Digital Skills

In my attempt to become expert in using Articulate Storyline, each week, I consider entering their eLearning challenge. This week, the challenge was to produce something around the theme of Lost Arts. They suggested a number of things: knitting, knot tying, fire building, etc. My friends on Facebook inspired me with many more ideas, but I ended up rejecting them all and going with the Lost Arts of Technology. I was thinking about the things that we used to do in the 80s and 90s that were early digital skills, but which are no longer relevant skills.

That has got me thinking, in the era of digital skills, especially in relation to employability, which digital skills will endure and which will fade away? I think it does depend on many things, not least the type of work that somebody hopes to get. The digital skills required for farming might be different from those required for software development, but I wonder what digital skills are likely to be needed, long term for the majority of us.

I have no evidence, so the following 5 skills are just me, thinking out loud:

1. Office skills

This one might be a wee bit controversial. As the school curriculum moves towards computing and away from IT skills, there is an assumption that we will all just absorb office skills, but I'm not so sure. I think the vast majority of people can open Microsoft Word and type a basic letter, or even produce a basic CV, but I have seen enough evidence to suggest that basic is the correct word to describe these.

I think it is worth learning to go beyond the basics, not just with Microsoft Office but with Google Docs, etc. and any other emerging officey-type programs. The ability to format documents well, select appropriate fonts, colours, designs and styles, will put you ahead of others when applying for work. Once in a workplace, it is always helpful to have someone who knows how to collaborate within an office environment, producing shared documents with multiple editors working simultaneously.

2. Communication and collaboration

As flexible and remote working become more common, a major dilemma for employers is how to keep communication effective and get teams working together well. Many workplaces are now beginning to use online tools for this, many of which have free versions. Slack is a commonly used messaging and file sharing tool, which can be set up with groups/teams, as well as the ability to message individuals. Trello is one of several project management tools, that allow tasks to be set with deadlines, responsibilities, checklists, attached files and progress monitoring. Padlet is being used in many ways to share resources, plan and brainstorm, and generally collaborate with remote colleagues.

Screenshot of a task set up in Trello, showing deadline, checklist and description Screen shot showing week's to do lists in Padlet

From an employability point of view, the ability to use these kinds of tools, understand their purpose and transfer skills between different tools, will be a great way of demonstrating your commitment to team work.

3. Finding accurate information quickly

There can't be many people left in the world, who cannot do a basic Google search to find the answer to a question. Searching for information online can hardly be described as a skill. However, the ability to search intelligently and decipher the correct information from fake news, is a rare and highly attractive skill. Learning what to look for in search results and being able to filter the rubbish and find that nugget of gold, will certainly earn you brownie points in the workplace, as well as being a useful life skill in its own right!

Equally, as copyright and intellectual property rights are such huge issues when taking information from the web, the ability to filter quickly to find what you can use and modify for your own purposes, will be critical, to avoid the risk of getting on the wrong side of the law.

Screenshot showing how to check usage rights for images

4. Online branding and portfolio

In some industries, this is already very important, but I can see a day coming, when CVs will disappear and be replaced by an online professional presence. Sites like LinkedIn are already extremely popular as tools to enable people to showcase their skills, network and find work. I have lost count of the number of employers that are voicing discontent with CVs, applications and interviews, because people can lie, learn the right responses and then be rubbish at the job. The ongoing creation of portfolios of work, evidence banks, project reflections, etc. could very easily burst in as a new way of selecting candidates.

I've made a start on mine but I need to look at imagery and make it more visually appealing. Still, it's a work in progress.

5. Taking responsibility for ongoing professional development

The time is gradually disappearing, when employers would send employees on a course to ensure they kept their skills up to date. More and more companies are using eLearning for the essentials, such as GDPR training and health & safety in the workplace, and by the time they've invested in the background essentials, some of the more practical training needs have run out of budget. If you can show that CPD is your own responsibility, and one that you take seriously, you will seriously increase your appeal to an employer. It can be short courses, MOOCs, or something more intense like a degree with the Open University, depending on where you are at now and where you want to be.

I would really encourage people to spend some time thinking seriously about this. What are you doing now and what do you hope to be doing in 5 years (or even 1 year)? What is the main barrier to you achieving this? What training or development activity would improve your chances? If we don't take responsibility for our own CPD, why would anyone else?

6. The ability to come up with a Plan B - quickly!

One final, and extremely important digital skill, is being able to come up with an alternative plan, if and when the technology fails. It could be something as dramatic as the entire network being hacked (like the NHS had not so long ago) or it could be something as simple as a power cut. Sometimes, for an unlimited number of reasons, we can't use our digital stuff and have to find other ways of working and/or something to fill the time whilst it's all down.

If you can be the one to diffuse and dissipate the panic when something goes wrong, you will quickly become a popular member of staff! Even if all you do is get the team together and take the opportunity to spend 5 minutes (or more) encouraging one another, planning something enjoyable or reflecting on a recent project, the ability to use time effectively in the absence of electricity and computers is also a digital skill.

7. Count

Yes, I was aiming for 5 skills and I've ended up with 6. So I can't count! Hard lines!


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