Multidisciplinary competencies are (not) relevant in the digital workplace

The ongoing digitalization of the workplace and the economic world demands new competencies from employees and managers. And these skills do not only refer to dealing with technologies.

Digitalization – research is being conducted, articles and papers are being written, debates are being held. Since almost the whole economy is affected, it is difficult not to engage with this topic (Warning & Weber, 2017). As one megatrend of our time, this is accompanied by far-reaching changes and consequences, which influence not only the value creation process of organisations, but also the working environment of employees – starting with the digitalization of business processes through to the way employees work together and job requirements.

High probability of automation

A well-known study conducted by Frey and Osborne (2013) shows a possible future scenario with impressive results: 47 percent of all employees in the USA are currently working in professions, which are exposed by increasing digitalization and rationalization as well as a high probability (>70 percent) of being automated over the next 10 to 20 years. Bonin et al. (2015) transferred the approach to the economic area of Germany and concluded that 42 percent of German employees are employed in professions with a high probability of automation. The results of the studies outline a future for the workplace that does not have to occur, but nevertheless it presents an important question for science: If, as an result of increasing automation, the tasks and thus the demands on employees change, which skills are becoming increasingly important in order to survive in the new working environment? This is not just a question in the distant future. For example, a study on SMEs in the manufacturing sector shows that 80 to 95 percent of respondents say that training is needed for their employees (Icks et al., 2017).

The research results demonstrate that a new set of competencies is needed for employees in face of an ongoing digitalization in order to be successful on the labor market in the future (OECD, 2016):

  • Basic IT competence: the ability to integrate new technologies into workdays and apply them without obstacles.
  • Specific IT competence: the ability, based on IT knowledge, to develop IT products and services, such as software or websites, and maintain services, such as Cloud and Big Data.
  • Supplementary IT competence: the ability to process complex information, solve problems effectively, and work in fast iterations and adjustments.

The basic IT competence is supplemented by the e-Leadership competence, which serves the search and finding of new applications of information and communication technologies in the production or in innovation processes (Hüsing et al., 2013).

Collaboration and networking are becoming more important

Beside the intrapersonal perspective, the Fraunhofer Institute’s Foresight study commissioned by the Vodafone Foundation (2016) added an interpersonal perspective to the results. It highlights the growing importance of skills such as collaboration and networking as well as associated communicative and social skills. According to them, subject-related competencies will lose in significance and thus job-specific qualifications are becoming more and more important.

All in all, it can be observed that two categories of competencies are relevant and becoming more important. On the one hand, employees must be able to apply their IT systems and use them in the sense of business simplification. On the other hand, employees must be able to work more intensively and networked with their colleagues and sharpen their communicative and social skills. As a result, interdisciplinary competencies are gaining in importance and demonstrate that subject-related skills play a subordinate role.

However, what does that mean for organisations today and in the future?
Education in the described competence categories is indispensable. Because human beings are users and caretakers of new technologies, they provide a decisive contribution to the implementation of digitalization and thus to the progressive organizational development. The biggest obstacles to the implementation of digital strategies is employees’ lack of know-how (Icks et al., 2017). Therefore, the digitalization is relevant not only to process managers and management, but equally to human resources in organisations. Personal managers must not only focus on the introduction and use of potential efficiency-optimizing IT systems in order to demonstrate the value of the human resource department to the management. Rather, they must place people at the center of consideration and support them in the digitalization process. Thereby, the competencies listed can be subsequently promoted and developed among employees or an adaptation of the competency profile and requirements description can already be carried out during the procurement of personnel. In view of the human-machine interface, digitalization means not only the introduction of digital technologies and the associated digitalization of processes, but also the development of employees in order to support the usage of new technologies.