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Training a new breed for the digitally transformed workplace

Author : Louise Potts, People and Culture Manager, SolutionsPT

04 October 2021

Digital transformation is very important to us. In fact, it means the world to us. Helping our customers achieve digital transformation success is a core focus for us, and we do this by sharing our knowledge freely and by offering technologies and services from world-class vendors. We recognise that change is happening throughout industry, and we understand that all of our customers are undertaking their own transformation journey.

(Shutterstock image)
(Shutterstock image)

Digital transformation means integrating data driven information and technology into all the processes and functions of a business to gain insights that make it more efficient, productive and sustainable. Of course, selecting the right partners and bringing in the right technology and processes in the right way can make or break a successful digital strategy, but the most important factor for successful implementation of digital transformation is people. It is people who transform businesses, not just technology, so it is fundamental to the success of any digital transformation initiative that business leaders consider the human factor. 

People-centred change

That all-important human factor must also take a comprehensive approach. The skills required in the era of digital transformation are a combination of existing technical knowledge and experience with new skill-sets that require training as well as whole new disciplines, such as data analytics. Companies with an eye on the future are investing in their staff and looking to the next generation of workers to bring additional skills to bear. 

As an industrial IT solutions partners, at SolutionsPT we are very much part of the digital transformation era and through our Apprentice Academy initiative, we understand the changing face of industry and recognise that the days of apprenticeships being all about boilersuits and widgets are gone. A traditional apprentice programme that simply trains people for the plant floor of today is not able to support the future needs of an industry that is changing fast – it also won’t suit the apprentice of today, who expects the level of technology and connectivity that defines their consumer life to be available in their professional environment too. 

The SolutionsPT Apprentice Academy provides a combination of both technical and business learning that works closely with universities and other education providers to create a new generation of digital transformation practitioners. Our programme augments on-the-job learning with a deeper understanding of the roles and responsibilities of people in a technologically evolving landscape. 

A new breed of apprenticeship

SolutionsPT apprentices are able to pursue a level three accreditation all the way to full Bachelors and Masters degrees. Apprentices work closely with a company manager as well as a mentor who is a recent graduate from the same programme. Part of the apprenticeship involves a collaborative project that requires apprentices to work closely with their mentor and a company manager on a project which is presented to the whole company on completion. This approach offers apprentices the opportunity to add value and work on real-life projects as a part of the SolutionsPT team and reflects the flatter management structure and cross-functional teamwork that digital transformation is driving in the workplace. It also places the value of the human element at the heart of making what is possible into a reality that offers the company efficiencies or productivity gains.

Bridging the skills gap

Introducing a culture of training and knowledge sharing is the only way that industry can address the growing skills gap associated with data-driven operations, so this is exactly how we handle our internal development programme. 

A lot of skills gap conversations focus on the end of the journey, collecting and strategically utilising the knowledge of those reaching retirement age, or worrying about the lack of skilled young people available to replace them. But there is more to it than that. Those just entering the industry aren’t a blank state. The next generation of manufacturers and engineers are digital natives and already have a strong understanding of technology and how it benefits their everyday lives. 

Breaking down work silos

Take the convergence of Information Technology and Operational Technology (IT/OT) for example. Bringing together these two disciplines with their different technologies, principles and specialists requires an understanding of the needs of both. New IT practices can’t be forced onto the OT world, IT professionals need to understand from OT that the uptime and efficiency tolerances of the plant-floor are often much tighter than in most IT applications. Similarly, OT must appreciate the benefits, challenges and, for example, security implications of IT to reap the huge benefits it can offer in terms of insights, maintenance and flexibility. 

Only in understanding the individual needs of each aspect of a business can you begin to transform it. Breaking down those working silos is fundamental to the success of a digital transformation strategy and that’s why it is so important to the development of the next generation of workers, for whom it should be ‘normal’ to expect to work with a variety of colleagues on cross-functional projects. 

Organisational culture change

Organisations need to embrace the cultural change that comes with Digital Transformation, including a more open and flexible structure that affords every worker the opportunity to contribute. For many, this culture change will be the biggest challenge, but it is also where much of the value is. 

It is the same story for our customers’ teams as it is with our own apprentices. Bringing together all the voices of an enterprise brings together all levels of expertise. We learn from our apprentices the same way they learn from us and it doesn’t stop there. Throughout SolutionsPT, employees are encouraged and supported to pursue their educational and personal development. Our success is founded upon a company culture that supports and celebrates continuous pursuit of knowledge, insight and understanding. We hold the ‘Investors in People Gold Status’ for people management, and have been listed in the Sunday Times ‘100 Best Small Companies to Work For’ for 11 consecutive years. This has resulted in many SolutionsPT employees transitioning to different roles or business functions within the company and bringing their different domain expertise and insight with them to as they do. It’s a progressive learning culture of change that we live by, one that we pass on to our apprentices and that provides benefits that we deliver directly to our customers. As I mentioned, digital transformation means the world to us and we know just how important it is to our customers’ future success too.

When developing or progressing a digital transformation strategy, business leaders must prioritise the human element within their strategy. Whilst technology will always be an important element, it’s training, lifelong learning and that cultural change that are singularly integral to the success of any digital transformation programme. 

There is no employee it won’t affect, so it is important to have the buy-in of the entire company. It won’t be a quick process, we have long and valued relationships with many clients, and the journey is never complete. To achieve success in digital transformation projects, enterprises must be committed to the life-long learning that comes with it, and companies that are listening to every employee, developing their apprentices and embracing digital transformation as a whole new mindset are in a strong position for the uncertain future.

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