As rare as unicorns: Why companies should now turn their employees into digital experts

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Data scientists, software architects, virtual reality designers: they are all hard to recruit on the external job market. Why companies need to change their total workforce management. And why there's no way to get around a modern and sustainable training strategy. 

Multiple gold bars, that are stapled without any order

Good employees are at the core of every company. In order to further improve their performance, companies need to focus their educational programs on digital skills. 

Sorry if I spoil your Christmas spirit already in the summer: But for me, December is not just about gifts, peace and calmness. But also for unpleasant numbers: Because during that time of the year, the digital association BITKOM always announces vacancies for IT specialists. And the fact that these figures are much too high year after year is certain: 82,000 IT jobs were vacant in 2018 - an increase of almost 50 percent compared to the previous year. It is likely that the gap will be a little larger at the end of 2019 and companies will complain a little louder about the shortage of skilled workers. I can understand them: They have to read and hear every day that they should accelerate their pace of change if they want a future in the digital age.

Digital experts are rare

This is both true and problematic: companies such as Deutsche Telekom urgently need software developers, software architects, security experts or comparatively new profiles such as data scientists, artificial intelligence experts or virtual reality designers for the digital transformation. And they are hard to get. A recipe against the shortage of skilled workers: consistently expanding the digital skills (MCKINSEY GLOBAL INSTITUTE) of your own workforce. But far too few companies are seriously involved in this field.

Taking responsibility, closing competence gaps

Workforce management, i.e. the personnel deployment planning of companies, is still often too strongly designed to close short-term bottlenecks instead of systematically filling competence gaps. Companies are responsible for their employees - also for that part of the workforce whose jobs will sooner or later be taken over by an algorithm. They should not only inform their employees at an early stage, but also show them alternative job opportunities - and give them the appropriate training offers. This means that most companies need to rethink their traditional sourcing and develop a talent management that provides the right incentives. Whereas up to now mainly managers were in the scope of training paths, in the future companies should rather upgrade and promote digital expert careers. Because in times of new work and agile working methods, hierarchies will definitely become flatter - and in the medium term fewer managers and more experts will be needed. 

Data Scientist: Sexiest Job of the 21st Century

I have been working at the Center for Strategic Projects since 2017, where I am primarily responsible for transformation projects. That's why I know that this change doesn't work at the push of a button. Contemporary skill management is a creative and complex task that no algorithm can do for us. Admittedly: At Telekom (HR Factbook 2018) too, we are still experimenting in many areas. Our colleagues just started a program where colleagues use a curriculum to become a Junior Data Scientist or Junior AI engineer within a matter of 12 months.

It is great to see the positive interests shown by colleagues for re-skilling themselves in the niche skills of AI & Data Science. These are the future skills that our company needs to be competitive and this program aims at nurturing the existing talent in the company to close this skill gap  Omair Khan who is responsible for Data Analytics, Deutsche Telekom

Glasses laying in front of a screen showing schematic software codes

What is more, companies need digital experts to make sense out of their unstructured data. 

It's no coincidence that the Harvard Business Review named the data scientist the "sexiest job" of the 21st century. According to "Die Welt", data scientists in Germany are "like unicorns", "hardly to be found" and in great demand. With the help of data scientists, for example, companies can learn more about the behavior and expectations of their customers. No doubt that Deutsche Telekom also has a great need for these experts.

Of course, we also want to continue to find them on the external applicant market. But with the new training program, we are offering our own employees the opportunity to upgrade their profile. So that they remain attractive to their employer in the long term. Those who are part of the program can now use part of their working hours for upskilling.

Keeping employees permanently

So that we just don't misunderstand each other: The fact that we train our own employees digitally is not solely due to a shortage of skilled workers on the external market. This initiative is based on a clear attitude: we want to work together with our colleagues in the long term. Because they are valuable to us. Because, in addition to their know-how, employees with many years of experience have an invaluable advantage over external candidates. They know what makes Telekom tick, what matters to our company, they share our values. Plus, it is often cheaper to train existing staff better than to hire new colleagues. Moreover, such internal training opportunities are an important criterion for many applicants when they decide on a new job.

Setting incentives for further training

Digital capabilities don't just fly towards us. Therefore, companies must provide incentives for training, invest in training and accept that this will lead to operational downtime. Of course, companies need to think about how they can encourage their employees to upskill and re-skill. Often enough, for example, employment contracts are so tightly cut that colleagues simply don't see the need to move forward digitally. Hence my appeal to all managers: Offer yourself as a sparring partner, show prospects. You have to motivate, encourage and understand the learning of your employees as a value-enhancing contribution to the company - and see it as one of your main tasks to accompany your team members in further training. 

New foundations for Total Workforce Management

Against the background of these developments, I am convinced that companies must rethink and expand their total workforce management - towards a multi-modal total workforce management model that is clearly oriented towards business requirements. The HR department should work closely with the operating units to achieve this. This is the only way it can keep pace with digital development and tailor the training it offers to future skill needs. Of course, a modern, multi-modal Total Workforce Management model will continue to interlink internal and external sourcing and integrate freelancers, for example. If the domestic labor market cannot meet the demand for employees with the required skills, it is worth thinking about offshoring and nearshoring. For example, Deutsche Telekom works with data analysts in Germany, India, Croatia and Hungary to cover its own needs. Or how about a partnership with a medium-sized company or start-up if their workforces already have the digital expertise you are looking for? Such partnerships can not only expand a company's own portfolio or build a new digital business model. By working closely together, their own employees expand their digital skills.

So don't wait for winter. The best time for a digital training strategy and multimodal Total Workforce Management is right now.

Have you already gained experience with the digital training strategy? Have you thought about how we can establish a different learning culture in our companies? How do you set incentives so that your colleagues can devote more attention to their future-oriented skill sets and work consistently on their employability? To keep fit for changing challenges as well? Please contact me! I look forward to exchanging ideas with you.

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