Why digital skills are important for you and your workforce

It would be an understatement to say that digital skills are a big deal, after all the rapid advancement and evolution of technology is ever-present in our daily and professional lives.

With this in mind, to know that in 2017, according to the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, there were 4.3 million people (8%) in the UK with zero basic digital skills sounds surprising, but to know also that this was a fall on the previous year of 470,000 fewer people is downright alarming.

It perhaps highlights that it isn’t safe to assume that we’re all becoming more tech savvy purely by association of being alive in this moment of inescapable and radical smart phone, social media, cloud and other digital technological innovation.

A widening skills shortage

‘The shift from traditional ways of working to a more digitally focused workplace is clear, with two in five UK organisations (38%) in our 2019 Salary Guide considering digitalisation to be the main evolving force in the workplace today,’ said Matt Weston, managing director at Robert Half UK. ‘This is posing a considerable challenge to employers, who face a widespread shortage of specialist digital skills, with half of CEOs (53%) admitting they can’t find candidates with the necessary skills.’

James Brent, director at Hays Accountancy & Finance, agreed: ‘Despite a rising digital presence in the workplace, the speed at which businesses are incorporating new technologies is not always being matched by the rate at which employees are learning the skills needed to work alongside them. The result is a digital skills shortage, which looks set to worsen if action is not taken by employees.’

Here are several reasons why digital skills are important to you, your business and your workforce, and what could happen if you just expect to be swept along in the digital revolution:

Digital skills drive business productivity

From going paperless to automated bookkeeping, from contactless payments to data analysis, from cloud accounting to blockchain, and from audit drones to robotic process automation (RPA), the future (indeed the ‘now’) of accountancy is very technological. And while not all of the above may apply to you depending on your business, sector and scale, at least some will and having a business that incorporates such technology is a great step to embracing the future and achieving efficiencies.

But the real productivity gains will not be known until staff know how to use them properly. Furthermore, if you encourage your workforce to embrace new technology, if you create a culture of curiosity and collaboration, they’re likely to find efficiency gains and boost productivity beyond your expectations. This can also lead to a more satisfied workforce, a better company culture and subsequently better staff acquisition and retention, as technology also allows them more space to perform higher value tasks.

‘For teams performing time-consuming, repetitive tasks, automation can streamline these processes, freeing up employee time to focus efforts on higher value work that helps meet the operational and commercial objectives of the business,’ said Weston. ‘Meanwhile, organisations that can leverage technologies such as data analytics and artificial intelligence to gather commercial insight will reap a competitive benefit and increase productivity.’

Key employer takeaways

  • If you encourage your workforce to embrace new technology, if you create a culture of curiosity and collaboration, they’re likely to find efficiency gains and boost productivity beyond your expectations
  • Greater productivity through digital skills not only improves your business’s output by 1) volume thanks to efficiency gains and 2) quality of service as automation frees people to perform higher value tasks, but it can lead to a more satisfied workforce, a better company culture and subsequently better staff acquisition and retention

Digital skills provide a competitive edge

By not enhancing the digital skills of your workforce, you could be jeopardising your future business opportunities, as staff won’t be able to keep up with the changes digitalisation brings, said Brent. If employees are encouraged to keep their qualifications up-to-date through their institute’s CPD learning programmes, why not help them stay digitally at the sharp end? ‘A skilled and engaged workforce will sit at the heart of any successful digitalisation project and will be the key to driving change in an organisation,’ said Brent.

By investing in the right training for your workforce, your employees are more likely to outperform their peers at rival organisations – giving your business an all-important competition lead. ‘Failing to embrace technological innovation can place a company at a competitive disadvantage to its peers, while a workforce that is not fully prepared for digital challenges may result in costly project delays,’ said Weston. ‘A “laggards” culture can also create a barrier to attracting and retaining top talent.’

Key employer takeaway

  • Simply, a business that lags in the digital aspect of its service and workforce is blunting its competitive edge, and by coming late to the party risks playing catch up to its peers for years to come

Digital skills can increase revenue and build relationships

‘As businesses come under growing pressure to adapt to AI, automation and digitisation, a significant digital skills shortage could prove detrimental to a company’s workforce, and ultimately, to its bottom line,’ said Weston.

As consumers turn from the high street to e-commerce, a business needs a strong online presence to help increase revenue. This ranges from being able to purchase your services through your website to consuming your marketing in the form of content, which can lead to purchases or new client relationships. Increasing revenue in this environment requires knowing your customers and being where they are, which requires a range of digital skills to engage, persuade and drive demand or loyalty.

Increasingly, business is about building relationships with customers and clients by responding to their changing expectations and engaging with them through a diverse range of channels, such as email, social media, mobile apps and so on. It’s vital that employees have the digital intelligence and ‘netiquette’ to ensure the modern increasingly digitised customer experience is positive.

Key employer takeaway

  • Your bottom line is at risk if you’re a digital laggard. Points of sale, payment processes, social media and content marketing – your customers, clients and relationships are not where they used to be or conducted in the same way, so you need to find and engage them on their increasingly digital terms

In summary

It’s clear that the landscape for accountants is changing and digital skills are becoming a must have rather than a nice to have. The key point here is investing time into helping your employees understand the value of digital processes and providing adequate training to show the benefits of incorporating digital into their every day.

By encouraging your employees to embrace the change and adopt new ways of working, this will not only boost the productivity of your business, but will allow you be one step ahead of your competitors in the long run.

Coming next: How to raise the digital intelligence of a workforce

The content team are the owners of AAT Comment.

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