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To drive growth, businesses know they need to embrace digital transformation. One of the ways to make the leap is by training staff to use modern technology in order to boost efficiency and drive up production.

However, when PwC researched this area just before Covid hit, it found that although three in four (73%) UK workers were eager to learn new digital skills to better understand technology, only half of the workforce (49%) were being given the opportunity to develop those skills outside their normal role. Among the 11 countries surveyed, the UK stood out as the worst offender for employers not empowering staff to develop their digital potential.

The findings underline the importance of a business developing its people, and PwC stresses this should not only be applied to top and middle levels of seniority but also junior staff.

There are two reasons to ensure young people are brought on. First of all, it helps them to understand technology better and, second, it allows them to pass on their skills through reverse mentoring. The result is that younger generations of employees learn new skills, grow in confidence and develop leadership skills as they share their knowledge with others across the organisation.

That has certainly been the experience of Danielle Quinlan, a manager in PwC’s audit practice, who uses skills she learned on the business’s Digital Accelerator programme to guide and upskill colleagues. While this programme is not available to everyone in the firm, it does include people of all grades.

“It’s been amazing how, as part of the programme, we’ve been given a platform to drive change and innovation in the firm, regardless of grade and experience, which means passing on our knowledge and skills to those more senior as well as our peers,” she says.

“The programme starts with leadership training before expanding to cover new technologies. So we started out by learning new ways to approach problems and how to lead teams. I loved the way people from all different business areas were grouped together on the course. We’ve always recognised that diverse groups of people allow you to learn to think in new ways that you might not have done otherwise, and that really showed throughout the programme.”

Danielle Quinlan: ‘Diverse groups of people allow you to learn to think in new ways.’ Photograph: Bethany Lavin Photography

Quinlan joined the company on its Flying Start programme, which saw her combine a four-year accountancy degree at the University of Reading with regular work placements at PwC.

“The beauty of being on the Flying Start programme is that you have already had a term’s worth of work experience at PwC for every year of study, so I’d effectively worked for a year by the time I joined,” she explains.

“That meant I could join as a senior associate, rather than an associate, which has put me a year ahead of where I’d have been if I’d not been part of the programme.”

For Quinlan, the big surprise has been the level at which she has been trusted to work, both when on work placement as a student and then in her first couple of years as an employee.

Quinlan has senior members of staff she can look to for support, and she has a close working relationship with Matthew Hall, office senior partner at PwC’s Gatwick office, giving her input and passing on digital skills, for example. He believes that developing and then learning from younger employees, as he has from Quinlan, is an effective way to encourage diversity and ensure skills are shared between people of all ages and pay grades.

“We operate in a rapidly changing world where technology offers huge opportunities to change how we support our clients and work with each other. This requires us to adapt and change.

“As a firm we employ a large number of people with diverse skills and backgrounds, and through fostering a collaborative culture we create an environment where we get the benefit of everyone’s unique skills and experience. Empowering our more junior people to have an active role in how we adopt new technologies is a great way of using their skills, supporting their development and accelerating our own digital transformation,” says Hall.

He believes the Digital Accelerator programme, which equipped Quinlan with the skills she has passed on, is vital. It provides proof of the firm respecting the knowledge and capabilities of all its people, no matter their grade, and it recognises young members of the company as its future leaders, he says. The programme not only encourages the business to embrace change and new technologies, it plays a central role in equipping the organisation’s staff with the skills they will need to lead the organisation in the future.

Whether you’re just starting out or have a wealth of experience under your belt, find out more about career opportunities at PwC

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