Chief executive officers and boards are fond of calling their people their “most important asset,” but do their actions genuinely match their words? They must — and sooner rather than later — because a quintet of high-magnitude issues faced by the entire workforce will only be solved when organizations focus on enriching the lives of their employees.
These five seismic forces facing organizations today include:
- The complexity of business and work.
- The pace of change.
- Unprecedented demographic shifts.
- The need to compete through productivity.
- Employees’ changing relationship to work.
There is a single solution to facing the challenges we all have ahead of us: reskilling. However, for this solution to work, reskilling needs to be deployed on a constant basis, transforming every organization into a learning organization. To see why, let’s explore each of these five seismic forces.
Seismic Force 1: The Complexity of Business and Work
The more individuals, governments, and organizations are connected, the more complex our systems. In DHL’s Global Connectedness Index we can see that, despite events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the global exchange of information has continued on a path of sharp growth for the last two decades.
The evidence is also there in our cars and homes, mobile phones, financial instruments, laws and regulations, and health care (see Figure 1).
Jobs across industries are demanding increasingly broader knowledge and more deeply specialized skills. We spend our work days keeping up with intricate regulatory requirements, globally distributed teams, new workplace policies and initiatives, and a non-stop flood of new technologies and systems. In this context, it seems entirely plausible that the average worker spends just 1% of their time devoted to formal or traditional learning.
Reskilling’s Role in Tackling Complexity
Reskilling mustn’t add to this complexity. It must be targeted, efficient, and easily integrated into the flow of work. It must also be:
- Skills (not job) based.
- Matched to relevant employees.
- Sustained by a flow of strong and avid learners hired into the business.
- Efficient, effective and experiential.
- Personalized through learner data.
- Tied into business impact data.
Seismic Force 2: The Pace of Change
While business leaders are rightly worried about the potential for market disruption by more nimble competitors or unpredictable shifts in customer needs or consumer demands, they should also consider the impact of change on their people.
At all levels of the organization, regardless of industry or career field, people are constantly contending with new technologies. For many workers, these new technologies are fragmented; there’s too much data to make sense of, and new digital distractions seem to be everywhere. In one PwC survey, only 53% of respondents felt that their company makes technology choices with their needs in mind. Corporate learning programs must bridge the gap.
Reskilling’s Role in Tackling Change
Rather than focusing solely on technical skills, there’s an accompanying and largely unrecognized demand for new kinds of soft skills that must be met by your reskilling program. This means:
- Communicating your organizational vision for navigating change.
- Adopting a more predictive approach to the skills learners will need in the future.
- Blending technical and soft skills.
- Using a mix of traditional “just-in-case, “flow-of-work” and “just-in-time” approaches.
- Encouraging user-generated content.
- Using immersive techniques.
- Communicating the reasoning behind new workplace technologies.
- Understanding the skills people managers are looking for in their employees, and making those same managers instrumental in offering guidance to learners.
Seismic Force 3: Unprecedented Demographic Shifts
In the next few years, the number of people reaching retirement age each day in the U.S. will increase from 10,000 to 12,000 a day and by 2030, the entire Baby Boomer generation will be 65 or older. Certainly, many experienced employees will remain in the workforce beyond that milestone — and organizations should find ways to encourage them to do so. But alongside falling birth rates in many industrialized countries, the fact remains that there is a shrinking pool of talent available for hire.
Reskilling’s Role in Facing Demographic Shifts
The enriching experience of learning is the perfect instrument to differentiate your organization in the minds of a shrinking talent pool.
Reskilling can help you:
- Retain the staff you have through career growth and development (this means joining your learning and talent departments and processes together).
- Identify and accelerate the leadership path of your most promising people.
- Improve leadership development.
- Capture and share tacit knowledge.
- Create programs and incentives for experienced employees to mentor early-career employees.
- Improve diversity outreach and recruiting.
- Manage contingent labor more effectively, and engage them in learning.
- Build a learning relationship with job seekers before they apply.
Seismic Force 4: The Need to Compete Through Productivity
Productivity in the U.S. and Europe peaked in the 1950’s and 60s but has been in decline ever since. While digital technologies have long promised to make organizations more productive, many countries have been slow to realize more than a fraction of their total digitization potential. Any recovery must contend with headwinds created by everything from trade wars, to demand from emerging economies, to tighter regulations, to climate change.
Productivity is a multi-faceted problem. The human factors include physical and mental well-being, physical aptitude, mental drive and enthusiasm, job satisfaction and, of course, the qualifications and know-how needed to carry out a task. Overlaid onto this are the system factors: the indoor environment, incentives, organizational structure and management, personal circumstances and the facilities available to the employee.
Reskilling’s Role in Boosting Productivity
By connecting performance management and other talent processes with learning, we can achieve several important things that drive productivity:
- Conveying to people the meaning and purpose of work.
- Creating a culture of curiosity that allows people to question methods and bring suggestions.
- Defining and enlisting people in performance objectives for themselves and their teams.
- Inspiring people to deploy greater discretionary effort by building a sense of connection with one another and with the organization.
- Driving the use of interactive communication tools such as the well-designed use of video conferencing and immersive virtual technologies.
- Using data to recommend relevant learning to employees so that it will translate to improved performance.
- Recognizing and rewarding individual and team accomplishments.
Seismic Force 5: Changing Relationship to Work
The generations in today’s workforce are all rethinking their relationship to their work and their employers. Older employees are delaying retirement and mid-career workers are looking for leadership opportunities as a result. Meanwhile, the career trajectories of millennials and Gen-Z have been interrupted by a global recession and a pandemic, respectively.
Employees still values compensation, rewards and job perks, but they also want meaningful work and autonomy. Furthermore, in a hybrid working environment, the lines between home and work are at risk of blurring. The onus is on the workplace to help people cope and thrive in this new world.
Reskilling’s Role in Dealing With Changing Relationships to Work
A human framework for reskilling meets employees ‘where they are’ in relation to work. It both enlists and empowers employees in service of organizational goals. Through reskilling, human resources (HR) and L&D can join forces to:
- Align teams and individuals on the company mission and goals.
- Understand what support workers need to perform at their best.
- Define the skills needed today and in the future.
- Identify and train the right people on the right skill sets.
Regardless of your industry, the need for reskilling is urgent. Reskilling is a uniquely powerful way to connect employees (and potential employees) to their organization, to their work, and to one another.