The digital age is upon us and how! The Internet has brought about a massive shift in how business is done worldwide, while technological advancements like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and automation are gaining a strong foothold in our personal as well as work lives. The emergence of today’s digital economy has completely transformed industries. As a result, it has become increasingly imperative for organizations and employees alike to turn to Learning & Development (L&D) to address the challenge of skilling for the digital age.
According to Gartner’s 2018 Shifting Skills Survey, 70% of the 7000 employees surveyed to self-assess their proficiency in digital skills stated they lack the expertise in the skills required to perform in their present jobs, while 80% lack both, skills needed for present roles as well as future work. Furthermore, a survey conducted by Cognizant and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reported that 94% respondents stated a moderate to severe digital skills gap that is obstructing their organization’s push to go digital. According to a report by NASSCOM, nearly 40% of India’s estimated four million working professionals will be in need of re-skilling over the coming years to be adept with the rapid pace of technological advancements like automation and analytics.
The report Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All states as many as 1.4 million US jobs are expected to be disrupted largely by technology by 2026, of which 57% jobs belong to women. This also calls for major interventions to maintain a sense of diversity. Although, it’s not all doom and gloom, as the report also suggests that with sufficient reskilling of the workforce, 95% of the ‘instantly at-risk’ employees would find high paying jobs in the future.
What this means for organizations?
In light of such disruptions, it is becoming increasingly imperative for enterprises to tackle the global challenge of achieving sustainable synergy between automation and human capital. However, a more urgent need for organizations is whether to seek out employees skilled in applying the emerging technologies or upskill the existing talent pool. Both are correct answers. Organizations looking to successfully achieve business growth and sustainability will need to employ a primarily nuanced approach towards managing and retaining their talent pool.
Reworking the Revolution: Are you ready to compete as intelligent technology meets human ingenuity to create the future workforce? report suggests that almost 73% of Senior Executives (CXOs) from the communications industry expect automation of processes in the coming years, with the majority (63%) of them expecting technology to create more jobs than eliminated. Yet, such optimism could be short-lived, with employees and leaders alike agreeing that reskilling is a critical issue hampering technology adoption. Only 6% of CXOs, today, expect to invest more in reskilling programs, while 47% employees state lack of time for learning throughout a workday as a key obstacle for learning new skills.
This challenge needs to be urgently addressed by organizations by prioritizing Learning & Development initiatives ahead of focusing on redefining roles and redesigning jobs for the imminent future. According to Sevasti Wong, the talent and organization consulting practice lead in Accenture’s Communications, Media & Technology operating group, “There are a number of ‘no regret’ moves that CSPs are taking to move beyond efficiency, gaining the speed and broader organizational agility that are now strategic imperatives. There’s a huge opportunity to leverage AI and advanced analytics to drive new growth, but they will need to master what we call applied intelligence – the rapid implementation of intelligent technologies and humans working together in new ways. That’s why it’s critical for business leaders to align their workforces to new business models and invest in innovative reskilling programs to help their people create new value.”
However, Wong believes, “While the majority of CSPs are investing in intelligent technologies, only about one in six are planning to significantly increase spending on training programs to build new skills. This indicates that they’re missing a huge opportunity to equip their people with the capabilities they need to work with intelligent machines and drive competitive growth."
Echoing Wong’s thoughts, Klaus Schwab- Founder & Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum says, “The only limiting factor on a world of opportunities for people is the willingness of leaders to make investments in re-skilling that will bridge workers onto new jobs. This report shows that this investment has very high returns for businesses as well as economies – and ensures that workers find a purpose in their lives.”
Role of L&D in skilling the workforce for the digital age
Sifting through the hiring trends of leading organizations will reveal they are largely dominated by the need for candidates with ‘in-demand skills’ or those who are adept in advanced digital technologies. This shows a clear preference for locating skilled talent outside the organization rather than prioritizing the development of existing workforce. This neglectful attitude towards the contributions of the existing employees shows a complete disregard for their potential to learn and develop. This, precisely, calls for L&D intervention and shifting the focus back towards identifying existing potential to be skilled appropriately to take on future roles in the evolving workplace, thus bridging the skills gaps.
So, then, how do you reskill and upskill your workforce?
Organizations can take the first step of giving the power back to L&D to initiate employee upskilling simply by identifying the key in-demand skills that organizations needs urgently (and will need soon) to compete at the highest level and on par with emerging industry trends. Upskilling the existing workforce is more time- and cost-effective than finding new talent. Agility in L&D is key when it comes to facilitating a proactive workforce, one that is aligned with business objectives and growth.
Here are a few steps L&D professionals can employ in order to reskill and upskill the existing workforce-
- Employee enablement initiatives will go a long way in encouraging and motivating the workforce to create their own career paths by handing them the responsibility of their professional development, thus highlighting the need for them to be decisive about their own growth prospects. With more freedom, employees have the opportunity to take ownership of their careers and not depend on their managers and supervisors.
- Provide training & development opportunities, while making them easily accessible (through LMSes). Although training opportunities must be provided equally to the entire workforce, special attention towards previously proven, highly productive and motivated employees can yield greater results in the short term.
- Learning technology is key to the success of any organization’s L&D initiatives. Learning Management Systems (LMSes) and ELearning programs must be aligned to the specific learning needs of the workforce. Most LMSes today come with advanced features that offer a blend of learning delivery options, including video-based learning, mobile learning, instructor-led training, microlearning, etc.
- Reward-based learning programs are great motivators for employees. Upskilling programs that are incentivized see more course completion rates. This will help L&D professionals drive home the importance of skilling in the employees’ minds and help establish a learning culture across the organization.
So, in the words of Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender & Work System Initiative, and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum- “Work provides people with meaning, identity and opportunity. We need to break out of the current paralysis and recognize that skills are the ‘great redistributors’. Equipping people with the skills they need to make job transitions is the fuel needed for growth – and to secure stable livelihoods for people in the midst of technological change.”
What steps are you taking to future-proof your workforce?