Accelerating digital skills training during the Covid-19 crisis

Accelerating digital skills training during the Covid-19 crisis

The destruction and devastation caused by the Covid-19 outbreak has been vast, robbing people of their jobs, lives and livelihoods and triggering unprecedented economic disruption. Nobody is immune from the ramifications of this crisis, with everything from the NHS, charities, large businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurs all being affected.

Ordinary workers have been hit particularly hard, with many people forced onto furlough schemes or made redundant as companies scramble to cut costs. As a further result of the pandemic, the UK has suffered from the worst recession of any G7 country, a fact that will undoubtably lead to more job losses and heartache in the near future.

In my role as CEO of FDM Group, I have experienced many challenges over the years, but none have been as serious as this. We have 6,000 staff globally, meaning when the pandemic hit, we had to shift the entire workforce to remote working within just a few days. Whilst we can appreciate that we are in something of a privileged position when it comes to our company’s longevity, size and scale; a perk which many start-ups and SMEs do not have, we have still had to take drastic action to keep the business operating effectively despite the disruption.

As our clients began to close offices and reduce project workloads due to the health crisis, many of our consultants were left temporarily without a clear role. For us, this could have meant using the government’s furlough scheme, but instead we decided to turn this challenge into an opportunity.

We decided to take advantage of this downtime, and implement widespread workplace digital skills training sessions for all employees, both long-term and new, across the company. This was our first attempt at 100% training via web conferencing systems, a bit of a difference from our standard classroom-based courses.

There were of course many questions we had to ask ourselves as we launched these courses. Would they be effective? Will the IT systems crash? Will anyone be paying attention? What messages should we sent to our people?

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Despite the disruption caused by the crisis, we still had new recruits coming through the door, with around 500 new joiners since March. It was vital that these new hires also benefitted from training, even though they were stuck at home and may not have had chance to visit our offices.

Our team has so far hosted 250 ‘virtual events’ for staff, on everything from explaining the pillars of the business, to building a stronger workforce through collaboration. These training events have been attended by 3,500 of our people, including consultants, trainees, and internal staff. Our own research shows that on average every attendee met or interacted with a further seven members of staff. Our online training seminars have covered everything from analytics, AI to automation.

The results have been better than we could have hoped. Our fantastic IT team has successfully enabled complete 100% remote working, training and learning without a hitch. We’ve created ‘work pods’ for members of staff to meet and greet other team members in different offices around the world. Team members are still learning on the job, working remotely, and getting regular support from our HR and people teams.

The biggest lesson for me is that with the right mindset, opportunities can come from even the biggest challenges. Our online system will now enable FDM to reach out further beyond our office-based locations across the UK to much wider communities.

Our clients stick with us because every consultant we send them has been trained to the very highest standards. So of course, we are returning to in-person training systems with strict social distancing measures in place. Yet despite all the chaos and concerns, our online approach to training has, ironically, brought our people closer together.

I still firmly believe that the contribution IT and technology can play in accelerating economies, creating opportunities, and driving social mobility is profound. The Covid-19 crisis has changed the business landscape beyond all recognition, so it is time that technology leaders step forward and ensure digital skills are at the heart of the recovery strategy.

Written by Rod Flavell, founder and CEO, FDM Group

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