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Thriving in the digital economy is becoming a race for skills – and keeping them up to date.

It is a pivotal issue for everyone on both a personal and professional level, according to Ovum research, and one that's becoming a powerful competitive differentiator for vendors like Cisco.

In conversation with Ovum at its annual customer event Cisco Live in San Diego, CEO Chuck Robbins said that he is in a serious war for talent, and retention of that talent. Providing ongoing enrichment opportunities is a draw for potential employees, but so is the vendor's commitment to educating wider society.

Skills education is viewed as an important feature of the wider Cisco customer experience – and is an area that Robbins is revamping. 

Enterprise angst is growing

At a grassroots level, digital service providers should take heed of Cisco's activities as they formulate their value propositions. Running a digital business is increasingly complex for enterprises large and small: providing guidance, support, and training are potent differentiators.

Addressing personal fears about job security in a world of automation and AI shouldn't be overlooked either, and Ovum's research with enterprise technology buyers and employees concurs. Even millennial-age employees are perturbed about keeping their digital skills up to date (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: Even millennials struggle with digital literacyEven millennials struggle with digital literacy

Source: Ovum


10 million people trained

For its part, Cisco's education numbers are impressive: in just over 20 years, Cisco's Networking Academy has trained about 10 million people in 180 countries. Now it is boosting its annual educational reach to more than 1 million people a year.

Of course, much activity has been to ensure skills among customers and partners to operate Cisco's own networking equipment. However, the scope and impact of its programs have evolved.

Delivered in classrooms and increasingly online in snackable formats, reach has expanded beyond corporate environments and schools to unconventional locales like prisons and orphanages where digital skills can make a big impact on getting into employment. New certifications in software development, IoT, and security also reflect the recognition of changing workplace needs.

While many digital service providers may support similar activities as a corporate social responsibility initiative, Cisco is doing something much smarter: it realizes that providing digital education is simply good business.

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