“Revolutions bring disruptions and disruptions bring opportunities.”
― Nicky Verd, author of Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted
The Fourth Industrial Revolution – sped up by 18 months of roiling labor markets and COVID restrictions that have forced wholescale rethinking of how companies operate – has arrived with a vengeance. Across the entire economy, even in jobs once thought impervious to automation, technology has enabled new ways of working, teaching and learning. In every sector, employers are seeking to do more with fewer staff. Employees are working anywhere, any time with increased productivity. Job seekers have access to far more training opportunities than ever before. What started out of necessity has become an expectation. However, with this innovation comes a threat – that workers lacking digital fluency, or access to critical technology, will be left out of any economic recovery. Particularly for workers who are already unemployed or underemployed, reskilling will be essential for returning to work and advancing economically.
Workforce development organizations must play a critical role in this reskilling and upskilling effort, all while navigating great changes of their own. For these organizations, the old ways of operating have become increasingly insufficient. Inefficient administrative processes drain energy and divert staff time from core responsibilities. Participants demand more robust, faster, and more convenient services that will prepare them for sustainable employment. With access to a wider range of options – both in-person and remote – job seekers, staff, and ultimately funding will gravitate toward programs with streamlined processes and tech-infused training. With new tools and technology changing the way people do every job, employers increasingly hire for digital facility, regardless of the sector.
The message to workforce organizations from employers, funders and job seekers is clear: Do More. Do Better. Do Faster. Do Cheaper.
In response to this emerging challenge, we at WPTI are excited to announce the launch of our new Digital Transformation Initiative (DTI), officially introduced at our recent briefing following the release of Post-COVID Workforce Development: A Digital Transformation and What It Means for Workforce Professionals. Through our DTI, WPTI will prepare workforce development providers to deploy the digital strategies needed for this critical moment. DTI will help organizations build the infrastructure, the culture, and the digital dexterity needed to better meet the needs of all their stakeholders in order to ensure an equitable economic recovery that benefits employers and jobseekers alike and ensures that no workers are left behind.
“At least 40% of all businesses will die in the next 10 years… if they don’t figure out how to change their entire company to accommodate new technologies.”
— John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco System
Why Digital Transformation?
A Rapidly Changing Economy
Digital Transformation is a reality across our economy, and one that has created opportunities as well as challenges for millions of workers. According to McKinsey in a 2021 report on global economic trends, the Future of Work has arrived “ahead of schedule,” meaning more than 20 percent of the global workforce could work remotely, due to both COVID-19 and advances in automation and digitization. They estimate that telehealth visits could account for more than 30 percent of all healthcare appointments in the future, and observe that retailers are already trending toward remote checkout rather than human cashiers. Meanwhile, business leaders and institutions like the World Economic Forum estimate that as many as half of all workers will require “significant” reskilling or upskilling in the near future. In short, this new digital economy will require a workforce with new skills.
According to a recent report from the National Skills Coalition, nearly one-third of Americans lack digital skills. Furthermore, while one may assume that older workers nearing retirement are disproportionately represented among those with fewer digital skills, this same report reveals that, of workers ages 16-64, workers under 35 years of age represent 25 percent of those reporting “no digital skills” and 29 percent of those with “limited digital skills.” Furthermore, workers of color – specifically Black and Latinx workers, are more likely to lack the digital skills needed to adapt to this increasingly digital economy.
At a time when New York City faces double-digit employment and record-high poverty rates, with disproportionate impacts on communities of color, access to digital resources is a critical issue of racial and economic equity. Development of digital fluency is an essential element in ensuring that all people have access to economic opportunity in the coming years. It is in this context that workforce development providers must provide training and connect workers to opportunities (and career pathways) in an increasingly digital economy.
Workforce Professionals Need New Skills
WPTI has explored the needs of the workforce sector and the professionals providing workforce development services here in New York City as well. According to our most recent Voices from the Frontline survey of frontline workforce professionals, conducted in Spring 2021, 87 percent of workforce professionals are working remotely or via a hybrid model of remote and in-person work, and more than 70 percent expect to be working either remote or via this hybrid long-term. The majority of these workers are already using a wide array of virtual tools, including virtual meeting software, project management software, and/or learning management systems (LMS). More than 40 percent are currently using a customer relationship management system (CRM), such as Salesforce. At the same time, many professionals in our field lack fluency on these tools. In fact, 43 percent of respondents consider themselves “beginners” with regard to their skill level in using a LMS, and 39 percent consider themselves beginners in using a CRM system. Overwhelmingly, respondents indicated a desire for training on a wide range of digital tools and platforms. To read our full report, CLICK HERE.
The Workforce System Must Evolve for a Digital Future
In addition to individual workforce professionals requiring reskilling and upskilling, the workforce system as a whole must evolve to meet the needs of the labor market. WPTI reported on this challenge in 2018’s Workforce Agenda for New York City, which illustrated a system lacking infrastructure for data collection, analysis, and sharing. Without digital tools to effectively collect and analyze data, and share such data between organizations and across the broader system, it will remain a challenge to effectively measure and improve workforce development programming.
WPTI’s Digital Transformation Initiative
In response to these needs, WPTI has developed the Digital Transformation Initiative (DTI), a multi-pronged effort to help the workforce development system advance in response to the emerging needs of the 21st Century digital economy. DTI takes on three key challenges:
- Enhanced Data Infrastructure
- Networked Data Collection, Analysis, and Sharing
- Key Skills and Competencies for Practitioners
In order to do so, WPTI is embarking on multiple programs and projects, including efforts to improve our own capacity and to build the capacity of the field. These include:
- Developing and Deploying a New Digital Infrastructure at WPTI – WPTI is in the process of customizing and deploying new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Learning Management System (LMS) platforms to better scale our offerings and serve a wider network of workforce development providers in New York City and across the country.
- Digitizing WPTI’s Training Library – We are in the process of digitizing our extensive library of training offerings to offer both synchronous and asynchronous E-Learning, providing more flexible and convenient learning opportunities at any time, from any device. This will make more than 125 courses available to workforce development providers through an easy, convenient, and cost-effective platform.
- Launching a Learning Community of “Early Adopters” of Digital Technology Across NYC’s Workforce Development System – This learning community, planned for launch in early 2022, will consist of a group of 4-6 providers, involving both leadership and staff, and will enable organizations to not only develop digital skills, but transform their culture and processes in conjunction with digital development. Participants will ultimately have a roadmap for their organization’s own digital transformation.
- Leading a Sector Strategies Boot Camp – In partnership with Per Scholas, a national tech sector training nonprofit, WPTI will lead a four-module capacity building Boot Camp program for organizations looking to develop effective sector strategies in growing industry sectors, including but not limited to technology.
Ultimately, DTI will enable organizations to not only improve their own digital fluency and improve their internal data infrastructure, but also to access WPTI’s wide range of offerings through a greater range of modalities. This will also make our services that much more accessible to workforce development providers across the country. If you are interested in participating in any of WPTI’s DTI efforts, including our upcoming learning community, customized capacity-building, or any other work, please contact Dan Salemson, WPTI’s Managing Director of E-Learning and Technology, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to keeping you updated on DTI as the work evolves, and as additional programs launch.