Digital competencies, Working life

The role of lifelong learning for inclusion in the digital transformation

The NVL Digital – Working Life network has published a report on digital competences in tomorrow´s working life

The role of lifelong learning for inclusion in the digital transformation

The role of lifelong learning for inclusion in the digital transformation

In the period 2021–2022, the NVL Digital – Working Life network has had a focus on digitalisation in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and an interest in how new digital competences come to emerge in the manufacturing industries, with a focus on the skilled and unskilled employee. With this report’s findings and recommendations for policy and practice, the network contributes to improving Nordic companies’ participation in the digital transformation. The project explores the ways in which digitalisation is unfolding and organising working life, and how new learning practices can meet new opportunities and challenges.

The main finding of the research project is that any digital transformation process shapes and is shaped by the concrete organisational practices of which it is a part. This means that the transformation is influenced by many factors that unfold empirically. In the present project, this unfolds in the form of identified paradoxes, particular narratives and changing understandings of hierarchy, among other things. Furthermore, another of the research project’s findings is that digital technologies are just one of several actors that are helping to reorganise work and change the role and thus also the professional identity of individual employees. Therefore, learning initiatives cannot only prioritise digital upskilling in digital competence development, but must also involve professional experiences and insights possessed by the individual employee as a resource in the transformation. In this way, the project also contributes to pushing the boundaries of what it means to develop competences in the digital transformation. Thus, competence development is also about how to get employees more involved in a development and moreover about the implications on, for example, professional identity, forms of collaboration, etc.

The dialogue tool developed by the project team will therefore contribute to enabling enterprises to better understand some of these local implications of digital transformation and, on this basis, develop strategies for ongoing development of digital competences. This potentially creates a breeding ground for more innovation and growth, as well as creating more opportunities for participation that can have a beneficial impact on employee well-being.

Read online here.

Below are five recommendations that are the result of the research and developed through collaboration and dialogue with the NVL Digital – Working Life network during 2022. The five recommendations are presented in an order that addresses a policy and/or practice level, respectively. The first two recommendations address a policy and practice level pointing to the framework for companies’ digital transformation. The remaining three recommendations point to concrete actions that can be taken in practice:


1. Implement timely slowness

Digital transformation is associated with the pursuit of ever-accelerating change.

Notions of digital technologies as inherently creating positive change, innovation and growth should be replaced by a principle of timely slowness. That is, taking the time to understand the complexities of change. An accelerating digital technology revolution driven by artificial intelligence requires reflective assessment, which is an integral part of Nordic democratic self-understanding.

Being careful not to rush is an essential factor in understanding digital transformation.

The recommendation concerns the policy as well as the practice level.

2. Prioritise a broad repertoire of strategies to navigate digital transition

Navigating digital transformation requires drawing on a diversity of strategies

At policy level, this means creating a framework for developing a broad repertoire of approaches and strategies to the digital transformation. This means recognising that social dimensions (e.g. collaboration and critical reflection) coexist with technological innovation and economic growth.

At the level of practice, this means that enterprises should give priority to developing a variety of strategies to support transition processes. For example, companies should develop practices that enable employees and managers to engage critically and reflectively with both the opportunities and challenges of change.

A broad repertoire of strategies can create a collective awareness of what is “muddy’” as well as what is “shiny”.

The recommendation concerns the policy as well as the practice level.

3. Create awareness(es) in practice of contexts

Enterprises should seek to create awareness of the contexts in which digital technologies are embedded, as it is local factors and conditions that enable the success of change. These are factors such as narratives, paradoxes, and ambiguities. They are the conditions that arise when people and machines entangle, which has the effect of changing organisational phenomena such as hierarchies and professional identities. Companies in the digital transformation will therefore find that different factors and conditions can both hinder and facilitate development.

Be aware that the contexts in which digital technologies are embedded constitute the whole of change.

The recommendation concerns the level of practice.

4. Include workforce knowledge forms as legitimate

Strategy development and decision-making should not only be anchored in management visions, but also in employees’ professional competences. These are professional competences that exist, for example, as the manual tacit action knowledge of employees, articulated through an experienced sense of when a unit or component is “rightly placed”. This is important in the maintenance of high product quality, in rationalising inappropriate processes and as a driver of innovation.

Including employees’ professional competence as a legitimate form of knowledge can contribute to increased innovation, employee satisfaction and growth.

The recommendation concerns the practice level.

5. Link competence development with context awareness

Existing digital competence initiatives (upskilling through courses, continuing education) should link to employees’ context awareness. This involves discussions about the ways in which change is occurring and its effects. The effects can be, for example, increased job satisfaction, dissatisfaction, new relationship formation, less/more control, more/less supervision, stress, and insecurity.

Focusing on contextual understandings increases employees’ participation in change. In this way, employees are co-creative actors in a change process that can contribute to creating new, sustainable solutions and improvements.

The employee “walks alongside” the development instead of lagging behind the development.

The recommendation concerns the practice level.

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