Crack the code: why digital skills aren’t just for kids

Isabella Ward

19 Sep 2019

It’s that time of the year again – National Coding Week is upon us.

With a focus on building people’s confidence and skills in digital, this week demonstrates just how important upskilling in STEM has become in both our professional and personal lives.

Working in a B2B tech agency, it’s a ground well-trodden and a topic we’re very familiar with.

With our clients, we regularly talk about the initiatives and programmes in place to ensure the next generation of talent entering the workforce is properly equipped to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

But as we enter an era of “life-long” learning, are we really promoting everything we should when it comes to upskilling the workforce?

Beyond the classroom

Although many associate National Coding Week with upskilling and training initiatives for the younger generations, the scheme is really about much more than that.

A client of ours really hit the nail on the head. He said that from his perspective the war for talent isn’t just a challenge we’re facing today.

In fact, the war for talent has been waging for over three decades – ever since he came into the workplace.

So, something clearly isn’t working.

His point was that even though organisations have been really good at talking about closing the (ever increasing) skills gap and demonstrating how they’re doing it, we’re still not fully harnessing all of the potential talent out there.

An untapped resource

Our client argued that part of the problem is that many organisations are still expecting employees to conform to traditional working structures – i.e. the nine-to-five, five-day-a-week job.

But the truth is that so many people can’t feasibly work to this pattern and so are not able to benefit from some of these upskilling opportunities.

Take working parents – and mums in particular – as an obvious example.

Many mums are keen to get back into the workplace after having children but understandably they struggle to balance work obligations with having enough time to dedicate to their children.

My own mum faced this, but that was a different generation and the expectation then for her was either to go back full time or not to come back at all. That’s because back in the early 90s flexible working was less of a “thing” and job-sharing was incredibly uncommon in her line of work.

But in a world where organisations are talking about “agile and flexible working” – and most have the tools to allow us to do exactly that – there’s really no excuse for these businesses to not offer a more flexible working structure to their employees.

Just because someone goes off on maternity or paternity leave doesn’t mean you have to lose that talent if they want to come back for a few days a week, instead of full-time. You can still use their skills in a number of ways such as through job-sharing or flexible working policies.

Opening out upskilling

So, what’s the point I’m trying to make here? What’s the link to National Coding Week?

We spend a lot of time focusing our efforts on upskilling the next generation – which, don’t get me wrong, is still incredibly vital and should not be discounted.

But with four generations now operating in the workplace, we need to ensure we are not neglecting anyone by giving all employees, no matter their circumstances, the opportunity to benefit from upskilling programmes.

After all, if we really are going to end the talent war, we need to be fishing in all ponds, even if they are not the most conventional or obvious at first glance.

Take Salesforce, for example. Salesforce launched Salesforce Supermums which is a pioneering training programme to empower mums back to work with Salesforce Admin skills, coaching and work experience.

Another example is Vodafone. In 2016 the company launched ReConnect, a global paid six-month transition programme, providing targeted development for anyone that has had a “career break” to accelerate re-integration within the business.

Through this programme Vodafone has seen returnees take on fulfilling roles across the business, from Project Managers in Technology to HR Business Partners, as well as Marketing Managers in the Consumer and Business to Business divisions.

At the end of the day, organisations need to be more open-minded about how they’re structured, challenging conventional job patterns and widening opportunities so that all can really benefit. This is especially important as we fast progress towards a digital-first future.

Photo Credit: @cgower available here