How to take control of your own digital upskilling

From the Tech newsletter: Microsoft's Lisa Gibson explains why non-IT staff need to improve their digital know-how.
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By Lisa Gibson

What’s become apparent to me as I’ve been immersed in discussion about the need to upskill our workforce is that many outside the tech industry assume the digital skills gap pertains only to IT professionals. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to recent research from McKinsey, over the next decade, technology will impact nearly every single job. They estimate that while only 5% of jobs will be fully automated, within most jobs, 30% of tasks can be automated in some way by leveraging new technologies. A recent Gartner report noted that at least 19% of employee skills will be irrelevant in three years and that constant upskilling and digital dexterity will outweigh tenure and experience.

For someone with more than 20 years of experience, the idea of upskilling outweighing tenure struck a nerve. However, when I reflected on it, I realized it wasn’t that experience and tenure didn’t have a role in determining your value to an organization; it means that even those with extensive experience have to learn new skills in this tech-intense environment. Whether you’re a doctor, a banker, a farmer or a communications professional, it is imperative that you embrace a tech intensity mindset and look for opportunities to grow your digital skills.

Because Microsoft works with such a broad range of customers, I get the opportunity to meet with peers in communications and marketing across industries. When I bring up the need for digital skilling, I’m often told that they “aren’t technical” or don’t support the IT business. However, I know firsthand that you don’t need an engineering or computer science degree to learn new digital skills. PwC found that 86% of CEOs say a clear vision on how to use digital technologies can help businesses achieve competitive advantage – that includes all parts of the business. It is shortsighted not to consider digital skills as an important part of your communications toolbox.

Regardless, learning any new skill can be daunting. So, here are tips from my own experience:

Stop procrastinating and dive in

I started with discovering the tools right in front of me. Using productivity and collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams and Sharepoint, for example, changed the way I was working to be more collaborative and transparent. Don’t be afraid to ask for more training.

Develop a structured plan

Once I started, I knew I needed a plan to keep the momentum going. Integrate it as part of a development conversation. Discuss what you need to achieve these goals (time or money) and actionable outcomes with your manager. Create an agreement with timelines for success. And having a plan is important, but scheduling the time to deliver on your plan is key. Skilling is so important to my organization that they have scheduled eight Learning Days throughout the year for employees to focus on their development/learning plans. Outside of Learning Days, blocking time in my calendar at times of day when I am my most alert and attentive has proven to be effective for me.

Look for reliable training/learning resources

If you’re investing the time, ensure it is meaningful. We’ve all attended conferences or taken courses that were more to “tick the box” than a worthwhile learning experience. Time is too valuable – choose wisely! Many organizations offer free or low-cost online courses, events and certifications. For our part, Microsoft offers AI Business School – a series of online content focused on artificial intelligence, designed for the business audience vs technical professional. Ask your colleagues and industry peers what learning tools they found valuable and share your experiences.

Don’t stop

One of my favourite comments from our CEO Satya Nadella is being a continuous learner is critical because “it’s better to be a learn-it-all than a know-it-all.”

As technology reshapes the face of business, it’s imperative that we change the way work, embracing tech intensity and seeking opportunities to upskill, learn new technology and remain relevant. We have an incredible opportunity to capitalize on the digital economy, but it starts with a mindset shift. Technology and increasing digital skills are not just for IT professionals, it’s becoming mandatory for all industries and roles, including communication and marketing.

Lisa Gibson is director of communications and chief of staff to the president at Microsoft Canada.