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Digital Transformation and Digital Divide Post COVID-19

  • Publication: 
    Forbes
    Date: 
    May 11, 2020

    Over the past two months, several countries across the world have experienced various forms of remote work and distance learning as governments were coming to grips with COVID-19. Quarantine, lockdown, shelter in place, countries gave this isolation different names, but this time was characterized by the same need to transform many businesses from retail to education.

    Tech CEOs have been very vocal about the amount of digital transformation they have supported their customers with. What was postponed or deemed impossible before was prioritized and executed. The more change we see, the harder it is to believe businesses will go back to how things were before this crisis. This "no going back" attitude is not just coming from the reality that COVID-19 will impact many in-person activities and spaces from open offices, to travel and events. The desire to change is also the result of seeing the positive impact digital transformation has on a business.

    The need to acquire new digital skills that better prepare the workforce for the workplace of the future might have accelerated during COVID19, but the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. Such a need to train and retrain affects the generations still in school as well as the current workforce. The current crisis is accelerating digital transformation, but it also has the potential to accelerate the digital divide. Just think of distance learning and the thousands of kids who did not have access to broadband or a device. Of course, this point only considers the technical aspect of the challenges many kids are facing when trying to learn under tremendous phycological stress as they deal with the impact COVID-19 is having on their day to day and their family.

    IBM's Executive Chairman, Ginni Rometty, coined the term "new collar" job years ago referring to roles in fields such as cybersecurity, cloud computing and artificial intelligence that don't always require a traditional degree. What these roles need is a new mix of skills that draws from different areas. These are the roles that Open P-TECH is focusing on because for Rometti, the issue is very straightforward: "IBM is a builder of technology it's our job also to prepare society interact with that technology. That's responsible stewardship," she said during Think 2020.

    IBM is not alone in thinking that the roles of the future might not require traditional degrees. In 2017, Microsoftannounced that it would give a grant to Skillful, a program that encourages skills-oriented job training. Some large tech companies like Apple and Google have stopped asking for college degrees for some of their technical roles.

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