In a world of increasing automation, machine learning, virtual reality and big data, it is impossible to predict the skills and capabilities required of the future workforce. It is safe to say, however, that there will always be work, and new technologies are less likely to lead to the end of work than they are to the beginning of different kinds of work.

These changes are already happening, and they usually come under the guise of “retraining.” From AT&T to McDonald’s to GE, there is no industry or company that is immune to the forces of change. This brings many managers to appropriately ask the question: “Now what?”

Workforce development is not only a major concern for training industry professionals, learning and development officers of large corporations, and even politicians. It also is the obsession of a cottage industry of upstart companies looking to solve the question of how to keep the workforce relevant in a seemingly untethered set of transformations. Most answers follow the money and deduce that the rise in technology means there will be a rise in the demand for technology skills – coders in particular. This is true, but it is incomplete.

Using Today’s Technology to Develop Tomorrow’s Skills

The future requires companies to turn technology around and leverage the mobile, social, gamified world we live in to prepare the workers of the future.

Recently, McKinsey conducted a comprehensive analysis of more than 2,000 different work activities across 800 occupations to determine the jobs most susceptible to automation (i.e., being replaced by robots) and those that were not. The findings are as alarming as they are obvious: The least susceptible jobs to automation involved managing others. Fewer than 9 percent of these roles can be automated, and the numbers were as low as 5 percent of construction management roles and 3 percent of retail management roles. Conversely, a whopping 22 percent of education services management roles can be automated. The world is shifting quickly, and we need to take note.

The answer lies in leveraging technology to upskill workers today for the roles they will need to fill tomorrow. This is particularly important in an economy such as the United States, with nearly full employment (below 5 percent unemployment as of March 2017), where quality, skilled workers are in high demand.

The U.S. skills gap leaves 600,000 skilled jobs unfilled in a time when people who are low-skilled are unemployed or underemployed. That is a problem corporations will need to solve immediately and internally if they want to see profits rise. People are an organization’s most powerful asset, and with the rise of automation, managers with the necessary skills to be successful will be more important than ever.

This means we must focus on training low-skilled workers on functions they will need in five and 10 years to ensure our companies don’t fall into a skills gap trap: low-skilled workers, high levels of automation and nobody minding the shop.

Meet Workers Where They Spend Their Time: On Their Mobile Phones

One solution is readily available: leveraging mobile technology in workforce training. Mobile phone access and use continue to rise globally, and workers of all skills and backgrounds check their phone anywhere from five to 10 times per hour. They do this to keep up with their social life, obsess over email and engage with content. That content can be your company’s training content.

With mobile technology, companies can transform their stodgy binders full of “best practices” and know-how into interactive, useful learning materials that prepare the workforce of the future.

This is a future worth leaning in to, and here’s why: Classroom training, large corporate meetings and webinars with rigid schedules are already suffering from insufficient long-term results. (Some of the data here is damning.) The need for synchronous, continuous learning is essential. Mobile provides the perfect platform for this type of engagement.

Effective delivery of mobile learning can:

  • Improve vocational skills and skills in judgement, problem-solving, interpersonal relations, and critical thinking
  • Deliver training continuously, when it’s convenient for the worker, instead of in scheduled programs
  • Replace physical training centers and programs and reach employees in any location, reducing costs
  • Transfer and sustain institutional knowledge by breaking down training content into bite-sized information workers can digest on the go
  • Deepen learning by going beyond one-way learning (videos that talk at employees) to engage employees through collaboration and social media connection
  • Repurpose skill sets for new roles in the workplace to address the impact of automation
  • Provide important data collection for employers to learn what’s working and what’s not in their training

The path forward is clear: Organizations that adopt methods of lifelong learning and training for their employees will beat the competition and successfully solve the skills gap in the process.

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