gears

Innovation is accelerating — and in many cases, businesses are struggling to keep up. New technology is advancing faster than employers can upskill and onboard employees, making it hard for HR and talent acquisition teams to keep their companies consistently staffed with all the right talent. Compounding the difficulties further, even the HR and talent acquisition functions are themselves being transformed by technological innovation.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing (NLP) have been among the most in-demand skills for two years running, according to LinkedIn. With these skills in relatively short supply in the talent market, many companies are looking to their existing workforces to close the gap. They’re empowering employees to become “citizen developers,” defined by Gartner as “a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.”

It’s an efficient response to the AI and automation skills shortage, but enabling citizen development still requires an intentional strategy — and it needs to start now. The World Economic Forum estimates the average employee will need 101 days of upskilling before 2022. Talent leaders who ignore this urgent need may find their organizations can’t keep up with future transformation. Those teams that embrace change now, on the other hand, will become leaders within their industries and organizations, helping to bring digital transformation to whole economic sectors and businesses.

Upskilling Is More Accessible Than Ever

Luckily, the introduction of no-code and low-code platforms has made AI and automation more accessible to individuals without technical backgrounds, making the cultivation of citizen developers more feasible than ever before. With this new generation of technology, we are seeing more intelligent digital workflows built by the average business user.

Now that technical complexity is no longer the primary barrier to upskilling, employees simply need time, accountability, and authority to upgrade their apps in order to get started. Upskilling should begin with managers and executives and trickle down as needs arise, steadily empowering more and more employees to own automation efforts — including HR and talent acquisition employees.

Talent teams are in an interesting position: They’re responsible for sourcing and cultivating the skills organizations need for digital transformation while also facing digital transformation in their own roles. While planning and executing upskilling initiatives for other employees, talent teams must also be sure to invest in their own upskilling.

Indeed, many HR and talent acquisition departments are already beginning to identify opportunities to automate routine work and implement digital solutions. For example, a citizen developer on the talent team could build a workflow that combines optical character recognition, NLP, and machine learning to scan resumes, prioritize candidates who are the best fit for a given job, and automatically schedule interviews. Once a candidate is selected, the workflow could manage the onboarding process, including sending preboarding communications, provisioning users in relevant systems, and ensuring the hiring manager takes steps to set up the new hire for success.

Recruiters have a unique opportunity to leverage automation to spend less time on mundane tasks and more time on strategic hiring components. Automation promises to provide avenues to find, hire, and onboard talent more quickly, in addition to giving you a competitive edge as an industry trendsetter. To put this in perspective, research we recently conducted at Catalytic found that 41 percent of HR professionals would spend more time on the more strategic aspects of recruiting if parts of their jobs were automated, underscoring the power of citizen development.

The Benefits of Driving Digital Transformation Today

Digital transformation and automation aren’t far-out initiatives to prepare for — they’re happening now. McKinsey estimates that 45 percent of today’s work could be automated using technology already available, to say nothing of further advances to come. This is why it’s imperative for organizations to begin taking tangible steps toward digital maturity now.

Those organizations that get a head start on digital transformation today don’t simply arrive at the goal faster than their competitors — they also stand to reap a number of significant benefits:

1. Citizen Development Drives Talent to Your Door

Citizen development can add an interesting new dimension to an employee’s role. Self-motivated problem-solvers are likely to welcome the challenge of learning and incorporating app-building and automation into their existing roles. In a job market where automation proficiency stands as a highly valued skill, your upskilling program will offer your workforce new career opportunities in a well-paid field that will only continue to grow. That helps you stand out as a top-tier employer, and talented candidates will flock to — and stay at — your company.

2. Citizen Development Frees Employees Up to Focus on Strategic Efforts

When automation eliminates mundane tasks, that doesn’t mean it’s time to lay off employees. Instead, smart employers see this as an opportunity to achieve more with the employees they already have.

When your workers have more time, they can dedicate more energy and effort to high-value strategic initiatives. Not only does this lead to more innovative and impactful work for your organization overall, but it also drives employee satisfaction. After all, workers are more engaged when they’re able to do meaningful work that contributes to the company’s overarching mission.

3. Citizen Development Drives Innovation

Following from the above, employees feel more connected to the projects they’re working on when they have the time, authority, and accountability to innovate.

In traditional automation efforts, end users are involved only to the extent of defining pain points for third-party or cross-team developers. With citizen development, employees can identify and solve the problems they themselves face. This increases the individual’s value and encourages other employees to invest time in automation.

Create a culture of collaboration and innovation to cultivate a healthier transformation. In doing so, you’ll likely get valuable feedback that extends beyond automation.

4. Citizen Development Scales More Rapidly

The organizations that achieve the best results and scale most quickly are those that strike the right balance between centralized structures and decentralized processes. Citizen development supports that balance.

Relying on IT to deliver all automation solutions across the enterprise is a recipe for slow progress. Instead, IT should focus on governance, platform strategy, and the most complex automations, while individual teams should automate processes within their departments. When these responsibilities are split, automation and digital transformation can scale much more rapidly, and subject-matter experts can digitalize the processes they live and breathe.

Enabling citizen developers is a common-sense response to the need for increased automation. Potential hires will take note of the tools you have in place, and the way you respond to the changing landscape can differentiate your firm from a candidate’s other job prospects. Process automation will force the evolution of jobs across the board, and talent teams that implement strategic upskilling have the best shot at setting their employees — and their digital transformation efforts — up for success.

Jeff Grisenthwaite is vice president of product at Catalytic.

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