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How to turn the global skills crisis into an opportunity for employees and companies

By Kris Lande, SVP of Marketing & Community at Salesforce

Every company has become a tech company in the seismic shift accelerated by the pandemic. And that digital transformation, which has touched all parts of our everyday lives, has widened the skills gap for a workforce already ill-equipped to deliver the digital experiences companies require today. Bridging this divide is critical to ensuring business prosperity and a more equitable future. 

A digital skills crisis

Today’s digital-first mindset has changed the skills workers need to collaborate with colleagues, reach customers, and keep organizations competitive. The premium placed on these new skills are driving two trends: an increase in higher-paying jobs and a decrease in lower-wage jobs. As a result, analysts expect 100 million people — 1 in 16 workers — worldwide will need to find new occupations by the end of this decade. Meanwhile, a majority of workers around the world feel they do not have the skills required to keep up with digital transformation. This isn’t a skills gap — it’s a skills crisis.

According to a new survey of more than 23,000 people across 19 countries, over 75% of workers feel they are unequipped for the future of work, with nearly as many reporting they do not have the digital skills currently needed to succeed in the workforce. Despite 82% of survey respondents planning to learn new skills in the future, only 28% are actively participating in digital skills learning and training programs today. 

This gap spans generations. Fewer than one in three Gen Zers believe they have the advanced digital workplace skills needed by businesses now, or feel equipped for the digital-first jobs of the future. 

A new model for continuous learning

Today technology is evolving faster than universities can keep up with. The speed of innovation means they will forever be playing catch up when it comes to teaching relevant digital skills. Higher education is becoming increasingly unattainable and out of step with what employers are looking for once graduates enter the labor market. Resulting in a sharp decrease in college enrollment rates as prospective students realize the plummeting value of a degree despite skyrocketing education costs. It is imperative that we reimagine how we are preparing the next generation for the digital-first workforce.

Narrowing the skills gap requires making continuous learning opportunities accessible at scale, regardless of someone’s background or geographic location. It can no longer be the job of higher education. Companies developing new technology have a responsibility to end the digital skills crisis by preparing people for the opportunities they’re creating. 

Every company must make digital skills education a priority within their organizations. Establishing a culture of continuous learning will future-proof your business. Through ongoing learning, companies can ensure their employees have the skills they need to succeed. This will in turn boost employee engagement, retention and recruitment and build a more inclusive workforce – keeping your company at the forefront of innovation.

Organizations should offer accessible, free workforce education and learning programs that drive employee engagement through bite-sized, hands-on content. People process information better when it’s delivered in small, digestible doses and will learn better if information is tailored to their role and they can learn on the job in little moments throughout the day. It’s also important to recognize progress and celebrate success throughout the learning journey. Find ways for employees to demonstrate their newly acquired skills. Offer certificates or a gamified experience that lets employees earn points and level up. Finally, people will always learn the best when they’re learning together. Create peer-based communities where people can share their experiences to foster a thriving culture of continued learning.  More than half of workers say they first turn to their peers – not their bosses – for help with learning new skills. Therefore, it’s also important to harness the power of peer-to-peer learning, allowing for knowledge sharing while giving people a sense of community and source of motivation. 

This new model of education can transform lives. For example, Tony Nguyen was managing a sandwich shop when the pandemic forced it to close. Finding himself out of a job – and consequently without a permanent home – Tony wanted a new career path with greater opportunity, but couldn’t afford to pay for a traditional program to learn the new skills he needed. 

Then he found Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform, and the Trailblazer Community and began teaching himself in-demand digital technology skills. Despite not having a tech background – his only professional experience had been in the restaurant industry – Tony found a new career in the tech industry within six months, earning three times more than he had previously. 

Solving the digital skills crisis

By offering accessible and equitable avenues for learning new skills, businesses can help fill the critical roles that will bring us into the future. All while building a more inclusive workforce and creating economic opportunity for people of all backgrounds. 

The future economy depends on a talented workforce with the right skills to drive digital transformation. Business can be the greatest platform for change and companies today can play a pivotal role in closing the digital skills gap. 

What good is creating new technology if we don’t have people who know how to use it? Every company needs to make it their mission to create pathways for continuous learning at scale and to empower everyone to thrive in a digital-first world.