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Upskilling delivers cultural change, say NFP leaders

September 26th, 2021

Leaders in the Australian Not-for-profit (NFP) sector recognize the value of upskilling their workforce to adapt to changing technology delivers a stronger organisational culture and greater staff engagement a new report reveals.

The annual PwC Not-for-profit CEO survey, released this week, reveals a picture of a sector embracing staff training to help adjustments to new technology, while the sector explores new ways to forge a sustainable future under the pressures of resource constraints, skills shortages, and the urgent need to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

The survey, now in its second year, found that 85 percent of NFP CEOs described the biggest benefit of the upskilling program was a stronger organisational culture and employee engagement.

Jane Edwards, Director, Social Impact, at PwC, said: “I think COVID-19 has shone a light on the gap around digital that exists, and I think that we know from the outcomes or the benefits that the NFP CEOs identified, that stronger organisational culture and employee engagement is the top benefit they derive from upskilling programs. There’s absolutely a connection,’’ Jane said. “It’s hard to imagine how it couldn’t be given how much of how we work is absolutely integrated with digital.’’

One of the survey’s key findings is top skills employees need to help drive a future growth strategy are headed by data analytics/analysis (50 percent, up from 17 percent in last year’s survey).

Jane explained that the increase in appreciating the role of data, ranging from data wrangling to data visualization, was perhaps not surprising. “The importance of data to inform decision making and to demonstrate impact for funders is fundamental to most, if not all, organisations,’’ she said. “That [category] was the biggest mover in the survey. It’s evidence that the sector recognizes the importance of data and that they need to get their people upskilled.’’

The survey found that 79 percent of respondents said that the need for digital upskilling of staff had become a higher priority in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. And a further 82 percent of organisations had supplied staff with training in the past 12 months to help them deal with the impact of new technology. This high level of staff support for technology training did, however, drop to 50 percent in smaller organisations.

“What we are seeing is that the NFPs that are considered large by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) standards, 93 percent of their employees have received skills and training in the past 12 months to help them adjust to the impact of technology on their role,’’ Jane said.
However, the smaller organisations – those with annual revenue of less than $250,000 – often do not have the financial resources, staff numbers and the time to commit to upskilling.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of appetite or interest or understanding about how that [upskilling] would benefit them but it’s a tough proposition if you can’t fund it or you don’t have the people to do the work,’’ Jane said.

“We know the sector is really grappling with that future focus and looking at things like upskilling versus just dealing with the day-to-day disruption that COVID-19 has brought, so for many it’s keeping things pretty basic and ‘what do I need to do to just keep surviving?’,’’ Jane said. “For others, they’ve been able to make that transition more quickly and easily, and their focus on digital upskilling has probably been a bit more long-term in its focus and a little more about higher value. But I think that’s playing out differently for different organisations.’’  

Three quarters of survey respondents identified the greatest challenge facing organisations that were trying to upskill was a lack of resources, and that ranged from budget, people, time, and knowledge. A similar percentage acknowledged their organisations had started to make progress with improving staff and leaders’ knowledge of technology and its potential implications. A further 66 percent of NFS are working on establishing an upskilling program that develops a mix of soft, technical, and digital skills.

This year’s survey included a lens on the future of work, which will potentially help develop some discussions around the issue for the sector, which with 1.3 million workers is the second-largest workforce in the nation. “I’m at a loss to know why there isn’t a firm narrative or a clear voice around the future of work for the Not-for-profit sector,’’ Jane said. “For many corporate sectors, it’s probably connected to the opportunity and the resources those organisations have to examine that and to create a voice around it and I think that’s potentially missing around the NFP sector.’’

PwC Australia’s Future of Work Lead Partner Lawrence Goldstone said: “The degree to which NFPs can benefit from technological change will depend on the skills of their workforce and the ability to adapt to the digital world. NFPs need a clear vision of where they’re heading and the specific skills required to take them there, as well as the willingness to adopt new ways of working. The rapid roll-out of digital upskilling for NFP employees over the past 12 months shows many have the will and are charting the way for their organisations.’’

A third of NFPs are also starting to make progress around developing an employee value proposition that focusses on attraction, engagement, and retention of employees.

“Employee value propositions across all industry segments are being refreshed in a tight labour market,’’ Mr Goldstone said.

“While retention may not be an issue for NFPs now, staff contemplating their next career move will have more choice, both within the sector and outside it.’’

As part of that employee focus, 57 percent of NFPs are making some progress toward implementing a strategy or plan to support the mental health and well-being of their staff.

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