1. Information – Identifying, locating, retrieving, storing, organising and analysing digital information, assessing relevance and purpose.
  2. Communication – Communicating in digital environments, sharing resources through online tools, connecting with others and collaborate through digital tools, interacting and participating in communities and networks, developing intercultural awareness.
  3. Content creation – Creating and editing new content (from word processing to images and videos) integrating and building upon previous knowledge and content multimedia productions and planning knowing and applying intellectual property rights and licenses.
  4. Safety – Personal protection, data protection, digital identity protection, safety measures, safe and sustainable use.
  5. Problem solving – Identifying needs and digital resources, making informed decisions in regard to the most appropriate digital tools based on purpose or need, solving conceptual problems with digital media, a creative use of technology, solving technical problems, upgrading one own skills and those of others.

These are not specific skills of ICT roles, but soft skills, that each individual in a modern organisation must possess in order to learn, collaborate, solve problems, perform routine work and achieve goals. Each of these areas can be declined in terms of ability, aptitude and knowledge, creating a multitude of profiles within an organisation. In light of this model, it is necessary to understand how to implement it within your organisation and how to integrate it with the existing internal competency model. The updating of the latter, in the light of the digital revolution, can guide us in setting up assessment and development plans.

How digital skills can be assessed

Based on this model it is possible to assess the skills a company possesses. Skilla offers 4 types of tools to assess the state of health of digital skills in an organisation: Self-assessment – This tool aims to help participants become aware, in a structured manner, of their ability to use internet and digital technologies in a familiar manner. Assessment – This tool aims to help participants and the organisation to identify the key strong points and areas for improvement. Using tools – This questionnaire aims to analyse the degree of knowledge and use of the main tools that allow the implementation of certain digital skills. The questions are based on some of the tools that are most known and used in Italy. Survey on digital culture – This questionnaire aims to reveal the attitude and culture of the right culture or attitude to use digital skills. The questionnaire measures the attitude of people to apply the 5 areas of digital skills. Before assessing, it is necessary to determine minimum reference standards for the population. Through focus groups it is possible to identify what the tools that everyone should know are, the level of aptitude and minimum competence level that the company wishes to achieve.

How digital skills can be developed

The development of these skills is a long-term process that must take a number of factors into account. Below, we have summarised some of the steps you can take to improve the digitization of your company.

  1. Promote an internal digital competency model – Before taking any training initiatives, it is necessary to re-adapt the competency model mentioned above to the organisation. This model must be disseminated and linked to the main tools and software the company uses. In addition, it is desirable to add these skills into the job description of each role. This therefore makes digital skills clear and relevant for everyone.
  2. Link digital initiatives to business objectives – Initiatives to promote internal social networks or the development of digital skills sometimes fail for a clear reason: people do not consider them relevant. If initiatives and skills are not linked to business objectives that are important for the organisation, it becomes much more difficult to promote a digital culture.
  3. Reverse Mentoring – Reverse Mentoring is the process by which young people, typically with less experience but with strong digital skills, help senior and experienced staff to become familiar with technology, seeking a mutual exchange (Click here to read more).
  4. Blended courses for skills development – Skilla provides dozens of multimedia training pills, combined with a training format to promote the development of digital skills. The organisation must train and self-train itself on these issues.
  5. The digital breakfast – A simple but very effective step you can take is to organise digital breakfasts for a few mornings during the week. These are short tie periods in which individual managers and their staff discuss innovation timescales, the development of digital skills and how to introduce new work tools to the team.
  6. Create a buzz – Finally, ensure that innovation and digitalization are discussed by company staff. To do this you can create a buzz, that is a slogan that urges the staff to make digital competence become a subject of discussion.

Federico Amicucci

written by: Federico Amicucci , 18 April 2016

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