According to the World Economic Forum, we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is driven by the fusion of technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things (IoT) and biotechnology. 4IR is evolving exponentially and transforming entire systems of production, management and governance.
4IR is changing the way products are envisioned, manufactured, distributed, acquired and consumed. It impacts the way business is done and what customers, employees, and society at large expect of businesses. These disruptions are significantly impacting jobs. In fact, the World Economic Forum states that by 2022, there will be about 133 million new roles created as a result of the new division of labor between humans and machines and algorithms.
In response to this changing job landscape, organizations are adopting strategies such as automation, outsourcing, insourcing, retraining existing employees and hiring new employees. Most organizations adopt a combination of these strategies. Many technology and manufacturing companies are already deploying automation and outsourcing, and the trend is likely to continue.
A large number of organizations have turned to using a temporary workforce; however, that strategy its own challenges in low employee engagement and high turnover. The cost of replacing employees is high, not just because of the recruiting costs but also because of the time to competence and productivity; in addition, it is obviously not practical to replace an entire workforce.
What Does the Skills Landscape of the Future Look Like?
It is evident that proficiency in technical skills will continue to be critical. However, as more and more organizations adopt new technologies and automation as a strategy to increase productivity, reduce costs and gain a competitive advantage, global leaders are predicting an interesting shift in the skills required to perform new roles.
The World Economic Forum predicts that future jobs will require more of a focus on human skills that enable value-creating activities for the organization. Its comparative snapshot of the skills demanded in 2018 versus the skills that will be more — and less — necessary in 2022 provides an insight into this changing skills landscape:
What Role Can Learning Play?
The changing skills landscape drives home the importance of reskilling. According to the World Economic Forum, the average worker will need 101 days of learning to reskill for the future. The learning and development (L&D) organization will clearly have an important role to play in this process, but where should it begin?
The ideal starting point is a skills gap assessment to decide which new roles it will need in the future. This analysis will provide L&D with an understanding of each job role as it evaluates and formulates it, making it easier to understand which skills the organization needs to develop.
This analysis will need to continue throughout the reskilling process as employees move along the skill development continuum from novice to expert. The L&D organization will need to measure the efficiency and impact of the training on employees as well as the business. This measurement will ensure success not just at the individual level but also at the role and organizational levels.
What Strategies Can Organizations Use to Develop Training for Reskilling?
There are two areas where organizations will need reskilling: technical skills and human skills. In all likelihood, organizations will look to external resources to train on technical skills, from programming for AI initiatives or data analytics. On the other hand, human skills such as emotional intelligence, critical thinking, innovation, empathy, leadership and initiative will need a different learning strategy. For one, these skills are not new; they are inherent to most people to varying degrees. The key to effectively developing and enhancing these skills will be to make learning contextual, concise and customized.
With the new jobs landscape and emergence of new roles, employees need to be able to apply these skills in new contexts. For example, what would innovation look like when, say, 70% of the process is automated? What leadership model is most effective when 90% of the company’s workforce is working remotely? How can a manager show empathy when he or she has never met a direct report in person or if most of the direct reports are from an outsourcing firm?
The degree to which learners can practice these skills in the context of their work will be proportional to how well they apply it on the job. Simulations, virtual reality, and augmented reality are good examples of contextual training.
According to Bersin by Deloitte’s infographic “Meet the Modern Learner,” employees today are distracted, overwhelmed, interrupted every five minutes by work applications and collaboration tools, and unlikely to watch a video that is longer than four minutes. With the number of distractions that vie for the modern learner’s attention, lengthy training will likely be ineffective.
Microlearning is on the rise as learners look for small chunks of learning that pack the necessary information into a short time span. Short videos, animations and podcasts good examples of concise, bite sized learning.
Adapting training to the roles and realities of an organization is important. Standard, off-the-shelf content, lacking context and nuances particular to the organization, is not likely to be effective. Scenarios and stories based on real-life situations in the organization are good examples of customized learning.
Personalization is already a trend, and as job roles become more niche, training must be even more customized for their tasks and skill levels. Adapting learning to individual learners’ pace is also critical. Organizations will lag behind if they wait for the slowest learners to catch up with the quickest ones; therefore, adaptive learning platforms are becoming a necessity.
As new knowledge and information becomes available with evolving technologies, organizations will need to continue to make space for informal learning along with the formal; there may not always be time to create formal training.
Will L&D Need to Reskill Itself?
As technologies and learners continue evolve, L&D professionals will need to assess their own skills, knowledge and approaches. New technologies like chatbots, AI assistants and platforms with advanced search features are likely to blur the line between learning and performance support. L&D should keep abreast of new technologies that impact their organizations as well as the field of learning, because very soon, the two will intersect. L&D will need to be ready to use emerging technologies to the advantage of the organization as well as its employees.
Why Should We Care?
The simple answer to that question is: societal impact! Many existing jobs will be rendered redundant and the jobs, and skills landscape is going to change forever. It already has in many organizations around the world. Firing existing employees because they don’t have the necessary skills cannot be the answer; we cannot have hordes of unemployed individuals struggling to support themselves and their families, struggling to live with dignity — that approach is not viable from an economic, social or humanitarian perspective.
Therefore, organization need to take the responsibility of reskilling their employees, and employees need to be willing to learn new skills, no matter how many years they’ve spent in their existing roles. Reskilling is the best and really the only viable option — for organizations, for employees and for society.