We do not need to slow down digital transformation to save jobs, instead, we need to speed up closing the digital skills gap. This is not an easy task, it requires leadership, collaboration and innovative approaches that will rise above our limitations.
The Luxembourg Digital Skills Bridge programme seeks to solve the same problem that we all have, the increase in demand for abstract, non-routine tasks at the expense of routine manual tasks. This leaves low skilled and older workers unable to participate in the digital economy, and also frustrates digital transformation efforts that require high-skilled workers with digital capabilities.
The government-led programme is aimed at supporting companies and employees whose activities will be radically transformed by technology, leading to new ways of work, new functions and changed organisations. The programme has been recognised by the Financial Times, Google and leading European policy makers as one of 100 digital pioneers in Europe.
The process, as stated on their website is summarised below:
Step 1 – Company application
A company applies to the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Social and Solidarity Economy. The need could be for upskilling of employees or a need for newly trained and skilled employees.
Step 2 – Skills Development Plan
A plan is developed, informed by a workforce planning exercise that identifies jobs at risk. A competency profile for future jobs is also defined.
Step 3 – Implementation of the Skills Development Plan
This is done for each impacted employee.
Step 4 & 5 – Support and Onboarding
After successful completion of training, he/she receives a certificate and is supported by an individual advisor throughout the upskilling process, up to onboarding into the new position which could be internal or external.
I am by no means suggesting that we use the programme as a template for South Africa, we have our unique challenges that require innovative African solutions. There are, however, learnings that we can use as we develop our programmes, here’s three that stand out.
1. Leadership and collaboration
The burden of upskilling and reskilling cannot be carried by the government alone, the private sector, educational institutions, NGOs and other stakeholders have a role to play. It does, however, help to have leadership from the government, this will not only encourage collaboration but also accelerate the work that needs to be done with motivators such as incentive programmes. As stated by PwC, “Lessons from Luxembourg Skills Bridge, bringing together trade unions, associations and businesses to build digital industries and develop digital skills, are valuable.”
“To make reskilling real, and prepare for accelerated structural change of the labour market, a wide range of stakeholders— governments, employers, individuals, educational institutions and labour unions, among others—will need to learn to come together, collaborate and pool their resources more than ever before.” WEF - Towards a Reskilling Revolution
“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”― Gloria Steinem
2. Proactive Approach
This is the kind of preventative and proactive approach that is much needed in South Africa. We have all seen headlines of organisations shedding jobs due to automation and other technologies, but we do not often hear about interventions that were undertaken to upskill or reskill these individuals and redirect them into other career paths, be it through internal or external mobility. Some employers that have offered courses for the employees being retrenched; it would be interesting to see if these courses were enough to redirect them into existing vacancies in other companies. The timing of these interventions is crucial, we cannot wait for people to be discouraged and go through the traumatic experience of Section 189 before we implement upskilling and reskilling initiatives. Last-minute interventions put a negative light on these programmes, they end up being seen as a way to pacify the employees as opposed to a genuinely personal and career development opportunity.
The Luxemburg Skills Bridge is not the only programme that highlights the importance of being proactive in our reskilling and upskilling strategies. The World Economic Forum (WEF) published a report Towards a Reskilling Revolution, which they hope will be a valuable tool for taking a focused, proactive approach to large-scale reskilling and lifelong learning.
3. Employee Engagement
Employees participating in the programme do not just receive digital training in a vacuum.
They start off with a comprehensive assessment of competencies, motivation sources and interests, which is a fundamental starting point. An explanation of new potential jobs (internal or external) is given, depending on the results of the individual’s assessment. They are then given personalised guidance through the upskilling process, which will include recommendations of the skills required (could be digital and/or industry-related) and recommends vetted skills providers. Lastly, the individual is assisted with transitioning and onboarding into the new position. This all-inclusive journey for the employee could assist with increasing employee engagement, accelerating digital transformation projects and increasing chances of success.
In conclusion, once-off reskilling and upskilling initiatives to deal with immediate needs and address the jobs at risk are essential. However, the bigger task is to create a culture of lifelong learning in our organisations and communities. There is a myriad of free and paid-for courses online that allow us as South Africans to be proactive about upskilling and reskilling, but we do not see the desired uptake of these. Could it be that what we need most is a mindset shift? Less negative reporting about “the machines coming to take our jobs” and more reporting about the exciting innovations that are possible with human-machine collaboration. More about the rise of tech and innovation hubs across the continent – more about the opportunities for Africa.