Tracy Westall: Lifelong learning in the digital age

Curium | 25 Oct 2018 | News | General News

In this guest blog, technologist and business adviser Tracy Westall talks about the importance of lifelong learning in the digital age

Business change is all pervasive. It can be disruptive and, at times, down-right terrifying. Just look at the retail sector and the number of companies – like House of Fraser, Toys R Us, Mothercare – big names who have struggled and, in some cases, lost the struggle to survive.

Just consider for a moment:

  • The impact that Uber has had on the taxi industry
  • The impact that Airbnb has had on the hotel sector
  • The impact that Deliveroo and Just Eats have had on the food sector

Technology and digital are real business disruptors and ignoring this can be perilous. The pace of technological change is now so fast that any company not looking ahead will find itself outpaced, outdated and, worse, out of business very quickly.

Virtual reality, augmented reality, robotics and automation are no longer the stuff of science fiction. And artificial intelligence in its various guises will touch every aspect of our personal and professional lives. The Government Industrial Strategy sets out the ‘Grand Challenge’ concept and AI is one of the four areas.

Classic “white collar” jobs in legal, insurance, finance, health, transport and government will change. And the future of urban mobility tells us that the way we move people and goods around will change; a change probably as great as the invention of the car itself.

It is important that organisations take advantage of the opportunities offered by technology. But, it is equally important that the workforce has new skills, so the economy can grow, and no one gets left behind. We need to empower our current and future workforce with the right capabilities and skills for new ways of working.

With 90% of us owning a smartphone (or does it own us?!), how can we have a digital skills gap? Well, we do. In the UK, we are on course to have a million tech jobs by 2020 that we cannot fill. That’s just over a year away. According to the Tech Nation Report 2018, a major challenge for UK tech businesses is talent supply.

Without some serious intervention, that skills gap will keep getting bigger and quickly.

Thankfully, there are some really good things happening to bring people up to speed with digital skills. At the Public Sector Digital Midlands event in September, I heard about the GDS Academy, which teaches public sector professionals the digital skills they need to transform public services.

There is the fabulous School of Code, Digital Innov8ters, Digisheds Smart Skills Engine, Digimums, and a £5m retraining fund announced as part of the skills deal for the West Midlands Combined Authority. Corporates, universities and schools are in on the act, but we need more.

‘Cultural impact’ is an over-used consultancy phrase but is important when considering transformation and business change. And let’s face it, this new skills landscape is one hell of a transformation.

The approach must be about simplifying change, making people feel part of the journey and empowering their potential. Identifying capabilities and creating a cultural environment supporting change is key to transitioning skills.

That’s why I am excited by the work of companies like Curium Solutions and how they approach change and transformation. They shine a light on cultural impact and personal development as part of what they do. They put people first in an innovative way to extract maximum value and benefit for the person, the team or the organisation.

And if we are to make sure everyone moves into the new world with the right skills then empowering potential seems like the obvious answer. Well, the digital revolution is here. Change is constant. Talking to the right people about empowering potential is no longer a nicety, it’s a necessity.


About Tracy Westall

Tracy Westall spent 30 years working in the tech sector, spending much of that time as a board executive at Midlands-based tech company SCC. She has also been part of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP – as the Director for Innovation for the West Midlands – as well as the Smart City Commission, Birmingham Science City Board and Tech UK.

Now a non-executive and business adviser, Tracy works with a number of organisations. She sits on the advisory boards of Innovation Birmingham and West Midlands Digital, and the board of Birmingham City University. Tracy is a non-executive director at the Department for Transport.

As she says, “I have spent my time working with all kinds of clients, exploring and deploying technology to transform their businesses and processes, gain competitive advantage, or simply do things better. I am not a technical person, but I am a technologist; excited by the impact that technology can have.”

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