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  • Writer's pictureROHEI

3 Keys to Building Digital Confidence in Adult Learners

Upskilling professionals and senior staff comes with distinct barriers to learning. Here is how to overcome them.


In a Nutshell

  • With the global shortage of qualified individuals in emerging fields, upskilling current staff becomes a core approach to meeting digital transformation challenges

  • Upskilling professionals and senior staff comes with distinct barriers to learning

  • Digital confidence is built by assigning dedicated time, making the learning relevant, and giving assurance of value and support


International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts global digital transformation spending to reach US$2.3 trillion in 2023 with an expected US$7.4 trillion in the next four years.

The adoption of digital software and hardware has undoubtedly improved productivity in streamlining processes, cut costs, and enhanced profitability.

New technologies have accorded us the ability to solve problems in real-time, spot trends that would otherwise not emerge except for the work of data scientists, automate repetitive and time-consuming activities through automation, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Benefits of adopting digital tools and approaches

According to an Economic Survey conducted by Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry, the adoption of digital tools resulted in up to 25% increase in the value-added and productivity of firms in Singapore.

Examples of technologies range from digital platform tools such as E-payments, E-commerce, Software as a Service to more advanced digital tools such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, cloud platforms and distributed ledgers with blockchain.

If it is so great, why isn't everyone succeeding?

While the benefits are compelling and attractive, the challenges with adopting technologies are real.

In a Riverbed Digital Performance Global Survey 2018 that studied 1000 business decision-makers from around the globe, 99% of respondents indicated that they believe optimising digital performance is essential to business performance. In the same survey, 95% of respondents stated that they faced challenges in achieving a successful digital strategy.

The top challenges cited were Budget Constraints (51%), Complex and Rigid Legacy Infrastructure (45%), Lack of Visibility Across Digital or End User Experience (40%) and Less Skilled Personnel (39%).

Learn more about overcoming digital adoption challenges in the Building Digital Confidence E-book.

Upskilling existing staff to meet the need

For technology to be effectively leveraged for an organisation to experience sustainable benefit, it is crucial to place the skilled personnel in pivotal roles. However, with the global shortage of qualified individuals in these emerging fields, upskilling current staff become a core approach to meeting this need.

Conducting training on the use of digital tools does not mean that it will be adopted.

Organisations often approach the need for the transition by running workshops, mounting e-learning programmes and providing other resources to develop their staff. While this is essential, it is often insufficient to get existing staff to make the necessary adjustments.

What does it take for people to change: "Can I?" and "Will I?"

Borrowing from the 6Ds Company and Dr Roy Pollock's book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: Unless an employee answers "Yes!" to both the "Can I?" and "Will I?" questions, the training will fail to produce value.

"Can I do it the new way?" is a question of ability. Training and providing resources and references can help with this. Do I have the knowledge and skills? Do I have the ability to learn new things as the landscape and challenges keep evolving?

"Will I make the effort?" deals with the issues of motivation. Will I be recognised for trying a new way or will I be penalised? Am I bought into this new approach, or am I just following a directive?

Unless an employee answers "Yes!" to both the "Can I?" and "Will I?" questions, the training will fail to produce value. - DR ROY POLLOCK, THE SIX DISCIPLINES OF BREAKTHROUGH LEARNING

If organisations are to be able to meet the shortage of skilled staff by upskilling their current employees, they must design learning that specifically addresses the challenges faced by adult learners.

Barriers to learning faced by adult learners

Some challenges include:

  1. A lack of time. Adult learners are typically balancing family and social commitments on top of their considerable work schedule. Time to learn must take into account that their schedules are often already full.

  2. A more fixed mindset. If it is not clearly of benefit to an adult learner, it will be hard to motivate them to learn new skills. After all, they have succeeded thus far on their current set of skills, why change now? It doesn't help that school is a distant memory for some and most are not fans of the testing that is associated with rigorous learning.

  3. Financial constraints. Adult learners tend to have more financial responsibilities to shoulder. After paying the mortgage, car loan, children's education and taking care of parents, investing in further education can be daunting.

With the area of digital skills in particular, there is an additional aspect that adult learners may have to contend with: the fear of a loss of identity.

The case for building digital skills is often driven by urgency to transform.

In developing digital confidence, adult learners have to contend with the anxiety of becoming left behind or replaced.

Fear is a crucial barrier to learning that must be addressed.

Three keys that help build digital confidence for adult learners

1. Assign dedicated time and pace the learning

In a training workshop that ROHEI conducted for an insurance firm, financial advisors expressed frustration at the pace of change of their transition to a digital platform for uncovering their client's needs.

Often change leads feel like their staff are resistant while those undergoing change feel like they are not appreciated and supported.

Their management team had given a directive that the advisors were to be entirely switched to the digital platform within a week. They believed that it was enough time for their staff to make the necessary adjustments to their method of conducting their financial needs discovery process with the clients. However, because of the workload that they already had, the advisors felt like they were not able to have enough time to learn the new platform to be sufficiently confident in using it with their client.

It is good to assign dedicated time to learn new platforms outside of the current workload or pace the learning in bite-sizes. People usually take more time in the beginning when applying new knowledge. Having more time to try and to practise leads to greater confidence that allows people to feel like they 'can' make the transition.

2. Make it relevant

Adult learners learn much more effectively when they understand how digital tools are relevant to their felt needs. Invest time in sharing the ‘why’ together with the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the digital tool.

The role of the bank tellers in bank branches is rapidly changing in the face of online and mobile banking. In a training session with these front line staff, they expressed their unhappiness with having to transition from processing account signups using paper forms to self-service tablets.

Not only did the staff need to be familiar with the new digital interface, but they now needed to also play the role of an educator to teach their customers how to do it themselves. All this served to lengthen the duration of these transactions and some were unhappy with struggling to keep their previous time-to-resolution for their customers.

While the paper process allowed them to clear each customer in a shorter time, they ended up staying up to four hours after branch closing to catch up with entering the details of each transaction into the bank’s systems in order to share the customer details with other departments that require the information.

Once the staff understood how taking a bit more time to educate their customers could help them save more time in downstream, they were more motivated to learn the systems and make the transition. They will be much more motivated to have an open mindset and answer “Yes!” to the “Will I?” question.

3. Bring assurance of value and support

Technological change can provoke deep insecurities and fear for individuals whose past work experience becomes less relevant and are now required to learn new skills. Long-serving customer service representatives may suddenly find that they are struggling at their work in spite of their long track record.

Employees need to know they can continue to create and add value amidst the changes they are facing with the adoption of digital tools. The proof of that is when organisations provide assurance of support to help them upskill, reskill and/or recraft how they contribute to and belong to the organisation.

As disruptive technologies and digital tools change the business landscape, giving staff these assurances create the motivation needed to empower them to find different ways to put their existing knowledge and experience to use in new ways.

Partnership in Building Digital Confidence: ROHEI and United Overseas Bank (UOB)

UOB has 26,000 employees across the group worldwide and is looking to upskill their staff and transform their business in the light of disruptive changes in the banking industry.

There was a need to create greater awareness of the changes and engage the staff to take ownership of their own career development and growth. To meet this need, UOB launched its 'Better U' programme on 15 October 2019.

Setting the stage to understand why the skills are relevant

In order to allow staff to understand the relevance of digital skills, ROHEI collaborated with UOB Group HR to design a learning experience that ROHEI will facilitate for UOB staff based in Singapore. This workshop kicks-off a longer 12-week learning journey.

To maximise learning retention and engagement, the workshop was designed to be multi-sensorial to engage both hearts and minds. The objective of the workshop was to provide an impactful and compelling context and urgency for digital transformation in a hands-on and thought-provoking way. Having the staff gain an appreciation of how the banking industry is changing helps them understand the relevance of building digital skills and confidence.

ROHEI conducted train-the-trainer sessions to equip UOBs training teams to roll-out the same workshop in their own countries.

ROHEI staff with UOB representatives from South East Asia offices.

Self-paced learning

The workshop UOB partnered with LinkedIn learning to provide libraries of programmes that can be used according to the staff’s interest and pace. In order to help focus their development, UOB has curated programmes according to five core competencies that they have found essential for employees to remain relevant.

Modules are in the five areas of developing a growth mindset, complex problem-solving skills, digital innovation, human-centred design, and data analytics.

Because the learning is bite-sized and mobile-enabled over a period of 12 weeks, staff are able to adjust their own pace according to their workload. It also develops a habit of continuous learning that is essential to taking ownership of their own development and career growth.

The programme will offer employees the opportunity to acquire both digital and soft skills, and be better prepared for the future. - MS LYDIA WEE, DEPUTY CEO OF THE INSTITUTE FOR BANKING AND FINANCE (IBF)

Leaving no one behind

UOB has over the years consistently communicated their desire to ‘leave no one behind’. This is particularly reassuring as more than 60,000 jobs have been reported to have been shed in banks around the world in 2019. Hearing that the bank values each person and is looking to help them build skills provides staff with the confidence to explore and grow.

Through the Better U programme and other efforts, UOB is providing support to their staff to transform themselves as the bank transforms. The Better U programme provides suggestions on learning tracks when employees may not know what they should specialise in. Bank staff through their exposure in this foundation course, can then choose further learning opportunities and even possibly receive financial support for their education.

The Better U programme is part of our long-term approach as we nurture our talent and empower them to take control of their future. Through it, we hope our people will be able to discover their full potential and for some, possibly chart a new course in their career. - MR DEAN TONG, HEAD OF GROUP HUMAN RESOURCE, UOB

We are excited to be a part of UOB's journey in helping their employees through a well-paced, relevant and empowering approach to building digital confidence and skills.

To find out more about how ROHEI can assist with preparing your organisation for the people aspect of digital transformation, schedule a consultation here.


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