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Upskilling: the burning platform of now

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In our first annual Not-for-profit CEO Survey, 77% of NFP organisations say the need for digital upskilling of employees has become a higher priority in the context of COVID-19.

Before COVID-19, technological change was already reshaping the skills required for workers to thrive in a digital world.

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PwC’s Upskilling Hopes and Fears survey1 shows that 60% of Australian adults are worried that automation is putting jobs at risk. The Not-for-profit (NFP) workforce has also been impacted; with the general disruption trends applying across the sector. COVID-19 has accelerated the need to develop workers’ capabilities so they can thrive in this new world.  

One of the greatest challenges organisations face in their upskilling efforts is in defining the skills required. NFPs are not far behind their commercial counterparts in this regard. 

Of the NFP CEOs surveyed, 65% say they are either starting to – or making moderate progress in – defining the skills needed to drive their future growth strategy, which is positive progress. This compares to 78% of Australia’s corporate CEOs, from PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey, that say the same thing.

It’s important for organisations to identify and understand their skills’ needs. This is not just about identifying ‘big’ technical skills of the future (e.g. AI, automation, robotics, data visualisation); it’s also about the core transferable (enterprise or soft) skills that enable digital know-how, such as communication and collaboration in a virtual world, and rapid data-based problem solving.2 Without the combination of the two, organisations will struggle to capitalise on efforts made to digitise their operations.

NFPs are making steady progress on their upskilling initiatives. 60% of NFP CEOs say they are starting to make progress or making moderate progress in establishing an upskilling program that develops a mix of soft, technical and digital skills. That’s compared to 68% of their corporate counterparts. 

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For many NFPs, the pandemic and its economic impacts have presented enormous challenges putting the survival of many NFPs at risk. At the same time organisations have been forced to adapt to remote ways of working and rethink their daily operations. Within this context, there lies an opportunity to define the skills (technical and transferable) that will set organisations up for the future. From there, organisations can more easily identify the skills gaps and mismatches, and begin the upskilling work to bridge them. Despite the deeply challenging COVID-19 environment, this is an opportunity worth taking. 

Leadership is critical. CEOs and executive teams should be role modelling the change required. This requires curious leaders who understand the opportunities with emerging technology and improve their knowledge. NFP leaders are demonstrating adaptive thinking alongside their corporate CEO counterparts, with 75% of NFP CEOs and corporate CEOs indicating that they are either starting to, or making moderate progress in, improving their workers’ and leaders’ knowledge of technology and its potential implications.  

As machine learning, automation and artificial intelligence advance in many sectors, jobs will be disrupted, augmented and replaced. Changing roles and workforce flexibility will drive demand for new skills and capabilities. 

This rapid technological change will further exacerbate Australia’s digital divide, for people who face issues of access, affordability and importantly digital ability. Workers who have the opportunity to upskill and improve their digital literacy on the job will have a significant advantage over those who do not. 

The good news is that most NFP organisations say they’ve provided employees with skills and training over the past 12 months. This will help them adjust to the impact of new technology. However, 81% of that majority are defined as large charities with annual revenue of $1 million or more.3

Our survey found that as the size of the organisation decreases, so does the amount of training provided to employees. This is not good news for small charities that comprise 66% of the sector.4

There is a constant need for change. And the need to adapt operating models has been heightened in this current environment in order to remain viable and survive. Decisions taken in the current environment can accelerate and support change in the future. The COVID-19 pandemic offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for organisations, large or small, to simplify their processes and platforms, focus on their clients or beneficiaries, and leverage digital channels and operating models to not only survive, but thrive, in the future.

The degree to which organisations can benefit from rapid technological change will, in large part, depend on the skills of the workforce and the ability to adapt to the digital world.

This change process is most effective when there is a clear vision of where the organisation is heading and the specific skills required to take it there as well as the willingness to adopt new ways of working.

The future of work is already here, and yet many organisations are waiting for a big moment. That moment is now. Incremental changes can be started, commencing with the need to reframe limited training budgets, not as an expense, but as a strategic investment. 

Contact us

Rosalie Wilkie

Rosalie Wilkie

Partner, Social Impact, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 2 8266 8381

Jane Edwards

Jane Edwards

Director, Social Impact, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (3) 8603 5839

Kieran McCann

Kieran McCann

Head of Content and Thought Leadership, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (2) 8266 0252

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