Just how big an effect is COVID-19 on our journey to a digital future?

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The problem with COVID-19, or any other major crisis, is that they are amplified by the media, whose job it is to be newsworthy – but good news is not always newsworthy.

As a result, we hear about the damage to the economy. We hear about the damage to wellbeing and we hear about job losses and the damage they bring.

We tend to forget that, while COVID-19 has caused havoc, it has also thrown us into a digital future that we were getting to slowly but which we are now getting to extremely fast.

It is an accelerant. It has increased the pace of the digital revolution by a factor of, well, it is anyone’s guess – but a lot. We may quickly end up in Industry 5.0.

The thing about revolutions – the industry kind, rather than the chopping people up kind – is that the outcome tends to be a lot better when you are through to the other side – and different to anything that was predicted.

What also tends to happen is that the jobs that are lost because they are no longer needed or the company has gone bust are replaced by their digital equivalents, and not necessarily in their own companies.

In the pre-COVID-19 world, other companies would see a redundant workforce as a possible asset, particularly if skills were transferrable and government would offer incentives to move there.

The trick is to reskill.

Reskilling is a trick that was already part of the culture of successful companies before COVID-19. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, according to many, turned that giant around by instilling exactly this culture.

And, like all cultural changes within large organisations, the impetus must come from the top and be an integral part of a company’s (new) strategic plan.

This from a BCG paper on the subject:

‘As part of its global digital transformation, the home-goods retailer IKEA conducted a comprehensive assessment of its IT workers’ skills in preparation for designing a workforce strategic plan. First, the company built an algorithm to uncover gaps between the group’s existing skills and those it would need in the future. Then it determined the best way to close those gaps by upskilling current employees, hiring people with new skills, automating certain functions, and outsourcing others’.

An Asian real-estate firm made their top managers the people who scouted for trends and opportunities brought about by digitalisation and it was their job to present them at monthly meetings.

COVID-19 will change many things, and many of them forever. But when it is ‘all over’ will we be looking at more redundancies and job losses or will we be looking at a redistribution of jobs as the skills needed are upgraded for Industry 5.0?

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