COVID-19 forced organizations to find new ways to sustain and grow. The effort was almost overnight and perhaps a tall order for many. However, despite initial hiccups, many leaders acknowledge that this new modus operandi gave them a view into the evolution of future workplaces.
Technology changes the job markets by bringing in powerful opportunities. These opportunities create skill gaps and thus encourage people to learn new skills. Demand for technical skills like Python coding and Big Data is bound to rise till 2025, according to The Future of Jobs Report 2020 by the World Economic Forum. Besides these skills, Machine learning, data analysis and cloud computing will also witness a surge for the next few years. About 40% of employees’ core skills are projected to change in the next five years and 94% of the business leaders expect employees to learn new skills on the job, a major upshift in the last 3 years.
Organizations have been conducting training & upskilling programs for their employees to fight the skill gap. Their ability to upskill or train their employees would create a more cross-trained workforce and enhance the team's productivity and morale by many folds.
A continuous self-improving environment ensures that the employees are happy in their everyday tasks and helps them see and build their career paths. Such training and development investments show that organizations care for their employees' future and magnify the feeling of dedication, increasing their loyalty and retention rate. This will further save the time and money that organizations squander on replacing an employee. Upskilling is easily a smaller investment than the expensive process of hiring and training a new worker. Further, the upskilled employees may advocate and recommend their organizations that would help attract more talent.
Companies also need a new-age learning and development strategy to address the skill gap that nurtures critical digital and cognitive capabilities, social and emotional skills, adaptability, and resilience. Below are the four strategic steps business leaders can consider to build a future-ready workforce.
Identify relevant future skills
While charting out recovery and growth strategies for their firms, business leaders should also identify skill sets that offer maximum value creation for their business. These skill sets can then be aligned with the existing workforce to identify the shortfall in demand and supply of skilled resources and the number of people required under each functional area and skill.
An example of upskilling is a software developer learning to be a data scientist. A software developer codes and builds an enterprise software program using their technical knowledge of developer tools, cloud, and programming languages. On the other hand, a data scientist analyzes and interprets large datasets utilizing their analytical, statistical, and programming skills. A developer can bridge the information gap by upskilling themselves - learn to program in R or Python and educate themselves on the concepts of big data, data visualization and management, statistical analysis, etc. This new knowledge can impel software developers to transition into a data analyst role.
Start quickly, test rapidly, and change optimally
An essential step on the reskilling journey is to quickly get into execution mode, even if at a small scale. Instead of a sporadic and need-based approach, reskilling and upskilling should be seen strategically. Reskilling will save the cost of hiring and retaining employees who are efficient and loyal to the company by giving them new roles which will break the monotony for the employee. With upskilling as an approach, the organization can enable the employees to add value and enhance the existing skill set. Hence, organizations should develop continuous learning frameworks to evaluate things that work (or do not) for them. Based on these learnings, the learning framework must evolve continuously. The firm will be able to keep up with the competition if it continues to evolve. Employee evaluations conducted regularly will act as a crucial approach for identifying employees' weak areas, to enhance and work more effectively.
Think like a startup to make a big difference
One thing to learn from a startup is to build generalists. In a startup, the employees wear multiple hats and are closely related to various aspects of the business. This is possible by deliberating continuous learning at work. Startups do not hesitate to adopt new technologies in their organization, coming from a mindset of constantly pushing the limits, being willing to take risks, and trying something new. They offer a collaborative environment and emphasize upskilling. On the other hand, the more prominent companies offer what is needed to grow initially without incorporating any continuous learning. Large companies should embrace their teams' knowledge gaps and expand the possibilities by extending dynamic learning experiences and utilizing this broad knowledge approach.
It is not an expense, but an investment
Given the current economic environment, organizations are under pressure to reduce costs. However, cutting down the learning and development budgets under this pressure could be fatal. Instead, leaders should lead their organizations with the conviction that skill-building is a critical lever to survive and thrive in the new normal.
Leaders should see the ongoing wave of digital transformation as an opportunity to strengthen the learning ecosystem. They do not need to start from scratch and can do so by leveraging existing learning solutions offered by 3rd party technology providers.
History tells us that businesses that envision the future before others and respond quickly to external changes have a competitive advantage. The ongoing pandemic has been a litmus test of agility, creativity, and an innovative streak for businesses. It has accelerated the workplace evolution and opened the door for tech interventions such as automation, AI, machine learning, and big data. However, the impact of these technologies will not be the same upon every business. Therefore, business leaders must pursue a broad reskilling agenda that nurtures the future-ready workforce to take advantage of these changes.