· 2 min read · Features

Sacking digitally illiterate staff not the answer


A recent report suggested the police get rid of staff who are not computer literate, but that's not the solution

This week’s report on the digital skills shortage in the police isn’t a problem unique to the public sector. The rise of cyber-related crime has forced the police, like many organisations, to face up to the threats and opportunities of digital disruption. Yet the report by the think tank Reform misses the point by proposing that police forces get rid of staff who are not computer literate.

For any organisation to succeed in digital, first and foremost the culture and mindset of staff has to change. Some may try and address the digital challenge by simply bringing in new technology. But while technology is a vital part of a digital approach it’s not a solution in isolation. It’s more important to think about how people can use this technology to make a difference in line with an overall digital goal.

That’s why training needs to be at the heart of any digital transformation journey. It's an approach taken by a number of public sector organisations we’ve worked with, including Wigan Council, Jersey Police and Sunderland City Council. Whether it’s data analysis skills, phishing expertise or even experience in a particular type of software, if your organisation is (or wants to be) utilising a particular digital skillset then specialist knowledge will lead to organisation-wide adoption.

Yet teaching specialist skills to certain staff is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s also vital to change the company culture and the mindset of employees so they are empowered to embrace new ways of working. The Reform report revealed that some officers are ‘terrified’ of dealing with online crime. So it’s clear that they not only need the skills but also the confidence to tackle digital challenges.

To be effective any change to company culture needs to come from the top. We find that leaders can lack the confidence needed to lead in a digital environment because (rightly or wrongly) they feel that others are more acclimatised to it than they are; not being a Millennial is often a popular excuse. As we’ve seen in the report, the temptation is simply to get rid of older staff and appoint a head of digital or cyber security. But the best results come when change is being led by the whole leadership team and built into everything an organisation does, rather than being annexed to a particular department.

Bringing in new staff to meet a particular skills need is simply a sticking plaster over the problem. Learning needs to be continuous across the whole organisation to ensure skills are futureproofed for years to come. And this isn’t an issue unique to the police. When we surveyed L&D managers in large corporations less than three in 10 (28%) said their company invested in digital learning across the entire business.

The police also face the greater challenge of squeezed budgets so it’s vital that any investment in training generates the right results. This means focusing training in the right areas, with checks in place to make sure it’s working. It’s not just about spending more money – the spend must be effective and focused on addressing not only the immediate skills shortages, but enabling staff to continuously upskill as different digital challenges emerge.

Put simply, the police need to take their whole organisation on a learning journey. If you get this right staff will be empowered with digital skills and contribute to a culture that changes the whole mindset of a company.

Mark O'Donoghue is managing director at AVADO Digital