Globally, the growing demand for a digitised workforce has skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic. Even in a dynamic economy such as Singapore, where 63% of its current workforce is digitally skilled, an estimated 1.2 million additional digital workers will be needed by 2025, according to a report by Amazon.
Companies need digital talent more than ever to accelerate the transition to modern operations and processes. The pace of digital workforce disruption in Singapore is so great that 92% of companies are racing to transform their businesses by hiring new employees with skills in the relevant technology, as reported by the World Economic Forum.
However, the pandemic has shifted the power dynamic between employers and digital talent. Supply-side constraints and an increasingly competitive hiring market driven by a limited but highly sought-after digital talent pool pose challenges for employers. The conundrum is even greater for companies outside the technology industry that need to attract the right digital talent to transform their businesses but that might not be choice enough for potential skilled workers.
How local firms can help address the demand-supply digital skills gap
While the boom in the number of tech graduates in the country in the past decade has been impressive, its impact on a balanced digital workforce is fragmented. Singapore’s young digital talent prefer to work with multinationals, banks or fintech companies, leaving gaps in the SME sector, an economic backbone that contributes to almost half of Singapore’s GDP, requiring them to import foreign talent or outsource or offshore digital functions.
The best digital workers are indeed hard to attract and retain. A recent worldwide BCG survey of digital talent conducted with The Network, a global alliance of recruitment websites, found that 76% of digital workers in Singapore are planning to job hop in the next two to three years, and 51% are actively looking for a job right now.
That said, digital workers themselves are not exempt from the need to continuously upskill given the fast-changing world of technology and automation. Our study found that the proportion of digital workers who worry that their jobs are at risk is about the same as it is for other types of knowledge workers. Forty-two per cent of digital workers worldwide said they are increasingly concerned about automation’s effects on what they do. That compares with 48% of people in finance and auditing, 43% in HR and 41% in media and information.
These trends present opportunities for employers to look at alternative sources for digital workers. Upskilling and training Singapore’s non-digital workforce and out-of-workforce individuals can be explored alongside hiring top digital talent (and offering them stability through continuous upskilling programmes) to achieve broader and more inclusive growth.
Initiatives such as Rise (Rapid and immersive skill enhancement), a mid-career reskilling program by BCG in collaboration with the government of Singapore and over 100 participating employers, are great examples of platforms that are providing fast reskilling pathways to digital roles for non-digital workers. But they are only part of the solution.
Companies would do well to embrace the fact that their existing non-digital workforce is an untapped asset with the potential to add tremendous value with a well-conceived reskilling approach.
Practical approaches to upskill a workforce
As BCG, we work with hundreds of companies worldwide to build their approach to reskilling.
These practical strategies can be adopted by any employer in Singapore to bring their workforce into the 21st century and help them stay relevant and competitive while being vibrant contributors to an inclusive digital economy.
Treat skilling as a business investment that produces long-term returns, and not as an expense, especially since upskilling an existing employee is often less costly than hiring new talent. Learning and development (L&D) programmes must have clearly defined business, people, and learning KPIs. Enterprises that invest in an environment of continuous learning and innovation so that their employees stay relevant and future-ready are those that are geared towards creating a high-performance workplace culture and business transformation.
Blend a wide range of diverse skills, such as hard and soft skills within an L&D programme to produce better results than modular training approaches. BCG has adopted this approach through the Rise programme, which needed to address a wide range of skills, from hard skills like problem-solving, insight generation, and analytics, to soft skills like stakeholder engagement and communication. Instead of creating a module for each of these topics, the program focused on projects where all these skills needed to be applied in tandem, resulting in over 65% of learners swiftly pivoting to new data and digital roles.
Adopt innovative solutions such as real-life customer interaction to address actual issues or challenges, or through integrating play. It brings the joy back to learning and provides trainees with the unique opportunity to apply their new skillsets to real projects while gaining new business or management insights.
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Power up on data to analyse skills gaps and identify pathways for groups of employees to transition them to in-demand roles. AI tools can evaluate different L&D formats for different cohorts to allow for continuous improvement of skilling initiatives. Lessons learned from pandemic-related disruptions have accelerated the role of data in identifying which skills are in demand and in which sectors.
Assemble a skilling stack by using existing learning solutions on the market, such as e-courses and learning platforms. Instead of building this infrastructure from the ground up, companies can now move at speed by “buying” or “renting” these solutions from partners.
Trust that employees understand the need to upskill and reskill. Prioritise interventions that empower them to learn instead of overly structured top-down skilling efforts. Data from BCG’s Decoding Global Talent report shows that 68% of workers globally are ready to retrain to new careers to stay competitive.
Even with the best approach to skilling, however, there may come a point where employers are faced with skills gaps that are too large to address internally as a company. In these instances, the solution could lie in working alongside other industry players, academia, or the government to launch new initiatives to build digital skills required not only in their own workforce but across the wider economy of Singapore.
For the time being though, few employers get at-scale reskilling right but those who do will certainly build a competitive advantage in the near term.
Sagar Goel is partner and associate director at Boston Consulting Group; Orsolya Kovacs is associate director at Boston Consulting Group