Microsoft's Yasminka Nemet: the skills needed for digital resilience

Non-technical skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and collaboration play a crucial role in fostering digital resilience

Last year, research showed a major gap in digital skills across Australia’s workforce, with 87 per cent of jobs requiring these skills and a need for 156,000 new technology workers to keep pace with the digital transformation of business. The research also highlighted that digital skills and remote working capabilities will play a key role in Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Digital resilience can be understood as the capacity to leverage digital technologies to anticipate, absorb, and adapt to exogenous shocks – like the capacity demonstrated by individuals and organisations over the past years through several crises, according to Dr Yenni Tim, a Senior lecturer in the School of Information Systems and Technology Management at UNSW Business School. As an expert in digital resilience and the Founding Director of the UNSW Sandbox Program, Dr Tim was recently awarded Cyber Security Educator of the Year by the Australian Information Security Association (AISA) and received the Most Innovative Educator in Cyber Security award at the Australian Women in Security Awards. Dr Tim also recently spoke to Yasminka Nemet, Future Skills Lead at Microsoft, about the common misconception that ‘digital’ skills only relate to technical careers.

Why is digital resilience relevant in today’s world of work?

According to Ms Nemet, digital proficiency is required by everyone everywhere because we all work in a digital economy. But interestingly, she said what organisations really need to focus on is resilience – a crucial skill in today's increasingly digital world. “We know that people who can face difficulties or challenges and ask 'how' they can work through a challenge rather than “whether” they can tend to perform very well in life and in work,” explained Ms Nemet. 

“And I think we saw that come to the fore during the pandemic, which accelerated and refocused us on the skills and attributes we need in people to be able to be at their best. We need people to be able to figure out how to use digital technologies to navigate disruption and change. And this has never been in more demand in every role and sector,” she said.

From workers in healthcare to tech start-ups, everyone was affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. And for some, the pandemic was proof that people with digital resilience could literally pick up their jobs and run with what they needed to do, said Ms Nemet. “And it really shone a light on those people and, I think, accelerated their career paths and their development,” she added.

Read more: Fuse soft skills and digital for customer centricity on steroids

As a senior leader, Ms Nemet said she is passionate about connecting with leaders and teams to improve the end-user experience and build business resilience. And there are several crucial things organisations can do to support everyone in developing resilient capabilities and ensuring business continuity. One of the most important elements is to help people assess their own capabilities and understand where they are relative to where they need to be for any given role they aspire to, said Ms Nemet.

“This also involves mapping their skills to a set of capabilities that they can learn; the Digital Skills Organisation is doing a lot of interesting work in this regard, trying to create a common language and framework between people and employers so that we can all understand where we are on the spectrum of required digital skills and where we need to be,” she said.

So assessing those skills and then illuminating the pathway to access those skills, be it from an office or in hybrid work, is really important for people. “People often get lost, including professionals who may already have some digital skills; they get lost in figuring out exactly what it is they need, where they can get that from, and how their transferable human skills apply,” she said.

What skills are crucial to build digital resilience?

And it turns out that these human or interpersonal skills underpin digital resilience and are also the most in demand skills by business leaders. A recent study of Fortune 500 CEOs found that 75 per cent of long-term job success relies on people skills, compared to just 25 per cent that depends on technical skills. Many senior leaders now prioritise soft behavioural skills over hard technical skills, and recognising these skills will be crucial to gain a competitive edge, even in a digital ecosystem.

“These skills include transferable skills or ‘soft skills’ like critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration. These are the most in-demand skills by employers, and they really do underpin digital resilience in and of themselves; they are the foundation for all those skills,” said Ms Nemet. “Ideally, we need to be able to build these skills in early childhood, carry them through to high school, and right into tertiary and professional education.

‘What we need is a systemic approach to digital resilience. That’s how we're going to pull people up into the sort of digital capabilities that they need to have to be able to thrive in the workforce.”

Read more: Microsoft’s Lee Hickin on digital resilience beyond cybersecurity

How can technology enable digital resilience?

Technical proficiency is one of the building blocks of digital resilience; technology itself can also give people access to the learning they need to build their capabilities and speed up their business’s digital transformation journey. For example, the latest Microsoft cloud solutions, such as Microsoft Azure (a cloud computing service that is helping businesses achieve digital resilience).

“We could start with online learning, if we look at the prevalence of that and how available that is to people through technology... we can literally learn at any time of any day and in the flow of what we're doing,” said Ms Nemet.

She said that apps and other technologies like AI and cloud services will make that even more effective in the future because they will personalise that experience for us. For example, she mentioned Microsoft Teams, which many of us use daily to help us communicate wherever and whenever we want.

“Through the pandemic, where would we have been without technology like Teams, which was crucial in connecting us and accessing learning during a time like that?” she said.

In other examples, technologies are already helping to automate processes and streamline, taking those mundane tasks out of our work lives and creating time for higher-order thinking which we need to do to become even more digitally resilient, continued Ms Nemet.

"This includes a baseline understanding of cybersecurity which is designed to keep us all digitally resilient so that we can continue to do our work. And I mention all those technologies because I think it's very important that we all have a baseline understanding of those technologies. These are not (again) just relegated to people in technical roles.

“We should all have some working knowledge of, or reference to, these highly transformative technologies in the organisation so that we can be relevant within the fast-paced world of work,” she concluded.

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Dr Yenni Tim is a Senior Lecturer and a digital resilience researcher in the School of Information Systems and Technology Management at UNSW Business School. For more information please contact Dr Tim directly.


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