Article: Become tech savvy, but keep the ‘humanness’: PwC's Hsern-Wei Ling

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Become tech savvy, but keep the ‘humanness’: PwC's Hsern-Wei Ling

Hsern-Wei Ling, Head of Learning & Development at PwC shares his views on capabilities that businesses need to consider when preparing for tomorrow’s work, workers and workplaces, so they will be ready to take on the disruptive challenges ahead.
Become tech savvy, but keep the ‘humanness’: PwC's Hsern-Wei Ling

Ling Hsern Wei is the Head of Learning and Development at PwC Malaysia and Vietnam. 

He is responsible for driving "Future Skills" (an upskilling initiative) in PwC, covering both digital skills and essential skills. He believes that learning and development is most effective when it moves beyond the classroom and most transformative when it is designed into the work environment, activities and relationships. 

Hsern Wei was selected as one of the "30 under 30" learning leaders at Elliott Masie's Learning 2011, a Programme aimed at developing and spotlighting the next generation of learning leadership. He has an MSc in organizational and occupational psychology and before PwC spent his working career in consulting and leadership development in London. 

Here are excerpts of the interview with Hsern-Wei.

What kind of impact will the fourth industrial revolution have on the workforce and the skilling scenario?

Here are a few statements to ponder upon:

1. I think technology will continue to innovate at a rapid pace

2. I am struggling to keep up with technology

3. I have a personal strategy to meet this challenge

I often ask these three questions at various speaking engagements and often most people would agree with the first two questions and struggle with the last one. I think on a human level, that is the biggest challenge we face with the fourth Industrial revolution and technology being the most radical driver of change. A lot of organizations are spending big amounts of money on new technology and implementing new systems but not enough are spending on upskilling their people to use these technologies and these include nurturing the ‘human skills’ needed to succeed in the future. 

There are other trends that will impact the workforce, for example: the lines between our work and personal lives are shifting, diversity and demands for equality are also reshaping the workplace. With advancements in nutrition and healthcare we are also living longer, which means we will be asked to master more and different skills over time as the nature of work changes. And social and environmental pressures are creating demands for more flexible working conditions, as is the gig economy. 

Not having a strategy to meet all these changes can be a source of anxiety and insecurity for many people in organizations. In PwC’s Workforce of the Future Survey 2017, we identified the most important organizational capabilities that businesses need to consider when preparing for tomorrow’s work, workers and workplaces, so they will be ready to take on the disruptive challenges ahead.

A lot of organizations are spending big amounts of money on new technology and implementing new systems but not enough are spending on upskilling their people to use these technologies and these include nurturing the ‘human skills’ needed to succeed in the future

The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re-skilling and upskilling. So, how can organizations upskill their workforce at this scale and make them future-ready?

The way I like to articulate the need for re-skilling is by using the medical concept of ‘half-life’. If you take a Panadol, the half-life of the drug in your body is about 90 minutes, which means half of it, the Panadol has left your system and is now no longer effective. Skills used to have a half-life of 20-30 years but now is at about five years and for technology skills, it is two years. Now this might frighten some people but I think it is a great opportunity for people to reinvent themselves ever so often. The truth is, the days of taking a three-year degree and getting by for the next 30 years is long gone.

The good news is that 74% of employees say they are ready to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable in the future (PwC Workforce of the Future Survey, 2017) and they say that they would happily spend two days per month on training to upgrade their skills, if offered by their employer (PwC TechAtWork Survey, 2018).

There are five broad areas organizations will need to have in place in upskilling their workforce,

1. Assess the organization environment and identify skills gaps and mismatches

2. Build a future proof strategic plan and focus on gaps that deliver the most impact to business value

3. Lay the cultural foundation for learning and relearning

4. Develop and implement upskilling

5. Evaluate return on investment on upskilling programs

Start by looking at your current upskilling efforts and identify which of the five areas above need further attention.

What is the most critical thing that the L&D function needs to do to enable organizations to reinvent for tomorrow? What's new in learning and why should businesses embrace them?

L&D professionals will know that development impact is created most in the course of our daily work, and yet many times the solutions we provide only take into account the classroom (whether physical or virtual). We need to rethink traditional teaching methods and content creation. At PwC, our focus is around “growth anytime, anywhere”. This means that L&D no longer only focuses on the classroom, but wherever our people learn every day. For example, last year, we piloted “growth teaming” – rather than people taking time out to come to the classroom, we train facilitators who go out to teams. We facilitate a process where team members identify development areas and how these can be developed in the course of their current project. We’ve received great feedback from this, as the learning is in the moment and contextualized to their project work.

Another shift is in L&D’s role as a content curator. Technology has enabled world-class content at our fingertips, however the trade-off is an abundance of information that many people simply get lost in. We created a tool called Vantage, which is similar to Spotify for learning: It gives access to content, with the ability to create and share playlists, as well as allow offline learning. Using a combination of technology, curation and data, we are able to better target learning interventions to the individual at their point of need.

The skills we are looking to build in our teams now include things like design thinking, behavioral economics, UI/UX and neuroscience. In the ‘attention economy’, where attention is scarce, the role that L&D plays in terms of design is even more critical. 

The CEO of one of the largest L&D providers in the US says, "The biggest mistake I see that keeps an organization's learning and development efforts from reaching their full potential is a lack of planning and commitment from the C-suite." What's your take on this?

In our recent PwC CEO Survey 2019, a lack of key skills is keeping 79% of CEOs awake at night – it is one of their top three worries and 46% of CEOs say their first priority is re-skilling workers they currently have. 

What we are seeing is that the C-suite knows something needs to be done, the challenge is perhaps the upskilling challenge of today goes beyond a simple classroom solution and requires a holistic approach. It is more important than ever that cross functional units come together to deliver on upskilling. In our own efforts, it’s been critical to align across our business priorities, digital strategy, IT functions and HR functions.

As organizations build a better workforce strategy for the future, they will need to rebalance their workforce composition, convert traditional jobs into more flexible roles, and appropriately price the tasks that people perform. Organizations must chart a path to a working environment that not only upskills workers for technological change but provides a sense of purpose and a great people experience (PwC Workforce of the Future Study 2017).

The days of taking a three-year degree and getting by for the next 30 years is long gone. It is a great opportunity for people to reinvent themselves ever so often

What is your advice for CHROs and people managers who face challenges to skill and re-skill their employees including cost and other bottlenecks?

PwC’s Workforce of the Future 2017 study provides CHROs and people managers a good starting point. Organizations can't protect jobs that are made redundant by technology - but they do have a responsibility to their people to prepare them for the future. Organizations have a critical role to play in building a narrative that helps workers understand the future. Unease about the future will impact employee motivation, well-being and sense of self; affecting people's productivity today. 

Organizations need to:

• Build a clear narrative about the future of work

• Share your strategic direction if you want to take your workers with you

• Be clear about how you will support workers with re-skilling or redeployment

• Be transparent about the commercial pressures you face as you support your workers

Topics: #ExpertViews, Learning & Development

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