Career progression has proved elusive for many workers over the past 18 months, with the pandemic prompting hiring freezes and redundancies across many industries.
Naturally, this also scuppered the chances of promotions and pay rises. According to a July survey by jobs site Monster.com, 86% of workers feel that their career stalled as a result of COVID-19, while 80% feel that their current employers don't offer a chance to progress.
Consequently, 79% of workers feel pressure to push their careers further as the pandemic ends – yet another sign that businesses could face a wave of resignations as the jobs market opens up again.
Clearly, there is an appetite among employees to move things forward, and tapping into this could prove key to retaining skilled workers who might be eyeing up new opportunities – which are suddenly plentiful. "It's a great time to invest in development, particularly the skills that are needed in this more digital world," says Sean O'Brien, senior vice president of software training company, SAS Education.
"Training is one of the top ways that an employer can signal commitment and growth to tech or any staff."
The widening gap in digital skills puts additional pressure on organizations to ensure they can retain developers and other mission-critical IT staff, as well as to level-up other parts of their workforce with tech training.
A report by IDC and Salesforce in July 2021 found that one in six UK workers have either low or no digital skills. It estimated that nine in 10 workers will need to learn new skills by 2030 in order to perform their jobs.
"In today's hybrid work world, digital skills are becoming a requirement for employees across businesses — and moving forward, employers will be looking to fill every role with a technologically savvy employee," says Heather Conklin, senior vice president and general manager of Trailhead at Salesforce.
Eager to learn
Fortunately for employers, workers are keen to learn and grow. Research by Salesforce in April found that two-thirds of knowledge workers are more likely to stay with a company that invests in continuous learning.
This means that companies that can upskill and reskill employees are likely to have more success in not only keeping their staff, but also in improving their digital maturity.
This in turn will allow them to push forward with technology programmes started during the pandemic. As tech rollouts accelerated and workforces went remote in 2020, companies were left with an even greater need for staff to manage these efforts.
Looking ahead, employers will also need workers who can interpret – and act on – the growing reams of data flowing from digital apps and services, and a more distributed, cloud-based workforce. This could be why cloud, business intelligence and data management rank amongst the in-demand tech skills encountered most frequently by recruiters.
"Nowadays all of business is driven by data and analytics," says O'Brien. "The biggest skill gap is for people that can frame and communicate a business challenge as an analytics problem and lead a team to do the analytics work."
Being able to navigate new and uncertain territories is also important as organizations emerge from the pandemic into a technology and businesses landscape much different from that of 2019.
"One skill we find extremely valuable is the ability to define and develop a technical architecture and digital roadmap that is innovative and future-proofed," says Emma King, chief talent officer at digital consultancy Envoy.
"It should no longer be about maintenance but instead about the innovation pipeline and navigating how to best get there."
Levelling up the workforce
It's particularly important to provide digital training and development opportunities for people whose careers are more likely to have been adversely impacted by the pandemic – women especially.
According to a March 2021 report by PwC, a total of 15.3 million jobs were furloughed in the UK between July and October of 202. Of jobs for which the gender was known, 52% of these were women's – despite women only making up 48% of the workforce.
Research by UN Women, meanwhile, found that women have taken on an even greater share of unpaid childcare duties during COVID-19, equating to 31.5 hours per week – almost as much as an extra full-time job.
"Women have been more negatively affected by the pandemic than men on many fronts. They are far more likely to leave a job or reduce their hours to care for children," says O'Brien.
"Since it can be more challenging to return to the workforce than change jobs, it is even more critical for women to build skills that are in high demand, like data science and analytics."
In addition to digital skills, hybrid work has increased the need for employees to develop their soft and interpersonal skills.
With employees feeling restless and ready to move on, managers are seeking not only ways to improve their own leadership skills, but ways to provide their teams with similar learning resources to keep them engaged, says Conklin
"Employees want to learn on the job wherever they choose to work, but are finding fewer opportunities to develop their skills outside of the office," she adds.
"Training programs are not just about powering greater productivity. It's important for employers to think more holistically about how to enable individual career development."
Of course, employers must also accept that they are likely to see churn increase as employees become more confident about their job prospects as the pandemic recedes, particularly as companies looking to hire double-down on employee experience and benefits offering flexible-working arrangements and other perks.
King notes that the ability to be an innovator is always appealing to top talent in the tech space.
"It's difficult for many individual organizations to offer everything today's employees are looking for," King says.
"Offering employees proper training and resources can add value not only to their long term career, but eliminates additional hiring needs by equipping them with the digital knowledge and skills needed to excel in today's market."