Once every year VMware, a subsidiary of EMC, commissions a study. On this occasion they wanted market research provider Vanson Bourne to find out about digital skills in Europe and the Middle East. The company understands these skills as people's ability to use technology so that they can access, analyze and share digital information and data to enhance collaboration.
For the study, analysts interviewed 5,700 people working in small and medium-sized companies with over 100 employees. Interviewees were based in the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway and Denmark), as well as Russia and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. Interviews were conducted by phone and online during August 2015.
Almost 60 percent of respondents consider digital skills to be an important factor when it comes to the security of their workplace. Virtually all participants (97 percent) are convinced that it is necessary to possess skills in at least one digital discipline. For 84 percent, however, this included being able to use a mobile device to access information anytime, anywhere. Three-quarters of respondents considered themselves capable of using public wifi hotspots, surfing the internet, finding mobile applications, downloading them and using social media platforms (it was possible to give multiple answers).
Likewise, almost three-quarters of respondents (72 percent) use digital data to make better decisions in the workplace. Nearly half (48 percent), however, are of the opinion that their employer does not allow them to make full use of their digital skills in their range of duties. These figures are similar for all countries, company sizes, industries and age groups. At 53 percent, the Swedes were somewhat less satisfied than average in this regard, while, at 43 percent, the Italians were somewhat more satisfied. Self-evidently, staff at IT and telecommunications companies are particularly satisfied. In this case, only 34 percent are under the impression that they are unable to exercise their digital expertise adequately. It is understandable that above-average levels of dissatisfaction (55 percent) were reported in heavily regulated state institutions.
According to 51 percent of those who are dissatisfied, the problem is that their digital skills have nothing or only little to do with their field of work or personal goals.
"This is a leadership issue," says Simone Frömming, VMware's country manager for Germany. "It's tough if digital expertise is not embedded into the target culture." For 43 percent, there is not the budget to introduce new technologies or ways of working and 40 percent cite a lack of support from the IT department as a reason (it was possible to give multiple answers). "There is a discrepancy between the digital technologies actually being used and staff's expertise," adds Frömming.
34 percent believe they have to work longer to do the same tasks because they are unable to make full use of their digital skills.
A third (33 percent) are also convinced that they would be able to produce better work with greater freedom. 31 percent are less committed and motivated as a result. By contrast, of those registering as satisfied, more than half (56 percent) are of the opinion that they need to work less than before to complete the same workload thanks to being able to utilize all their digital abilities. Similarly, more than half (57 percent) believe that they are delivering better work for this reason and 45 percent are therefore more motivated and/or committed. It was possible to give multiple answers to these questions too.
On average, respondents believe that their productivity is 40 percent higher when they are permitted to apply all their digital skills. Around half think that companies which allow staff to use their digital skills effectively are more innovative (54 percent), more customer-friendly (49 percent), more responsive (48 percent) and more competitive (48 percent). Participants in the survey see the IT department as being mainly responsible. Approximately a third of respondents (34 percent) name this department as primarily responsible for digital change. In Germany, the figure was 37 percent. At 35 percent, participants from Germany were more likely than average to view digital transformation as a task for the managing director or CEO. The corresponding figure across the study as a whole was just 19 percent.
More than half of respondents (51 percent) consider employees aged 55 or older to be less competent in digital, with a third regarding them as inflexible when it comes to new ways of working. The 25 to 34-year-old age group is the most likely to be considered flexible (50 percent of answers). According to Frömming, that is a myth: "Digital skills are not a question of age."
In fact, there are hardly any differences between the age groups in terms of their use of digital technologies and media. For example, 44 percent of respondents from Germany aged over 55 indicate that they have been trained or at least advised on the design and build of mobile applications – just as many as in the 35 to 44 bracket. For respondents aged 45 to 54, the figure is 46 percent and for those aged between 18 and 24 just 38 percent. Only the 25 to 34-year-old age group comes in above the German average of 45 percent, with 52 percent agreeing.
The situation is similar with regard to a willingness to undergo further training. 56 percent of over 55s would give up their free time compared to 59 percent of all German respondents. By comparison with other countries, Germany is somewhat down the ladder. From the total of 5,700 interviewees, 64 percent indicated that they want to extend their digital skills outside of work.
The differences between the sexes are rather more pronounced. Whereas only 39 percent of female respondents from Germany have got to grips with designing and/or building mobile apps, the figure for men is 50 percent. Only 54 percent of women surveyed are prepared to develop their digital skills outside working hours; for men the figure is 62 percent. There are hardly any differences between countries, age groups and genders in desiring more training at work. More than half of those interviewed (54 percent) would like their employers to invest more in this area.
Digital skills are now part of everyday life across all countries, company sizes and age groups. Unfortunately, companies do not seem to have quite recognized the potential and impact of this development. It is an alarming sign that almost half of survey respondents report that digital technologies in the workplace are being restricted rather than encouraged. Companies not only lose out on productivity – they also run the risk of driving dissatisfied employees to mentally switch off from their work. As a consequence, any transformation must take place throughout the company, both in terms of processes and communication. "Employees have clear expectations in this regard," says Frömming.