What Are the Best Ways to Build a Digital Workforce?

A recently launched, multi-year project of the World Economic Forum, the Digital Transformation of Industries initiative (DTI) is helping to provide a wealth of insight into the key business and societal opportunities and challenges that we are currently facing as a result of digitization. Through a series of reports, case studies, and videos, the DTI initiative offers a close, much-needed look at the many ways in which digitization has revolutionized and redefined our world.

One key theme that the DTI initiative has recognized as being relevant across industries is the question of how to build and foster a digital workforce. Enterprises of all sizes and in all sectors are confronting this challenge, which is made all the more urgent by an anticipated skills crunch which could see a far greater demand for digital skills than there are employees (or executives) who possess them.

In order to support and guide companies that may be struggling to bring their workforces into the digital age, the DTI initiative has identified a number of key components involved in building a digital workforce and has provided strategic recommendations for how best to put these elements into place. The components include:

Attracting and retaining talent

millennial tech employeeIt’s an undisputed fact that millennials represent a major source of digital talent, and as these young workers begin to comprise a greater portion of the workforce, employers must learn to prioritize the recruitment of these individuals. Employers can take steps to become the employer of choice for millennials by empowering and incentivizing their teams (career advancement is a major draw for millennials, who often cite professional development programs as among their top priority at work); making workspaces attractive to digital talent either by tailoring the design of physical workspaces or by implementing policies that support virtual or remote workplaces; and by leveraging collaboration and knowledge sharing tools to boost engagement and teamwork among employees.

Bringing digital skills development in-house

Enterprises shouldn’t rely exclusively on attracting digital talent from the outside. Focusing on the in-house development of employees’ digital skills is another important part of an overall digital talent management strategy. Companies can use in-house training programs to teach in-demand skills to their current employees and to seek out hidden digital talent within their teams by conducting regular assessments of employees’ competencies. In addition, firms can recruit digital leaders and digital natives as a way to provide in-house expertise.

Taking change all the way to the top

While people with a digital mindset need to be placed at all levels of an organization in order for real change to happen, it’s especially important for companies to ensure that digital transformation makes its way all the way to the top. While traditional organizations tend to be risk averse and stuck in the status quo, today’s digital organizations are much more prepared to accept failure and encourage greater risk on the part of their employees. Training executives and top-level management in these concepts, which may run fundamentally contrary to the way that they’ve always done business, is a vital part of creating a workplace that is ready to embrace—rather than resist—digital change. Some ideas to help facilitate this transformation include technology immersion workshops or technology advisory committees for boards and executives.

Fostering a digital enterprise culture

tech startupFor digital transformation to take root in an enterprise, the organizational culture—the beliefs, values, and mindset that guide an organization’s behavior and activities—needs to be ready to accept it. The DTI initiative has identified four “golden rules” to help in creating and promoting an enterprise-wide digital culture:

  • Open, honest, and abundant communication across all channels (face-to-face and digital)
  • A willingness by leadership to drive cultural change and release creativity at the grassroots level
  • Visible ways of tracking digital change, such as maps or other semi-permanent visualizations
  • Continuous change monitoring using tools such as feedback surveys and performance monitoring.

Integrating automation and human workers

MIT researchers estimate that worker productivity can increase significantly when human workers and automated or artificial intelligence systems collaborate, with workers’ idle time reduced by up to 85%. However, it’s important for companies to be careful in creating environments in which humans and robots can successfully work alongside one another. The DTI initiative recommends that businesses first evaluate the value of automation to the business, then establish to what extent automation is central to the business. If it is highly central, businesses should consider their social responsibilities.

Leveraging an on-demand workforce

An on-demand, extended workforce can be a useful way for a company to quickly and effectively improve the quality of its talent pool when needed. The use of an on-demand workforce is typically most successful when a company has a predetermined framework of tasks and functions that are appropriate for on-demand staff to handle. Today, such staff can easily be recruited through online talent platforms, which provide access to skilled workers without the need for onboarding costs, such as payroll taxes or legal compliance. However, companies should always keep in mind that on-demand workers are not suitable for all roles, and it’s important to maintain a healthy balance between on-demand and legacy staff.