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Assessing Digital Competencies to Create the Workforce of the Future

To be successful in the digital era, organizations must focus on attracting, retaining, and motivating the right people with the right digital competencies. As the work environment continues to change, assessing for technical skills and “soft skills” together become key to building an agile, digitally ready workforce. Read the following whitepaper to learn how to attract, retain and motivate talent using assessment solutions.


The economy of the future will require a new kind of workforce planning, one that empowers diverse groups of people to rapidly respond to emerging threats and opportunities. 

They’ll need sharp technical skills, of course—organizations both inside and outside the technology sector are in a furious race to attract people with highly specialized technical skill sets related to artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data science, machine learning and natural language processing.

Those technical skills will be critical in the digital economy, but they are only part of the formula for success. Assessing for general cognitive abilities that allow a person to learn new skills, understand complex problems and comprehend complex information make up the other equally important part. With some technical skills quickly becoming outdated, it is critical to determine whether a person has the capability and the willingness to re- and up- skill as the work environment changes. You will also need your people to show up with the “soft skills” needed to connect with customers, collaborate with one another and have the ambition to adapt and learn.

Success in this digital era will depend on organizations being able to attract, retain and motivate the right people with the right digital competencies.  Resilience, adaptability, flexibility and curiosity will be the keys to building an agile, digitally ready workforce, and leading companies are focusing on assessing these digital competencies. They look for people with a learning mindset focused on growth and positivity toward constant change. Assessing and identifying these competencies effectively will be more important for employers than ever before.

This white paper looks at how employers can assess digital competencies to build the people-centered digital workforce of the future through:

  • Rethinking what competencies employers need to compete in a digital workforce.
  • Implementing the right assessments to identify and evaluate those competencies.
  • Leveraging a smart assessment process to create actionable data to guide employees through their full employee lifecycle.

Rethinking Digital Competencies

That means modern workers—and their employers—can’t really know what technical skills they will need in the future. That’s where traits like learnability and humility come in. Learnability allows people to be open to the possibility of making a mistake. It means they seek constructive feedback and work on continuous self-improvement. Without this trait, it is difficult for people to see their weaknesses when it comes to their skills and abilities—and to be open to developing their skills in those areas.

Another highly important aspect in the context of moral leadership, and somewhat related trait, is humility. Humility refers to the ability to reflect and be self-aware, acknowledging and trusting that others may know more than them and welcoming others’ expertise and ideas for the benefit of the business.

This need for lifelong learning also means the traditional education path is no longer as effective. Learnability becomes a key competency because hard skills learned in traditional training environments have a short shelf life as technology is continually evolving. People who will be successful in the digital age are those who are primed to learn on a continuous basis. Employers must both identify workers who rate highly for this trait and support a model of lifelong learning.

This focus on “soft skills” aligns with customer expectations, as well. For example,  a recent McLagan study showed that when it came to evaluating what customers wanted from their wealth managers, strong communication skills were listed as more important than statements and reporting. The study showed that high-networth individuals were looking for their wealth managers to do more than just analyze spreadsheets with them—a task they could now easily do on their own. Rather, they want someone who first listens to their needs and builds an emotional connection, and then recommends products that are a good fit. Data can play a critical role in creating evidence-based and more personalized recommendations for customers—think Netflix or Stitch Fix—but the human touch is still essential.

As you fill these roles, it’s important to think in terms of hiring for your organization, not for specific roles. It’s also important to focus on upskilling and reskilling current employees, not just hiring and firing. If you focus too much on recruiting for the competencies you need rather than talent development, you risk losing out on the wealth of organizational knowledge and talents of your existing employees. What’s more, hiring and firing is a costly approach to workforce management—both in terms of employee relations and brand management.

For the average worker, the half-life of technical skills learned  at work has dropped to about five years.

Implement the Right Assessments

Many of these critical capabilities are viewed as hardto-capture “intangibles,” leading hiring managers to rely on gut feelings or intuition. However, modern assessment tools drive the smart use of data and can substantially increase the odds of hiring the candidates with these key skills by applying rigor, fairness and validity in assessing target capabilities.

Applying the right assessments to effectively measure digital competencies requires connecting assessments back to how employees create value in the new economy. Understanding how people create value tells you what you need to assess for and what qualities they need to create even more value. Consider people’s competencies and skills holistically and adopt a talent model that evaluates the totality of the person's experience to determine how his or her skills will translate into business value. The difference between, for example, an employee who knows how to use Python and an employee who demonstrates learnability when it comes to programming language can have a significant impact when it comes to the total value they bring to the organization. Taking a holistic approach to assessments that measure these capabilities allows you to identify the person who can figure out a solution and learn the skills they need to implement that solution.

The right assessments offer rigor and objectivity in analyzing where applicants stand on these nontechnical traits that enhance the likelihood of success. Assessments that use AI and machine learning can help you identify high-potential team members rapidly and develop their skills. AI allows for a much more dynamic and responsive assessment process.

Incorporating AI into assessments allows you to completely rethink your talent models by helping organizations specify what high performance looks like based on key competencies and use those specifications to help identify high performers in potential talent.

Companies can also assess the expected impact of technology on the current roles within their organization. With sufficient runway, employees whose jobs will be automated or changed can be trained in key areas of digital competency and become an internal talent supply that is future-proofed.

Ultimately, the right assessments can help identify untapped potential, both in new hires and in our current workforce. They can help create highly individualized pathways for people that fully identify their competencies and develop their capabilities, providing immense benefit to both the individual and the company’s bottom line.

You need high-quality data so you can make sound decisions. The reports that come out of your assessment processes have to be insightful, easy to understand and usable. And to create a digitally ready workforce, you also need to ensure that all elements of your process are mobile-optimized, engaging and psychometrically sound. These are the hallmarks of the leading talent assessment tools around the world.

You need high-quality data so you can make sound decisions. The reports that come out of your assessment processes have to be insightful, easy to understand and usable.

Leverage a Smart Assessment Process to Guide Your Digital Workforce

While the “soft” skills associated with digital competencies may seem difficult to identify and assess, defining digital readiness as a mindset allows us to leverage assessments to measure for it and can yield actionable data that can then follow the employee through their full employee lifecycle.

We cannot define the specific skills required in the future, but we can identify people who are willing and able to adapt and change. We measure their potential by focusing on overarching foundational competencies, such as learnability, agility and curiosity. These behaviors help employees adapt and thrive in an uncertain and ambiguous environment and allow your talent strategy to evolve and adjust to the challenges of the future work environment.

With the skills and competencies companies need to compete rapidly evolving, predicting future workforce needs is an increasingly difficult task for employers. Companies can use AI and machine learning to model different scenarios when it comes to workforce needs and then design development paths that will allow people to perform in the jobs of the future that cannot yet be clearly defined. Algorithms are much better at combining complex data and making predictions than people are. Machine learning and the self-correcting nature of AI mean that these capabilities will only improve in the future.  But we don’t need to be smarter than the machines to solve these challenges. Machines are simply better than us at doing that. Rather we need to be smart in how we use machines to solve the problems we need to solve and to create better solutions.

You can harness the data you gather to deliver a meaningful experience to your workers that adds value for candidates and employees, as well as your company overall. Sharing data in every step of an employee's life cycle helps them continually develop and refine their skills and competencies over time. Leverage machine learning to identify an employee’s likely next move. You may even know this before they do.

Assessment should be an ongoing activity. It's not good enough to just assess upfront. Understanding how people create value tells you what you need to assess for and what qualities or skills they need to create even more value. Measuring them in a way that yields actionable data can then follow the employee through their full employee lifecycle and ensure that you build – and retain – a digitally ready workforce. As career paths become more flexible, employees may not know all the career options that are available to them. Assessments can help people identify career options based on their strengths and skillset that they might not have otherwise considered, simply because they didn’t know about those opportunities. We can open windows to a different future for people through the use of cutting-edge assessments.

And while some organizations like to celebrate low turnover rates, that’s not necessarily an indicator that you have the right people in the right positions. It is important to design an assessment process that keeps your organization on the right track.


Aon's most recent Global Risk Management Survey¹ said that finding, hiring and retaining employees with the right skills was among the most critical challenges they faced. Companies  in North America and the Asia-Pacific region said it was their second-biggest challenge. 

  • Companies that thrive during the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be those that effectively identify the digital competencies needed to compete in a changing global economy and maximize the potential of both the people who want to work with them and the people who already do. 
  • Building a responsive, agile 21st-century workforce is not just about the technical skills of the people you hire in the short term. It's about creating a strong, unique workplace culture that puts people at its center. Identifying the digital competencies employees need, creating candidate-centric recruitment and assessment processes to identify best-fit candidates for your organization and upskilling and reskilling rather than just hiring and firing to build a digitally ready workforce will all play critical roles in this transformation. This challenges companies face in making this transition are urgent, but those that embrace them today will be better positioned to create a workforce that can thrive in the digital age. 

¹ https://www.aon.com/2017-global-risk-management-survey/index.html?utm_source=aoncom&utm_medium=2015-grms-redirect&utm_campaign=grms2017

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