Digital transformation in the workplace is a journey on which both leaders and employees need support, business and industry leaders said at an Ai Group webinar last week. 

Developing the skills and capabilities to power a digital economy is not about preparing for the future — it’s about evolving and thriving right now, they added. 

Ai Group Centre for Education and Training (Ai Group CET) Executive Director Megan Lilly was joined by:  

  • David Chuter – CEO and Managing Director, Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC); 
  • Alex Lynch – Manager, Public Policy & Government Relations, Google; 
  • Lauren Ryder – CEO, Leading Edge Global and  
  • Dan Fitzsimmons – Managing Director, Chinook Coffee Roasting Systems & The Coffee Roaster. 

Ms Lilly said digital technologies were rapidly reshaping and redefining what business needed from employees. 

“It is clear that digital transformation is driving demand for entirely new skillsets,” Ms Lilly said. 

“This is occurring in a short amount of time, and we need to be able to focus on this at a company level and to also create some policy work. 

“There is a wide spectrum of digital maturity, and companies need to think about where they are in terms of that journey in the context of a strategic plan. 

“It is not just about workers, it’s also about those who manage and lead.” 

David Chuter, CEO and Managing Director, Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC), said at one end of the spectrum, business and industry could “do nothing or just enough to keep up with others or stay compliant in this space”. 

“At the other end, you can create transformative business models that can drive exponential growth,” he said. 

“We are starting to see many examples of companies that have embraced digital to create new opportunities.  

“This is very much about each business answering the ‘why?’ and knowing what digitalisation can unlock in terms of the value they can capture: cost savings, productivity, risk mitigation and employee retention.” 

Digital transformation is not about the technology itself; it’s about what you do with it, Mr Chuter added.  

“It’s about the human story around that technology, which comes back to a change-management journey of educating people and investing in leadership capabilities to drive the vision of where a company needs to go — to set the pathway and educate and make people aware of the opportunities.” 

Lauren Ryder, CEO, Leading Edge Global, agrees.  

“Even though we call it digital transformation, the actual technology skills never seem to be an issue,” she said. 

“Most people know how to use software or can be retrained. That’s not where the challenge lies.” 

The three main challenges with digital transformation, from a skills and workforce perspective, include: 

Leadership skills  

“Leaders need to be taken on the journey to understand what the change is before they can support their people,” Ms Ryder said. 

“Leaders need to be coached on this process. Leader-led change is the most effective way to roll out transformation.” 

Core (soft) skills 

“When we go through change, the challenges within an organisation start to bubble up,” Ms Ryder said.  

“Upskilling is often required in areas such as communication, resilience, stakeholder management and negotiation.”  

Reliance on data 

“When we talk about digital transformation, we suddenly get all this incredible data that can be used for the organisaton. But what do we do it? How do we read it and analyse it? Teaching those analytical skills is important within the organisation.” 

It is vital that businesses invest in all three areas, Ms Ryder said. 

“Digital transformation is fundamentally changing the way an organisation works and we need to support people all the way through. Mentorships and coaching programs can help bring up some of those skills in a less formal environment.” 

Alex Lynch, Manager, Public Policy & Government Relations, Google, said digital inclusion is a huge issue globally. 

“If you don’t get it right, you miss out on the skills of a proportion of the population and their experiences which can be critical to delivering the next generation of technology,” he said. 

“It’s important for us from a business perspective to get that right.” 

Dan Fitzsimmons, Managing Director, Chinook Coffee Roasting Systems & The Coffee Roaster, shared the technology journey of his coffee roasting business. 

“Digital transformation has liberated us in terms of allowing us to embrace more people in a critical part of our business with very little training,” he said. 

“We’ve been on a digital transformation for quite a while, and it’s been productive and advantageous.” 

Mr Chuter said every business needed to consider where digital skills — and the necessary training and education — sat on their priority list.  

“When we think of other current challenges like the pandemic, inflation, supply issues, shortages and energy, l like to focus on the opportunity perspective of digital transformation,” he said. 

“With any change that comes, what are the opportunities it presents?  

“Also think of value-creation: new business models, processes, designs, services, markets, skills and opportunities to employ and grow.  

“This won’t be done by robots. It’s going to be done by people with appropriate education, training, skills and experience as well as leadership, ambition, appetite, willingness and backing. That’s going to require education and training skills at a leadership level, particularly for SMEs in Australia.” 

Digital skill shortages 

Google’s Mr Lynch said the digital skills shortage is “heading into a crunch”. 

It’s not enough to open up immigration for skilled migrants because every country is going through the same challenge in competing for people,” Mr Lynch said. 

“Nor is it enough to simply look at the VET (Vocational Education and Training) sector because the way we roll out certification and training across people’s lives is going to be dramatically transformed.  

“There needs to be a transformation that enables people in the workforce to acquire new skills. This requires close collaboration between industry and the education sector. 

“We, as industry, need to find a way to recognise the skills that are being gained through these courses, to certify them, so people see the benefit of taking these skilling courses.  

“People can’t simply take four years out of the workforce to retrain for a different career. The way we deliver training and the way we certify people’s skills is going to have to become more flexible and remote — something that people can engage in when they have family, work and community commitments.” 

Mr Chuter said that while digital transformation was a shared responsibility, business had to take the lead.  

“It’s got to be led by businesses because they have the problems that need to be solved in the real world and the ability to apply those skills,” he added. 

IMCRC research across more than 750 manufacturers in Australia show two thirds of management teams are aware of digitalisation and Industry 4.0, but less than a quarter of these businesses are discussing this in regular planning sessions and meetings. 

“The challenge is that we still don’t have enough companies that are innovation active,” Mr Chuter said. 

The question for leaders 

“The key question is for business leaders: ‘What can you afford to do and more importantly, what can you afford not to do?’” Mr Chuter said. 

“Where do you need to be on this journey and by when? Because it is a journey – there is no end destination with digital transformation.” 


Click on the link for the Ai Group CET’s report Skilling Australia to lock in our digital future: A plan to ensure Australia has the skills and capabilities to embrace digital transformation. 

Don't miss the Ai Group CET’s next webinar, Will Australia have the workforce for a clean economy?, on Thursday, August 18, 11am-noon AEST. 

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Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.