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Podcast: How to ensure long-term career success in the era of digital transformation

By: Hays Recruitment Expert on March 23rd, 2021

Digital technology is having a huge impact on both society and the workplace, generating unprecedented and constant change. Increasing levels of automation and the growing adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics software across many industries are transforming the world of work around us. With all of this innovation comes a lot of change, not least to jobs, tasks and skills.

So, today, we’re joined by Simon Winfield, Managing Director of Hays UK & Ireland to discuss how listeners can ensure their long-term career success in this era of digital change.


1) Before we begin, it would be great if you could introduce to yourself to our listeners

My name is Simon Winfield and I’m Managing Director for Hays in the UK & Ireland. I joined Hays in 2006 into the Australian business and started my career in 1993. But I was initially responsible for Western Australia and Northern Territory in Australia, and then relocated back to the UK in 2014.

I was responsible then for the West & Wales and then latterly Ireland, before being appointed Managing Director for the UK & Ireland in 2018. And I have just been appointed as a Corporate Director for the REC, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation Council earlier on this year.

2) The topic of today’s podcast is all about digital transformation. Before we start, I thought it would be useful to clarify for our listeners what the we mean by digital transformation, as well as other words associated with the term, such as automation and human value?

Yes, I think that’s a great place to start – all the terms and buzzwords out there can be really confusing.

But, I think it’s important all of us, given how topical it is that we have some understanding of what these things mean. Technology is rapidly proliferating the world of work and generating constant change and that is going to impact all of us if it is not already.

To start ‘digital transformation’ – essentially, this is the acceleration of activities and processes to leverage the changes and opportunities provided by digital technology. George Westerman of Massachusetts Institute of Technology defines it pretty well – he says, “Digital transformation marks a radical rethinking of how an organization uses technology, people and processes to fundamentally change a businesses performance”. Which I think is a pretty good way of summing it up.

‘Automation’ is another very commonly used term and you hear it more and more. Automation is an alternative to manual processing – effectively it is the creation of technology and its application in order to control or operate a process automatically. A great example of this is sales and marketing professionals now have access to automated lead generation software. So, thanks to technology, the process of collecting leads and fielding them to the business doesn’t need to be a manual process anymore. There are other great examples in text-mining technology for example used by the legal profession to read through extensive legal documents.

And I think lastly, when people speak about digital transformation, the term ‘human value’ is often used and we use it a lot in what we do everyday. And really human value is the application of people’s competencies, their skills and their experience to a do a job and the individual tasks. In the digital age, the skills and competencies we have as humans will become even more important. Qualities such as adaptability and curiosity will play a key part in ensuring the success of digital transformation projects. So, the value we can add as humans has never been more important than in today’s world of work.

3) I’m sure our listeners would agree that digital technology is having a huge impact on the workplace – driving unprecedented amounts of change. Do you have any examples of how certain industries and jobs are changing?

Yes, there’s no doubt that levels of automation and the growing adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics software are transforming the world of work and how we work.

For example, the accountancy profession is already starting to eradicate some of the low-level, document processing tasks, such as reconciling accounts, to focus on higher-value tasks.

Sales and marketing we talked about a minute ago, but they now have access to automated lead generation software that enables them to build on, and exploit, their existing skills more effectively.

Lawyers use text-mining techniques to read through big documents and the construction industry, things like drones are being used rapidly changing the civil engineering and construction marketplace.

4) It sounds as if this era of digital change isn’t going to stop anytime soon – if anything, it’s only going to increase. So how important do you think it is for our listeners to be able to adapt to and be open to change?

I think in the changing world we are in today, it is inevitable that your tasks are going to change too, so it’s becoming increasingly important that employees are adaptable and open to that change.

After all, this change means that we’re all going to be operating outside of our comfort zones more frequently. It’s also more likely we’ll all be working and collaborating with different people from different departments more frequently, while all the time using new technology.

So there is a lot to change, so it’s important that employees start to embrace change and see it as an opportunity to learn and to develop, instead of something to shy away from and avoid. And make sure that you convey this openness to change to your manager or prospective manager. After all, if they can tap into that, you’ll be better able to add value and digital transformation projects are far more likely to be a success.

5) One way our listeners could embrace change is by adopting something called a growth mindset which is something our CEO, Alistair Cox discussed recently on his LinkedIn Influencer series. Do you think this is important in today’s era of digital change?

Yes, I think it is really important and when you call it a growth mindset, I’ve heard it called a software mindset and I think it’s really important in the change we are seeing today.

According to Stanford University Psychologist, Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is all about believing you can develop your existing skills and learn new ones with practice and effort. However, those with a fixed mindset tend to believe that their skills are relatively fixed and won’t be changed or improved.

And I think there are a number of ways we can ensure that mindset for growth is more often than not is our default sort of setting:

  • Understand that the brain works like a muscle – it needs challenges in order to grow. So, how do we expect our brains to grow if we’re constantly doing the same things all the time?
  • Start prioritizing the more challenging, or uncomfortable tasks, rather than the safer ones
  • If you think a colleague or stakeholder is smarter or better than you in some way, instead of feeling threatened, think about how you can learn from them
  • Understand that you’re not going to master a new technology or learn a new skill overnight – it takes time, effort and practice, but you’ll certainly get there in the end

So, yes, I think in order to handle all the changes technology will bring, I think it’s important that we shift this growth mindset, this software mindset and change the way we think of our approach to new tasks – if we do, we’ll feel far more open and equipped to deal with all the changes on the horizon, and even embrace them for the good of all of our careers to be fair.

6) I imagine it is extremely important for employees to get a good understanding from their employers on exactly what digital change is on the horizon if they are to adapt. If they’re not clear on this, how would you recommend employees go about finding out?

Yes, I think it is really important. In order to be open and adaptable to change, you’ve got to understand exactly what the change is going to be, what skills you’ll need, how it’s going to impact your team and how it’s going to impact the bigger picture. You’ve got to have a full sight of the role you will play and the value you can offer.

So, I think find out what automation is taking place within your team, your department, the wider business. Also, understand what investment is taking place in the wider industry that you work in and evaluate the potential impact of that change on your role and that of your team.

I think what I’m trying to say is you shouldn’t just sit back and wait to be told what technology journey your about to go on but be proactive, speak to your manager and try and understand the direction your team is taking.

It’s also important that it’s not just a one-off conversation – keep the dialogue going and revisit that regularly with your manager.

7) As we’ve discussed, the rise of digital technology means that tasks are evolving, this obviously is leading to an increase in demand for certain soft and technical skills. Which skills do you think are becoming increasingly important?

I think both soft and technical skills are an absolutely vital human element of success of any digital transformation.

They are also vital to ensure your success, now and in the future. So, I think it’s important you understand which skills are most in demand. And that way, you can take a more proactive approach to your own personal development.

In terms of specific skills in demand, from our research we’ve found that soft skills such as critical thinking, communication skills, people managementemotional intelligence are all ranked at the top of the soft skills index and skill that employers are facing a shortage of within their existing teams, and when they are looking to hire new people.

And, when it comes to technical skills, the top three skills shortages employers said they were facing within their existing teams when hiring, were project management, change management and in particular data analysis.

8) You mentioned there that employees need to understand what skills are in demand so that they are able to take a proactive approach to their personal development. How do you think our listeners can go about doing that?

I think if you are going to really future-proof your employability, it’s important that employees understand that a personal commitment to their learning and development is absolutely key. So, now is the time to start to take more ownership of your own personal development and certainly that is something that we encourage.

I think after all, due to the rate of change, skill gaps are going to occur more often, and therefore, employees have got to be proactive and really get into the habit of learning and seeking out new learning opportunities.

And it shouldn’t be a one-off activity, I think it needs to become a lifelong habit. In today’s world of constant change, lifelong learning is increasingly key I think to success. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines lifelong learning as ‘the process of gaining knowledge and skills throughout your life, often to help you do your job properly’.

So, attending a training course every three years isn’t really going to cut it in today’s consistently evolving world of work. So, read as much as you can, listen to specific industry podcasts on your commute, attend networking events and embrace every training opportunity your employer offers you.

Essentially, do everything you can to ensure that learning becomes more of a habit or a ritual for you, rather than just a chore – and I think you’ll be well on your way to making a lifelong commitment to your own learning, equipping yourself for all the change that’s on the horizon in the process.

9) It’s not just down to employees, employers also have an important part to play in upskilling their employees. If our listeners feel they are not getting enough support in this area, how would you recommend they go about addressing this?

I don’t think our listeners would be alone in feeling they’re not adequately supported from a training and development point of view. The survey we recently ran found that employees do not feel they are receiving the support they need from their employer to effectively prepare themselves for automation in their workplace.

As I said, it’s important for employees to take ownership of their own learning and development, but equally, they shouldn’t do this in isolation. Speak to your manager, understand the direction your team is taking and together try and create a training plan that is personal to you.

Also, ensure you have got regular check-ins with your manager to look at your skills development progress and tackle any gaps before they come an issue. Keep the dialogue open and keep talking about it.

10) For our listeners who may be looking for a new role – how would you recommend that they demonstrate in the interview process that they are adaptable to change, and have the skills that are required to thrive in this era of digital change?

Yes, that’s a great question. I think, from what we’ve covered today, and  looking at the results of our survey, I think the most important skills to showcase in an interview are,  adaptability, and this commitment to lifelong learning, critical thinking and communication. So, if you take them one at a time:

  • I think, adaptability and an open-minded approach to change that sort of software, growth mindset we talked about. In an interview, I think given the opportunity, talk through some of the experiences or changes that have pushed you out of your comfort zone. You know, how did you approach them in a proactive and level-headed way? And what you learnt and the results you delivered.
  • From a commitment to lifelong learning  point of view– again demonstrate your commitment to that lifelong learning in the questions you ask the interviewer – for example, you could explain that you enjoy learning new things and reference how you upskill, and then go on to ask what learning and development opportunities are available to you.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving – prior to your next interview, think back to when you’ve had to solve a problem. Be prepared to talk to your interviewer through how you’ve approached solving that problem from start to finish, how you proactively handled any hurdles and what you learnt during that process. The interviewer will be looking for evidence that you can tackle problems head on.
  • And then from a communication point of view– I think communication skills have always been and will continue to be vital to  your long-term career success. And with the proliferation of technology, face-to-face communication is vitally important in the modern workplace. In an interview, I think you can demonstrate really strong communication skills by building a strong rapport with the interviewer and make sure you use the STAR technique to answer their questions clearly and confidently. And lastly, be aware of your non-verbal communication – smile, make eye contact and use really open body language.

I’d also say that the interview is a great opportunity for you to probe a little further in terms of what stage the employer is at in terms of their own digital transformation and automation journey. Ask about the changes that are coming up, new technologies they are investing in, and how investment is impacting roles, teams or the broader business. I think that is also going to demonstrate to the interview that you are really open to and interested in digital change and the opportunities that can bring.

11) Now here is a question we like to ask at the each of each podcast. If you had one piece of advice for our listeners, what would it be?

Good question, I think no matter what sector or profession you work in or where you want to take your career, you’ve got to adopt a software mindset. I think in today’s changing world, it is inevitable that your role will change too. It’s not about robots taking your jobs, but how your going to adapt to working in a new world where we need to work alongside new technology.

It’s happening now, it’s not something we can put off until tomorrow. And I don’t think you should ever be afraid to try something new or tackle something in a different way, and make sure you are displaying this at work. You may say you’re open to change, but ensure your manager, your prospective employer, is aware of how flexible and adaptable you are to change.

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