The world is facing new digital demands

As global leaders gather at the World Economic Forum this week to discuss challenges facing the world in 2017, new research from BMC Software reveals that workers are placing more responsibility on employers to enable them with the skills required to be successful as they face massive changes being brought by the digital economy.

The theme for the annual meeting in Davos this week is Responsive and Responsible Leadership, as “traditional industries are being redefined and new ones are being created from scratch.”

Advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, self-driving vehicles, and new payment technologies are forcing businesses, governments and individuals to examine how people work and the skills required of labour forces to meet the demands and needs of digital industry.

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The BMC study of over 3,200 office workers in 12 countries worldwide suggests that many workers are excited by the potential for technology to enhance their work lives and create new career opportunities, but an average of 40% fear that they won’t be able to keep up with the rate of change required by digital business. Of those surveyed, 88% place the responsibility to create innovative cultures on their employers.

Paul Appleby, EVP of digital transformation at BMC, said that “the massive digital disruption we are experiencing is forcing societies and businesses to create new learning environments to train their labour forces so they are able to meet the demands of digital industry.”

“The study also shows that employees want to be ‘digital change agents’ and are looking to acquire new skills, but are asking for employers to offer more training opportunities to meet requirements of the digital era. To put it simply, businesses that take the initiative to lead today will be those that others follow tomorrow.”

Workers expect their roles and skill sets to change considerably by 2020

The BMC survey found that roughly 47% of global workers believe they will have to learn how to use new software and apps, including 57% of respondents from the United States.

Recognising that digital industry is enabling machines to take a larger role in the workforce, many employees (33%) expect that some of their tasks will become automated by 2020, especially in countries with prevalent manufacturing interests such as China (48%).

Faced with dynamic changes in how employees work as digital society evolves, the research suggests that many workers are also keen to embrace change and seize new opportunities, and 74% feel empowered to do so, with the highest number of responses by Argentinian (96%) and Mexican (93%) workers.

That flexibility requires a work environment where responsive and responsible leaders foster innovative cultures. 71% of respondents also described their workplaces as inspiring, with Brazil (80%), New Zealand (75%) and Canada (74%) leading the category.

But not everyone sees the pace and change being brought by digital business as positives for their roles.

Concerns are growing as workers fear they won’t be able to adapt fast enough

Across Europe, 77% of workers acknowledge that disruption and increased competition will require more people with digital skills in order to compete on a global scale, peaking in Spain at 90%.

However, more than a third (41%) of workers globally are concerned that they won’t learn digital skills fast enough to thrive in the future workplace, especially in Latin American countries.

This raises the question of who is responsible for providing the tools and skills required to transform the way employees work in the digital economy.

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For example, Chinese respondents do not believe it is their own responsibility to ensure they have the latest digital skills (39%).

Latin American respondents feel they must take ownership of their skill sets, and a higher than average % age of respondents (62%) from that region would also seek training on their own time outside of the office to personally address a digital skills gap.

Responsive leaders will either ensure their workers are enabled to succeed, or make it their own responsibility to acquire and embrace new digital skills.

Employees feel the responsibility to create an innovative culture lies with employers, who must be responsive leaders and encourage change

Globally, office workers strongly believe that employers must create an innovative culture to retain staff and enable workers to be successful with increasingly digital roles and responsibilities.

However, the level of encouragement employees believe they are currently receiving to drive change in the workplace varies greatly.

Only 64% of respondents in the U.S. saying they feel empowered by their company culture to lead innovation, whereas 90% of employees in Mexico feel their workplaces encourage them to drive change.

The study also highlights that the frequency with which management seeks ideas for change and how much employees feel listened to also influences how encouraged or empowered they are to drive change in their roles.

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57% of U.S. workers feel that leadership in their organisations only provide the opportunity to suggest changes during performance reviews, while Europeans (39%) instead are asked to provide more feedback via surveys. U.S. and U.K. workers feel among the least empowered to drive change (64% and 47%, respectively) in their roles.

The substantial risk is that businesses that do not proactively enable their employees with the skills necessary for digital industry, or develop new, continuous methods for engaging employees to suggest and drive change, are likely to face extinction.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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