Shopify, KraftHeinz, Snyk share the digital transformation skills employers need now

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Last updated March 25, 2021

There isn’t a strategic plan on the planet that could have accelerated the digital transformation of Canadian organizations more than the pandemic did in 2020.

From large multi-nationals moving their entire employee groups to remote work to small businesses migrating their day-to-day sales to e-commerce platforms, the technological shift across all sectors was seismic. It has created a “digital-first” culture in many organizations, necessitating a change in mindset across the board.

In committing to going 100 per cent digital, companies such as Shopify declared in May of 2020 that they would take a “digital by default” strategy to work remotely and not return to traditional offices. They now recruit internationally for the best candidate for the job.

In taking the digital-first approach, the company brought all of its employees together in an exercise to find ways to work better together in an all-remote working environment. Speaking on a panel as part of BrainStation’s recent panel discussion: The Great Acceleration: Digital Skills in 2021, Shopify’s head of human resources talked about its rapid transformation during the early part of COVID-19.

“We knew we had to involve everyone at Shopify to make it a success,” said Brittany Forsyth, chief talent officer at Shopify. “One of the things we did right off the bat is a three-day hackathon on digital by default and had some amazing things come out of it. One was a Sidekick app that matches people internally to meet and do pairing for programming because it was no longer possible to sit next to each other and do that. We continue to leverage everybody at Shopify as they are the ones living and breathing it. They can push it out, and up so other people can learn.”

Forsyth says the most significant skillset needed right now when undergoing digital transformation is the ability to work remotely and the ability for people to push outside their comfort zone and try new things “Because we’re all trying new things in this moment.”

Having the right mix of skills in a digital-first organization

Shopify and other leading brands spoke about how their organizations are focusing on digital skills that will help them scale and stay competitive. In a recent survey conducted by BrainStation, 74 per cent of executives said their organizations are involved in digital transformation activities, and 77 per cent of organizations indicated they plan to increase digital transformation activities in 2021. Also, 80 per cent said there are digital elements of their business that didn’t exist even two years ago.

The rapid adoption so many organizations are experiencing right now can be overwhelming to both leaders and team members, leaving many wishing they had a digital roadmap to guide them through all the decision-making and possibilities. With this in mind, BrainStation has launched a program to help embrace digital transformation initiatives.

“As I interact with executives and leaders in digital across the world’s top organizations, it has never been so clear that a digital-first culture and approach is more essential than ever for businesses to meet the needs of their users and customers. We’re proud to offer this professional development course, which will empower professionals to lead their organizations to new heights,” says BrainStation CEO Jason Field in creating the Digital Leadership and Innovation course.

“In an increasingly technology-driven world, the Digital Leadership and Innovation Certificate course can help motivated professionals and business leaders identify and execute on opportunities, which is an important ability when creating competitive advantages,” he says.

According to a McKinsey & Company report that surveyed executives, “companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and of their supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years.”

In ramping up digitally-driven initiatives, organizations are encountering skills gaps along the way, hindering their ability to stay competitive. About 75 per cent of executives responding to BrainStation’s survey said they believe digital skills training would make them more successful.

At the leadership level, putting together a successful strategy requires a sophisticated understanding of how all the pieces work together. This includes recognizing what the pillars of successful digital transformation are, what it’s like to go through the adoption curve, and examining technology evaluation frameworks and different business models.

The most in-demand skills for digital transformation

According to BrainStation’s survey, the two job functions organizations plan to do the most hiring for in 2021 include marketing and development. In fact, developers were the most challenging positions to hire for in 2020. Python was the fastest-growing programming language, with usage up by 10 per cent over last year.

Leaders of digital-first cultures must also understand how to manage cross-functional digital teams and when to add skillsets that can benefit the team. For example, leveraging next-generation technology that may include mobile, artificial and virtual reality, and blockchain technology.

Serena Huang, global head of people analytics at KraftHeinz, recommended companies start gathering data on the skillsets people in their organizations already possess.

“Once you have it, it’s so powerful, and you can start thinking about adjacent skills — so you may have 50 people who know Python, but 120 have R, which is close enough, and we can get them to know Python as well,” she says. “You can quickly do a gap analysis to determine whether you want to build internally or buy externally.”

Dipti Salopek, vice-president of people at Snyk, said “all companies are becoming software companies” as even standard retail organizations create more e-commerce platforms.

“There’s a big push on software development and any role that supports the process of software development. You don’t have to be an engineer, but UX, UI or front-end design, dev ops, security, tech recruiting, anything obliquely connected to that process is an extremely high-demand role,” says Salopek, who notes “digital agility” will be critical for future-proofing skillsets — the need to know what the next in-demand skillset will be.

BrainStation’s Digital Skills Survey also found that specific job functions can significantly impact organizational growth. Employees can acquire those skills in areas such as artificial intelligence, experience design, product management, site reliability, cybersecurity, and data science.

As the McKinsey report states, “To stay competitive in this new business and economic environment requires new strategies and practices.”

Is your organization ready to push forward with digital transformation?

Jennifer Brown Content

Jennifer Brown is a journalist and communications professional with extensive experience creating engaging content internally and externally for various B2B and consumer audiences. As a journalist, she has written about and interviewed leaders in the health care, education, legal, enterprise technology and cannabis sectors.

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