Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.

For business leaders, 2020 might have seemed like the year of scrambling around, pivoting and reacting, and trying to keep the lights on. But it wasn’t all chaos. With regard to skills and learning, 2020 was the year that we finally built business capabilities to achieve what we had been talking about for years.

Here’s what I mean:

Remote Work

The technology is now here to conduct all talent management and learning activities based on the skills of each individual, not geography. In 2021, let’s commit to ensuring that no employee is at a disadvantage because he or she works remotely. Every employee should be on equal footing when it comes to learning opportunities, internal mobility, promotion opportunities and the ability to find a mentor.

Busting Silos

For years, there has been talk about breaking down silos in talent departments. Now, it can be a reality. Finally, learning systems, human resources (HR) systems and applicant tracking systems can feed into sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) systems to see each employee’s potential and identify which jobs they could take internally to use that potential.

Artificial intelligence is now here for employees to see what they need to learn to get the internal jobs they want. With a click of a button, people can finally explore their capabilities, identify gaps and see which skills they need to learn to move up in an organization. Learning can now be a seamless part of career growth.

Self-service

This phrase is well worn, but it has mainly been confined to automating tasks and handing those tasks to employees, not putting them in the driver’s seat of their career. Now, however, employees at some companies have “career hubs” or portals, where they can find mentors, coursework, new jobs and contingent work, all based on their interests.

These employees are not just “doing self-service” from a technology standpoint. They are taking charge of their careers — something we have said for years they should do but for which we never delivered to them all the right tools. Previously, companies relied on employees to continually fill in their skills. Now, profiles of employees can now “self-update,” using AI to automatically enrich their profiles based on internal and public data.

Learning Through Projects

It is an oddity of the business world that companies spend millions of dollars in temporary, contract, gig, interim and similar jobs … even if they have the capabilities in house to do the work. Now, however, “project marketplaces” are enabling employees to identify in-house projects they can take on, as AI shows them how their capabilities match what their employer needs. Project marketplaces are one of the hottest trends in talent management, and it’s easy to see why: Companies save money otherwise spent on contingent work, while employees build skills in house rather than jumping ship for new challenges.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Last year’s technology developments will be this year’s diversity gains. Tata Communications, part of the $100-billion Tata Group, is a global telecommunications company with more than 8,000 employees. The company sought to prevent gender bias in hiring and to recruit more individuals from all underrepresented groups. It started using technology to locate a greater number of diverse candidates than ever before, at the same time giving hiring managers an anonymized profile of each candidate to prevent unconscious bias. The company reports that because of these new tools, hiring of female candidates is up 19%.

Just as important as diversity is inclusion — which, in short, exists when employees feel like they belong and are judged based on potential and capabilities rather than informal networking and “who knows whom.” The newest technology gives managers and executives the ability to see, across their entire workforce, the potential of each individual, and to conduct promotions and succession planning accordingly.

Redeployment

For years, we have seen companies eliminate employees by the hundreds and even thousands, even if some of those employees would have fit well into jobs that were open at the same company. Now, things are changing. One major insurance company, for example, used AI to break down the skills of people at risk of layoffs and redeployed more than 50% of them.

This kind of redeployment is much easier with AI that can crunch so much data (in some cases, more than 1 billion people’s careers and more than 1 million skills) analyzed that it knows, based on someone’s brief job history, what he or she has done and can do. This AI can change managers’ mindset from “there’s nothing open for this employee” to “I can see a lot of roles where this employee could fit.”

Reskilling and Upskilling

Everyone’s business is changing and will continue to transform after the pandemic. The energy industry is shifting to more renewables. Food preferences are changing to more plant-based products. Fitness is going higher-tech. Health care delivery is expanding online. And so on.

These changes mean that companies need to have a solid view of who is capable of what, across their entire workforce (perhaps including contingent workers). The technology is now available to help them do so. Talent leaders and business leaders now have technology that combs through public data and gives them a view of everyone’s capabilities in hot or emerging areas and compare their gap with their competitors’. These dashboards give enterprises a much better sense of where they should invest in upskilling and reskilling.

2020 was a year of rapid change. It may have felt chaotic, but it laid the foundation for a 2021 — where years of promises will become reality.

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