What do Apple, Microsoft, General Electric, FedEx, Revlon Inc, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Burger King Corporation, CNN, Walt Disney, and IBM have in common?
They were all founded during an economic crisis.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a large proportion of our industries could be likened to the traditional taxi industry before Uber.
As the virus ‘cancelled’ physical proximity, customers, employees, and suppliers proved surprisingly accepting of remote engagement.
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This drastic shift to remote work is an opportunity for each business to evolve its own version of industry-leading ‘Uber avatars’.
Digitalisation enables businesses to rapidly scale to wider markets, even while lowering costs.
The ones who digitalise first would benefit from the first-mover advantage. Others could be counted as COVID-19 casualties.
Apprentices with digital skills could punch above their weight
It is not easy to reimagine an established business. We all carry the baggage of experience that is difficult to unlearn.
But this is baggage that apprentices do not have.
One of the greatest strengths of apprentices is their ignorance of how old-world ways could not solve the post-pandemic problems.
Once trained in new technologies, they could help businesses find solutions using the skills they have acquired.
With international travel bans creating challenges for flying in experts who can help in business transformations, there is a dearth of digital experts with the ability to rebuild businesses. Mature age workers, cross-skilled into digital technologies, could be a source of fresh ideas. Reimagining solved.
The younger lot could also be the new breed of customers businesses might want to target. Who better than the digital natives to help shift current business to a future-proofed digital-first paradigm?
Any new idea would need to be tested before it is scaled out across any organisation. A business can get the apprentices to conduct multiple experiments with their new ideas that can be tested with a smaller group of target customers before being adopted across the board.
The synergy developed by introducing fresh talent to digitally challenged business models may prove to be just the flywheel needed for the impetus towards economic recovery.
Automation could lift up our low productivity, while creating new jobs.
We could get it wrong
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $1.2 billion wage subsidy scheme for half of new apprentices’ salaries over the next 12 months.
The scheme has the potential to spark more than just getting jobs for new ‘sparkies’.
If used to create digital skills across board, it could fire up businesses in multiple industries to rise stronger from the ashes of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, many countries are contemplating palliative measures, as the pandemic threatens to leave behind young people all over the globe.
The UK announced a similar initiative earlier this month in its Kickstart scheme.
The UK scheme, however, only targets 16–24-year-olds and does not make provisions for mature workers willing to reskill — something Australia has addressed.
IBM New Zealand’s managing director Mike Smith has criticised his country’s grants as 1930s economic solutions being applied in a 2020 pandemic because a $1.6 billion package aimed primarily at infrastructure spending was the centrepiece of the country’s 2020 budget.
Train young guns to win the war
Our economy is at war with the virus. Wars are often won by an army of young guns and the young at heart.
The power of cross-skilling workers into digital technologies could be that ‘short-term job-finder’ that catapults industries into innovative business models.
Aiming to create 100,000 new tradie positions is aiming too low. Government support should be extended to cover the digital cross-skilling of existing workforce beyond the 100,000 mark.
Adapting to change
Tough conditions force customers, employees and investors to consider new ideas that they would not have considered in good times.
Any disruption of the traditional creates space for the innovative.
The businesses to emerge stronger from the pandemic will be the ones that re-imagine themselves in a digital world.
It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survives. The ones who survive are the ones most adaptable to change.
This creates a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australia to be a global role model for not just suppressing the viral curve, but for economic recovery too.
If only we can recognise the potential!