Artificial intelligence (AI), automation and international competition are changing the ways companies operate, directly impacting how they engage their employees for long-term retention and productivity. These changes offer a tremendous opportunity for human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) leaders to ensure that employees remain relevant to the organization and its business goals.

A recent survey, “U.S. Trends and Applications in Employee Onboarding,” paints a picture of a corporate environment that understands the changes coming in the next decade but faces significant challenges in adapting onboarding and development programs to these pending disruptions. Organizations and individuals alike will need to embrace the future of work by adapting to change through onboarding, new skills training, and a culture that supports growth and development.

As a result, L&D and HR should focus on the readiness of the workforce, identifying the skills employees need for success in the coming decade and beyond. They can do so using many of the processes and systems they already have in place, such as onboarding. In the onboarding survey, 91% of HR decision-makers agreed that onboarding plays an essential role in creating a culture of change and innovation. Given the growing role of AI and automation in the workplace, 81% also agreed it is important to upskill or reskill existing employees using onboarding mechanisms.

There are a few steps L&D and HR leaders can take to ensure that their organization and its people are on the right track in preparing for the future of work:

Ensure Effective Onboarding for Employees at All Stages

In order to remain competitive, companies should approach onboarding as an opportunity to focus on the employee’s role — including reskilling and upskilling as necessary — while integrating the company culture and mission. This process is intentional, employee-centric and designed with long-term objectives in mind. However, in the onboarding survey, more than half of HR decision-makers said that onboarding is treated as a static event in their company, not a continuous process.

As AI and automation enter the workplace, it’s important to guide employees as they take on new roles within the organization instead of focusing only on new hires. Analytical and problem-solving skills, agility, and adaptability are the skills that will keep them relevant to the business if AI replaces or changes their jobs. Organizations can cultivate these soft skills by adapting their existing onboarding processes, and doing so is key to helping employees feel confident and ready to take on change.

While learning new skills is important, individuals can also benefit from networking, being informed about their organization’s strategy, and having a clear understanding of the company’s culture and career support. For example, teaching employees to network can help them seek out the people in the business who can help them grow more successfully. Each employee requires individual attention, and it can be difficult for L&D and HR to support the needs of everyone. By helping employees network within the organization, they can empower employees to manage growth and change in a positive way.

Embrace and Communicate Change Early

Artificial intelligence will change our world, both inside and outside the workplace. Instead of focusing on the fear surrounding automation, organizations should to embrace this change early on to ensure they implement AI in a way that enhances and complements the capabilities already within the workforce.

As AI and automation are introduced into the workplace, employees may wonder how they will affect their role, how they will benefit them personally and what their day-to-day job will look in the future. Addressing changes early will help educate workers and minimize their fear.

For example, demonstrating how employees could replace a tedious spreadsheet task with more interesting, strategic work helps them understand how they can have a greater impact on the organization. By empowering individuals to embrace change, organizations can begin to create a culture of innovation.

Engaged Leadership

The onboarding survey found that the greatest challenge facing HR decision-makers when it comes to enhancing their company’s onboarding programs is engaging frontline leaders. The culture of a company depends on those who are living it day-to-day. Engaging everyone, from entry-level employees to senior leaders, creates a culture of success for everyone to thrive and grow.

When it comes to onboarding, it’s important to engage frontline leaders and garner the attention and support of senior leaders. One way to do so is to tie the onboarding program to a business outcome and demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of the change. Another is to identify a champion in the leadership ranks. Maybe it’s a leader with a specific business problem who could benefit from upskilling his or her team members or someone who is ready to embrace change but isn’t sure where to begin. Once brought on board, these individuals can start conversations with their peers about the impact they have seen from embracing the onboarding philosophy. Beginning with these champions is one step toward engaging the entire leadership team.

AI and automation are here, and it’s crucial for L&D and HR to take the lead in responding. Through effective onboarding, early management of change and an engaged leadership team, organizations can develop a competitive advantage in an increasingly fast-paced, changing business world.

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