A workforce fit for the future?

The 2019 report Common Challenges, shared responses, produced with the ICE’s Infrastructure Client Group, uses Mott MacDonald’s Smart Infrastructure Index© to assess progress since Project 13. In the second in a series of four articles based on the report, Ann Woulfe talks about a workforce fit for the future.

Digital transformation requires a workforce with the necessary skills and capabilities to take advantage of the changes which have disrupted other sectors. However, responses to the Smart Infrastructure Index© showed that 70% of people still feel they don’t understand their organisation’s digital skills gap. 

There are many facets to creating a future-ready workforce. Skills need to be continuously developed, knowledge has to be captured and transferred from those retiring or leaving the organisation, and new talent with new expertise has to be attracted to the industry. 

Digital skills are in high demand, and the need to attract and retain top data architects, software engineers and process analysts will increasingly see our industry competing with the financial sector, new start-ups and tech giants for the best talent. Our data shows that digital capability is a challenge across the industry, yet digital transformation is key to changing our image from traditional hardhats to something that appeals to the coming generations of digital natives. 

People, not technology, drive digital transformation

This year’s assessment of progress shows that most organisations are still at a relatively early stage in their digital transformation, particularly when it comes to skills and capability. People are at the centre of this change, which is fundamentally about developing new ways of working and new business models. Despite this, responses to the Smart Infrastructure Index© show that an overwhelming majority of individuals (93%) think their companies do not systematically assess the digital competency of staff across the business. 

There are some initial steps you can take to combat this, such as developing a digital competency framework for your organisation that is relevant to all roles and responsibilities, then defining clear career paths for a digital workforce and recognising that these will evolve much faster than traditional roles. Organisations should also assess their baseline competence and prioritise immediate training needs.

Changing an existing culture is a slow process and there will naturally be resistance, driven in part by a fear of change. We need to educate our teams, helping them understand how digital transformation will make their lives easier, while managing concerns about the disruptive effects of widespread automation. In all of this the role of senior leadership is crucial in identifying the correct course of action, steering progress, and supporting their teams with the challenges of transition.

Promote a learning mindset

Over half (53%) feel they cannot analyse the impact of organisational changes on overall performance – yet the ability to measure and learn is central to a digital business. Learning agility is critical to closing the skills gap and demands a new mindset to really drive a cycle of continuous improvement. Another approach that might accelerate the process is reverse mentoring. Often championed in the context of equality, diversity and inclusion, it can also be a way of encouraging the exchange of digital skills and industry experience within your organization.

Information management is everyone’s responsibility

Last year the assessment called out the need to make information security everyone’s responsibility, not just the domain of corporate IT. This extends to all aspects of information management – it’s crucial we transfer our strong ‘don’t walk by’ health and safety culture to the approach taken when considering data quality. We recommend establishing strong information governance with clear responsibilities and owners across the business, then creating visibility of everyone’s performance, championing good practice to drive meaningful change across the business.

Ann Woulfe is regional digital lead, Europe at Mott MacDonald.

Richard Shennan, group digital business development director at Mott MacDonald, comments:

“If you can measure it you can manage it.” It’s a saying commonly used in our industry, and it’s clear that having a standard methodology for measuring digital maturity will help infrastructure owners and operators accelerate digital transformation. 

"The Mott MacDonald Smart Infrastructure Index© provides that standard. It enables organisations to plan change based on a clear understanding of their current position and provides a methodology for implementation and measurement. It also provides a valuable benchmark with respect to peers."

Click here to access the SI Index© and benchmark your organisation’s digital maturity in just 15 minutes.