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Building digitally literate workforces

When L&D managers approach Academy Xi to discuss training programs in the digital space, they are usually looking for one (or both) of these two things:

    1. Company-wide digital literacy uplift
    2. Technical upskilling for full-time digital roles

For this article, we will focus on the first one. 

When we sit down with new clients to discuss baseline digital literacy programs, we always start with this question: 

What is the driver behind this initiative? 

 

The answer usually distills down to the following:

Our company is moving toward a digital-first business model, and many of our employees feel lost in this new world. Their skill sets are starting to feel increasingly irrelevant, and they feel out of their depth when working on projects with a digital component. We also have managers and executives who aren’t comfortable managing digital teams, or projects that touch on that space. These people are becoming less valuable to the company as a result, and they are aware of this fact, leading to uncertainty about their futures. And covid has only made the problem worse.

 

We then follow up with: 

What does success look like for the program you envision? 

 

And here is the synthesised response:

We want to give our workforce the baseline digital knowledge they need to embrace the changes happening around them. We want them to get excited about the opportunity to work on digital projects, even if only in a minor capacity. We want managers and executives to seek out opportunities to manage digital teams and initiatives. We want to open up career pathways into digital for people who show aptitude and desire. And we want to reduce the fear people feel about becoming irrelevant to the business.

 

In other words, organisations want to bring their workforces on the digital transformation journey instead of leaving them behind. Here are some of the benefits:

    • Higher employee retention and satisfaction
    • Increased ability to innovate
    • Digitally driven operating efficiencies
    • Breaking down of silos
    • Stronger customer experiences

 

But for many companies, embracing digital at this scale requires a significant cultural shift, and generating that critical mass of change can be difficult. The question then becomes, what can organisations teach their employees that will actually stick?

At Academy Xi, we break digital training down into three modules:

    • People
    • Mindsets
    • Infrastructure

 

People

We find that the best starting point for digital literacy training is people. Specifically, we introduce learners to the digital ecosystem through the lens of full-time digital job roles. To clarify what we mean by this, here is a (somewhat tongue in cheek) breakdown of the key job roles that exist within the digital ecosystem.

Product manager

In charge of strategy and delivery for a digital product (like a website, app or piece of software). They have one foot in the digital world, and the other in the commercial. Responsible for deciding which features go into a product, and for making sure the whole thing gets built on time and in budget. 

Tech lead

Product managers don’t always need to have deep technical knowledge to do their jobs. Tech leads (as the name implies) do. If the product manager supplies the Why and the What, the tech lead needs to bring the How. They may also run a software team on a day-to-day basis.

Service manager

We have heard this title used to describe quite a few different job roles. But in the digital world, it is someone who maintains a software platform like Microsoft 365 or Teams on behalf of a company.

Software developers

The ones who actually code. To use a sports analogy, if the product manager is the GM of a team, and the tech lead is the coach, then the developers are the players. If they work well together, a team of developers can be an incredibly valuable strategic asset. And if they don’t… it’s bad.

Data Analysts

While not a core digital role, the outputs of a data analyst’s work often inform digital builds. For example, product managers use customer data to decide which features to include in a digital product. Data analysts also use software extensively, both to work with datasets and to visualise their findings in a way that makes sense to normal people.

Scrum masters

Have you heard of Agile? It’s a concept that came out of software development that boils down to: don’t build the whole thing and then check to see if people like it. Instead build a little, get feedback, and use it to progressively iterate. A scrum master is the person who helps teams follow that methodology.

Testers

Fairly self-explanatory. Once you’ve built a thing, you need to iron out the kinks. Testers are not always deeply technical people themselves, but they know where to look to find the chinks in a piece of software armour.

Cloud engineers

Everyone has heard of the cloud. It’s the real reason Amazon owns half the world. These days, most corporate software systems are stored in it. Cloud engineers make sure they don’t fall out.

Cybersecurity specialists

Everything in the cloud is connected to everything else. Unfortunately, not everyone else is nice. Cybersecurity specialists make sure that none of them steal your stuff or knock it over. One of the most in-demand jobs in the world right now.

IT

You know them. You love them. They want you to turn it off and back on again. IT is a catchall term, but to us it means people who maintain a company’s networked infrastructure. In general, an IT person wouldn’t be involved with new software builds or feature updates. Instead, they make sure that your department’s computers don’t crash all at once. Again, this is a vast generalisation, and please don’t show this to an IT professional. But we’re going for simplicity here so there you have it.

User researchers

Now we’re shifting gears into the land where design and digital meet. Before a website, app or piece of software gets built, it’s important to know what the people who will use it actually need. This is where a user researcher comes in. They tend to focus on qualitative research (think 1 on 1 interviews) aimed at getting a deep understanding of a user. If your company has ever launched an online product that failed, there is a good chance it was because they skipped this step.

User experience designer (aka UX)

Have you ever gone to a website and gotten annoyed because you couldn’t find the information you were looking for? Was the navigation bar at the top all weird? Well that site was probably built without the input of a UXer. They take the output of user research, and use it to create the framework of a website, app or software program.

User interface designer (aka UI)

These people are like graphic designers for the digital world. Colourways, buttons, text layout, fonts, animations – this is their domain. They work closely with the UXer to make a digital product look good. If software developers build the car engine, UI designers are in charge of the paint job and the dashboard.

Service designers

This is arguably not a digital role, but we would be on the side of the argument that says it is. Service designers design services (no shock there). To do so, they visualise the journey that a customer takes with a company, and then map out the technologies and backend processes needed to facilitate it. Their work can affect which suite of digital platforms a company uses to manage their operations.

Digital marketers

This one is a bit left field as well, but marketing has embraced digital so heavily over the past fifteen years that the discipline is almost unrecognisable. They also slot into the first stage of the customer journey, and their work is what puts bums in seats for the digital products the rest of these people create.

Why use job roles?

To some people, the info above may seem like common knowledge. But for others, this is a world they have never come into contact with. And although it might seem counterintuitive to teach baseline digital literacy this way, there are some good reasons for doing so:

    • Using job roles to explain the digital ecosystem brings a human element into training that would otherwise be fairly cold and clinical
    • It’s easier to visualise how a group of people work together to achieve a goal than a group of software programs
    • Demystifying what digital professionals do can close the divide between them and other departments
    • Your digital staff can participate in training, becoming spokespeople for their areas of expertise
    • It highlights that many of these jobs do not require coding skills, and that people often move sideways into digital roles from elsewhere within companies
    • Once learners understand the job roles in a digital ecosystem, it is easier to layer information about software systems overtop
    • If there are learners who gravitate toward specific digital roles, they could be considered for upskilling into that area
    • Learners can draw comparisons between their own roles and the digital ones within the business, and find areas of overlap

 

Mindsets

Once learners have an understanding of who does what in the digital world, we recommend introducing them to the mindsets that prevail in that space.

User focus

This is a concept that comes out of human-centred design. It revolves around the idea that digital products and systems should always be built with the end user’s needs in mind. This may seem glaringly obvious. But in practice, it’s easy to lose sight of the end user beneath a deluge of business goals, technical constraints and internal politics. This is also a good time to introduce the importance of user research in the digital build process. UXers and service designers are examples of job roles that champion user focus within an organisation.

Agile

Agile is a mindset/methodology that comes out of the software development space, but has since gained traction more broadly. Understanding this concept will bring learners a big step closer to aligning themselves with the digital space. Scrum masters, software developers and product managers are examples of job roles that live and breathe agile.

Digital vs IT

Your digital literacy program should address this elephant in the room. What are the differences between these spaces (if any) and why are they perceived so differently? Who builds the digital systems and who maintains them? This discussion can also form the gateway to the next module.

 

Infrastructure

Once learners have been introduced to the job roles in your company’s digital ecosystem, and the mindsets that go with them, it’s time to do the same for your digital infrastructure. By this we don’t mean specific software training (ie. Salesforce, Microsoft Teams etc) but rather the types of systems you use, and what underpins them. And crucially, this training should describe the problems these systems solve, and how they connect to one another as well. Here are some examples of systems and underlying infrastructure that learners could benefit from knowing about:

    • Web browsers
    • Coding languages
    • Apps
    • APIs
    • Operating systems
    • ERPs
    • CRMs
    • The Cloud
    • Content management systems
    •  Marketing automation systems
    •  Accounting software

 

Which of these topics you cover will depend on what your company’s technology landscape looks like. And these should definitely be overviews only, skewing heavily towards a macro view as opposed to a micro one. But without knowing the fundamentals of how these systems work, your workforce will lack the foundational knowledge upon which to build a deeper understanding of digital.

 

Bringing it all together

The real trick, however, is to show learners how they can apply this knowledge in their own roles right away. It could be argued that understanding their company’s digital ecosystem will have an immediate and positive effect. But as L&D managers know, broad relevance doesn’t guarantee engagement, especially for learners who have no pre-existing motivation to learn about the digital space. So we encourage you to overlay training with hands-on digital tools that will be useful to specific cohorts. Or even better: have them analyse their own roles, and look for digital tools that will help them become more effective in specific areas. Using critical thinking to evaluate digital tools is a great step to understanding why digital transformation happens in the first place. 

If learners only walk away with one thing, what should it be?

If it was us, we would want learners to walk away with a mental map of your company’s digital ecosystem, and their place within it. This will provide clarity on why the company has implemented the changes it has, and how learners can grow along with it.

What happens after the baseline uplift phase?

Where you take your training program after the baseline literacy phase will depend on your goals. If you are looking to redeploy staff into full-time digital roles, you could look at long-form technical upskilling programs. If you want to create a broad culture of continuous digital learning, we recommend either staggered short-form or self-paced online courses that introduce disciplines such as product management, UX, coding, user research etc. 

How Xi can help

If you are planning a digital literacy program, we would like to offer a complimentary workshop to get you started. In this session, we will help you create learner personas for your workforce, and recommend a course / format framework that will best achieve your organisational goals. You can contact us at 0488 785 040 or [email protected] to discuss.

 

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Building Digitally Literate Workforces: Foundations & Technical Upskilling

September 30th, 11:00am

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