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Digital Preparedness and Upskilling for SMEs


There has never been a more important time for SMEs to reflect on the importance of digital skills and ensuring the UK workforce is well equipped to navigate hybrid working.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, digital tools and experiences were becoming interwoven into daily life. Despite an acceleration of digital transformation in response to the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges for any business making the move to a hybrid work model is the lack of digital skills amongst the current workforce, as Microsoft research from last year found 69% of UK leaders recognise that their company is facing a digital skills gap.

However, leaders are increasingly aware of the need to address this skills gap, viewing enhanced technical capabilities and a digitally diverse talent pool as essential to recovery post-pandemic. When implemented correctly, technology also has the power to improve people’s lives and unlock potential.

Employees and employers alike recognise the importance of upskilling and developing their proficiency in the digital sphere: over half of employees have stated the need to grow their digital skills in the post-pandemic world of work.

Empowering employees to own their development is essential in the new world of work. With a more remote or hybrid workforce it’s essential that employees are equipped with the tools and systems needed to take control of their development. Providing employees with personal development budgets to access what they want to learn in the way they like to learn is one way of achieving this.

At the same time the employer needs to play a facilitating role to ensure they support and guide employees on their development journey. Merely providing access to online courses and digital learning materials is the first step but not sufficient in isolation.

Managers should ensure that employees are encouraged to create personal development plans so that there is a sense of both support as well as accountability. By enabling employees to own their development and giving them a budget to invest in their careers gives them the flexibility to develop on their own terms – whether it be within work hours or in their personal time. This can be augmented by access to internal mentors, coaches, or internal peer to peer training schemes where employees are encouraged to share their strengths and expertise with others. The best way to solidify your own learning is by teaching others and this also doubles up as a way of encouraging internal collaboration and is a cost-effective approach to utilising the internal expertise you have within your organisation.

Demonstrating a detailed plan for upskilling staff members who both need and want to re-train are immense, particularly when moving to a hybrid work model. These include minimising the disruption to workflow when moving to a hybrid structure and ensuring staff loyalty, as businesses show they are willing to invest in their teams. Other positives include improving scalability with a skilled team that can confidently handle changes in workload, boosting productivity as employees become more efficient with digital tools.

In summary there are several key areas that leaders and owners can focus on when it comes to skilling to prepare themselves for hybrid work:

  • Evaluate your technology stack and talent pool and identify areas where you can boost skills. Leaders should also focus on developing employees’ data literacy problem solving and information literacy to ensure no-one is left behind.
  • Evolve your learning and development proposition. Move away from a ‘one size fits none’ model to a personalised and employee empowered approach where employees are given the investment and autonomy to learn on their terms.
  • Re-think your approach to talent acquisition now and over the coming years. Identify skills gaps and offer training which goes beyond technical capabilities to help workers develop professional skills such as collaboration and creativity. “Home-grown” talent often becomes the most loyal and productive of employees in the long-run.

As SMEs move towards hybrid working and recovery after the past year, there are clear steps leaders can take to evolve the capabilities of their employees and set themselves up to succeed in a digital future. Ensuring employees are equipped to work from anywhere and therefore enabling a hybrid working model is essential for both employees and businesses to thrive.


Rajeeb Dey MBE, Founder & CEO of the workplace learning marketplace Learnerbly

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