Why digital L&D is at the centre of recession-proof growth strategies

Businesses are battling on all fronts. They’re getting hit with supply chain issues, high energy prices, record-breaking inflation—and a seemingly ever-present skills shortage.

Why digital L&D is at the centre of recession-proof growth strategies

Businesses are battling on all fronts. They’re getting hit with supply chain issues, high energy prices, record-breaking inflation—and a seemingly ever-present skills shortage that threatens short-term resiliency and long-term success. Across all these challenges, one truth remains: It’s skilled people that drive success. In its recent 2022 labour market report, the Department for Education notes that employer investment in training and skills is increasingly important but warns that “employer unwillingness to train their workers will continue to be a barrier.”

In the same report, the Department for Education expresses concern that “the number of skill shortages in the economy has been steadily rising over time, and the number of internal skills gaps has been increasing.” By not investing in training their employees, too many employers are compounding the skills gaps that threaten both their individual organisations’ growth and the UK economy at large. 

Amid the UK’s current recession, it may seem tempting to limit the focus on what’s wrongly considered “belt and braces” operational investments. But that’s a riskier strategy than it seems. Research shows the substantial impact of training on productivity—and reducing learning opportunities for employees conveys a dangerous message about a potential lack of long-standing opportunities. Instead, learning and development (L&D) skills need to be considered a fundamental aspect of immediate recession-proofing and future growth. 

L&D investment where it matters most

It’s no secret that one of the most significant talent gaps affecting employers is within digital and technological skills. According to the government’s latest Digital Strategy, the digital skills gap is estimated to cost the UK economy up to £63 billion a year in potential gross domestic product. With over 80% of new jobs relying on digital skills, employers say that lack of talent is the primary barrier to growth. 

Organisations struggling to hire digital talent cannot simply wait for the next generation of school graduates to fill the gap. Tech moves so quickly that what students have learned in their coursework might be outdated by the time of hire. So to drive innovation and growth in today’s tech-driven economy, it’s essential to develop the technological skills of your existing teams. It’s the only way to ensure you have the talent and skills to recession-proof your organisation and survive the current storm. And that requires investing in L&D to develop digital skills across the workforce.

Forget cookie-cutter L&D strategies 

But where should you focus your workplace learning and development? The needs of each organisation will differ. However, there are some core digital requirements that all businesses must meet through their ongoing talent and L&D strategies. For example, no digitally enabled business—and today that means any business—can survive without cybersecurity skills. This is an essential area for continued focus, both to stave off destructive ransomware attacks and ensure cyber compliance and governance. 

There are also a plethora of digital skills employers must consider, from emergent AI, blockchain, the metaverse, and data analytics to cloud strategy and application development. Growth will come from an organisation’s ability to harness innovative technologies and approaches like these—underpinned by the human talent empowered to put them to work. 

But digital skills are only part of the equation; it’s equally important to consider how employees will engage with L&D throughout their careers, for all areas of career development. As I noted above, companies can’t always count on recent graduates to know the very latest technologies, so we’ve seen an emerging trend where organisations hire students with the intention of training them themselves after graduation. We may be gradually shifting away from a model of education where individuals are responsible for their own degrees to one in which companies educate employees to fill their open technical roles. And of course, employees may also need to cultivate nontechnical skills like writing, communication, assessment, and leadership as part of their learning journey. A quality L&D partner can play a major role in developing these “soft skills” across an employer’s entire staff.

Enterprises of all sizes need to rethink how they train and upskill employees to ensure they keep pace with the new way of working. That includes an appreciation of each employee’s unique learning style and objectives. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to digital upskilling; individuals should be granted access to a range of learning opportunities as part of a defined path of individual development. 

Recession-proof skills for a digital future

Investing in future-proofing your employees’ skills isn’t just about keeping up with competitive innovation; it’s also about securing your most valuable asset: your people.

70% of employees reported they would consider leaving their current role for an organisation known for investing in employee development and learning. And 90% say they would remain working for an organisation that invested in career development. Those are striking numbers.

But let’s not forget that employees also play a role in their own success. So empower them to prioritise learning to safeguard their role and make themselves an invaluable asset. That means embedding personal development as a core value that permeates your entire organisational culture—starting at the top. 

As the new UK Digital Strategy makes clear, the Digital Skills Council will encourage investment in employer-led training to provide workforces with new skills. But while the government has indicated it’ll support this drive, it won’t necessarily lead it. In this period of postpandemic recession, employers will have to do more to ensure the future of the UK’s digital economy and turn this challenge into an opportunity. That means ensuring that L&D—especially within digital technologies—is elevated to its rightful place as a recession-proof strategy for long-term growth and success. 

Laura Baldwin
Laura Baldwin

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