The world is grappling with a COVID-19 resurgence that dampens factory activity and keeps workers at home.

Digital transformation strategies are in the works to battle disruption, but many firms have yet to pick up on the competencies required in support of digitalization.

Teodora Gaici

Author Teodora Gaici | Copperberg

Photo: Freepik

The accelerated rise of the digital factory is driving robust demand for new competency models that allow firms to expertly use emergent digital tools and practices.

This prompts a re-evaluation of the industrial firm’s competency framework, which necessarily begs more than a few questions: What types of competencies are needed for the industrial organization to achieve its digital transformation objectives? How should competency be managed and maintained? Is it time to transition from formal training to a blended digital-analog process?

This article reflects on how the modern industrial company can identify and manage worker competencies in efforts to drive digital change and become more technologically proficient.

The Core Competencies That Make Digital Transformation Success Possible

Depending on how effectively workers utilize new technologies and procedures, industrial firms can inch significantly closer to reaching a pre-pandemic level of activity. While still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have to be quick in mapping out the competencies required to advance their digitalization objectives and compete in the digital economy.

After a year of unprecedented disruption, it is more apparent than ever that having an adaptive mindset is critical to efficiently respond to change. Therefore, the strategic competencies for digital success go beyond technical capabilities. An industry player’s ability to think adaptively while applying critical reasoning to the understanding of digitalization and the creation of value can determine how aptly the firm will respond to the transition towards digital.

Improving a worker’s digital competence will equip firms with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed for the successful—and safe!—integration of technology into all areas of a business. Study findings have shown that firms may need to primarily focus on the basic skills and knowledge that allow industry leaders to:

  • Tackle uncertainty—encompassing competencies that refer to critical and systemic thinking, change management, or the ability to self-learn;
  • Manage a large flow of information—referring to competencies that focus on a worker’s basic skills of programming, information hygiene, or media literacy;
  • Promote effective interpersonal interactions—reflecting a framework of competencies that favors cooperation among workers;
  • Use empathy and emotional intelligence—focusing on competencies that technology cannot replicate.

“Individuals who are able to combine [technical] knowledge with creative or social competencies are best placed to prosper in the digital age.” — Deloitte, What Key Competencies are Needed in the Digital Age?

Tackling the digital competency gap is also increasingly fundamental for achieving customer excellence as, according to findings from the Riverbed–EIU survey, “nearly two-thirds of [firms] say their competency deficits negatively affect [the] user experience—and almost half aim to improve their digital experience management.”

Organizations identify a clear opportunity for growth through digital evolution: enhancing the customer experience—which often becomes a leading influence in a company’s decision to digitize its operations. But while many firms are still struggling to find digitally competent workers to build greater user experiences, some industrial leaders give priority to a comprehensive set of competencies that encourage the confident usage of technology for the delivery of customer value. The Riverbed–EIU survey aimed to help over 500 senior business and government leaders to assess their firm’s digital transformation readiness—and revealed the most important competencies in achieving digital goals:

  • Data analytics
  • Workplace transformation
  • Product and service innovation
  • Digital experience management
  • IT infrastructure modernization

Industrial firms putting together a well-grounded framework to help workers understand, apply, and prioritize competencies will be better equipped to confront capability limitations and see value from their digital investments. Using an all-encompassing set of practices for improved digital competency will enable industry players to become well-seasoned in situational adaptability and prioritize the required competencies for specific goals—such as assembling innovative digital experiences and moving further along the journey to transformation success.

The Evolving Challenge of Digital Competency Management

After massive pandemic-induced losses and extended factory shutdowns, there has been a lot of talk about digitalization within the industrial sector out of sudden necessity—with more and more firms outlining actions for improved digital competency.

Yet without in-house digital, technical, and analytics know-how, handling competency management is often a vexing problem.

Many of the organizations that succeeded in the development of core digital competencies turned to third-party assistance and tools. Competence management systems provide a detailed view of individual competency levels within the organization, enabling industry players to:

  • Develop customized frameworks of competence standards
  • Build competency profiles suited for driving organizational change
  • Track, analyze, and report on competency gaps
  • Identify the resources required to support competency development
  • Implement targeted learning plans for building digital competency

Typically, competence management systems support firms in developing, managing, and maintaining the competencies of their employees. But organizations can also receive ongoing assistance in building competency-based training plans to ensure that the individual competence of industrial workers continuously contributes to the success of their digital transformation efforts.

The Growing Need of Becoming More Digitally Competent 

Being digitally competent is a key impetus for the successful transformation of industrial firms.

Digital competencies are presently among the most important determinants of service quality and customer excellence. Research-backed studies encourage the shift to digital-first capabilities, confirming that those who “adopt digital-first competency—fast!—are disrupting companies moving slowly towards digital transformation.”

Today, e-learning technology provides a strong worker management capability—and amid renewed COVID-19 lockdowns, industry players tend to move away from in-person training to build competencies online while keeping workers safe from virus exposure.

Technology-enabled learning is becoming an indispensable tool for building digital capability as it makes training accessible while routinely tracking and managing the progress of employees in acquiring more advanced competencies. Many are therefore raising questions about setting up a digital-first competency framework to the detriment of a blended digital-analog process. Mariam Lochoshvili, Marketing Manager EMEA at Sensata Technologies, touched upon this topic at Copperberg’s Aftermarket Virtual Summit—observing that the question is not digital or in-person training, but what is the required ratio between virtual and in-person learning experiences.

Firms finding their balance between digital learning and conventional training activities will be one step closer to advancing their long-sought goals of building workforce capability for digital transformation success.

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