In his quarterly earnings report of April 2020, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella wrote that we have seen “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” Organisations large and small have had to collectively adapt like never before to weather an unexpected storm and evolve into a more digital world of work. By embracing technology, businesses are certainly taking steps to success. But as we grow into this changing digital economy, I feel strongly that we must also ensure that society is equipped with the digital skills needed to transform and thrive. In short, skilling is the currency of digital transformation.

A woman sitting at a desk in front of computer screens showing developer apps, she learnt via a skilling initiatives

The UK, like many of our global counterparts, has a worrying skills gap, and those who have skills and those who have not transcends many pockets of society. For example, a recent report by Lloyds Banking Group showed that 11.7 million people are without the digital skills needed for every day life. And commercially, a 2020 McKinsey survey found that 87 percent of executives say they have skills gaps in their business, or expect to in coming years.

Investing in skilling

At Microsoft UK, we see it as our responsibility to help our customers, partners and wider society learn skills needed to achieve more in the changing economy. We have long supported the call to close the UK’s skills gap and we’re passionate about leaving no one behind as technology advances. That’s why we invest in partnerships with leading charities such as UK Youth and Catch 22 to provide more young people with opportunities to build skills, and it’s why we provide free hands-on opportunities for everybody to grow their technology skills through Microsoft Learn and our Virtual Training Days.

However, with the economic upheaval caused by COVID-19, we knew we had to accelerate our commitment to skilling. Although we are yet to fully understand how the current climate has impacted the skills gap, we know it was already widening before COVID-19. It’s incumbent on all of us to work together to close the skills gap. A skilled UK will be a fundamental part of an inclusive economic recovery and we must strive to mitigate the challenges faced by the thousands facing unemployment during this difficult time. As LinkedIn suggests, “COVID-19 will create the ‘toughest jobs market for a generation”. The sad truth is that many jobs will not return as businesses evolve in this digital economy, and for those that do, we foresee a greater demand for digital skills. Navigating this skills gap requires a partnership between the public, private, and non-profit sectors to address three challenges:

  1. The rapid emergence of AI-powered technologies that are propelling a new era of automation.
  2. The growing need for technological acumen to compete in a changing commercial landscape.
  3. The drop-off in employer-based training investments over the past two decades.

Skilling for the future

This graphic shows the rise in new jobs that need skilling for..

Over the next five years, we estimate that there will be approximately 149 million new tech jobs. This includes not just technical roles such as software engineers. It includes roles that will be more reliant on technology and become ‘tech enabled’ too. These roles will be important as every industry looks to use technology in new ways to serve customers.

It is crucial that businesses think today about the skills needed for the future. The UK government agrees, introducing initiatives to build skills, such as the Skills Toolkit and reviewing ways to improve post-18 education aligned to technical routes.

To support the millions of people looking to reskill, we recently launched a Global Skills Initiative, to support 25 million displaced workers with the skills needed today. As part of this major commitment, our friends at LinkedIn identified the most in-demand jobs and skills that are currently in demand based on job openings listed on their website. These are listed below:

1.      Software developer

This learning path gives employees perspectives on the core technologies for web development, software development and databases such as CSS and HTML.
Become a Software Developer

2.      Sales representative

Help your employees develop their soft skills to become a trusted partner in the sales process.
Become a Sales Representative

3.      Project manager

From small, simple projects to enterprise-wide activities, give your employees the confidence to manage projects effectively.
Become a Project Manager

4.      IT Administrator

Help your employees prepare for certification with this learning path that teaches essential networking concepts.
Prepare for the CompTIA Network+ Certification

5.      Customer service specialist

As customer service roles move to digital, learn how to create more personalised customer experiences.
Become a Customer Service Specialist

6.      Digital marketer

Become a digital marketing specialist with this hands-on training to understand and use digital marketing effectively.

Become a Digital Marketing Specialist

7.      IT Support/Help Desk

Help your IT team support a transition to new flexible ways of working with virtualisation, desktop imaging, and maintaining software and devices.

Prepare for the CompTIA A+ Certification 

8.      Graphic designer

Help employees create innovative digital design projects and empower them with the visual and communication skills.

Become a Graphic Designer

9.      Financial analyst

Make better business decisions by equipping your finance team with the skills to evaluate current and historical economic and business data.

Become a Financial Analyst

10.  Data Analyst

Develop better insights and business strategies by equipping employees with the skills to examine information using data analysis tools.
Become a Data Analyst

Your skilling roadmap to the future

Infographic showing the skilling roadmap: 1. Assess current workforce skills. 2. Determine future needs. 3. Create a plan to bridge the gap.

These courses and discounted certifications provide an opportunity for furloughed, redundant, unemployed, or economically impacted workers to take steps to ensure they too can thrive in the new world of work. I would encourage readers to share this summary with job seekers in your community.

Our vision for skills extends beyond this important and immediate step for job seekers. We are also developing a new learning app in Microsoft Teams to help employers upskill new and existing employees, and more will be announced on this later in the year.

We are in the midst of a rapidly evolving world of work. Everyone of us has a role to play to make sure that the global economic recovery is broad and inclusive. As UK businesses look to the future, my final piece of advice would be to encourage business leaders to consider the role that skilling and learning plays in driving your business goals and helping you to achieve more. For employees to succeed in this future, they need to take skills and learning approaches to work with new technologies and evolve their jobs.

To do this, turn your organisation’s culture into one that supports continuous learning, investing time, and resources. Get a start on this by identifying your skills gaps and create a roadmap to your organisation’s future success. Technology should be seen as a feature that optimises employees experiences, enhancing everything from individual productivity and performance to job satisfaction and peer-to-peer learning. In doing so, you will not only empower your organisation, but you will help empower your workforce to thrive and grow in this rapidly changing world.

Find out more

Reskill for the future

Capitalise on the AI skills opportunity

The future of work in Europe

Tools to empower your development team

10 high demand roles for developers and how to skill up 

About the author

Picture of a man in glasses, Simon Lambert

Simon is passionate about unlocking the potential in every person and organisation, and has been with Microsoft since 1999. In his role as UK Chief Learning Officer, Simon is responsible for leading the learning culture and skilling strategy in the UK and driving the execution for customers, partners, employees, and future generation skilling. Prior to this, Simon has held several senior positions at Microsoft, leading a number of businesses across the UK and EMEA