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Future skills: Keeping the workforce human

FoW Insights
Future of Work

In Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work podcast series, we explore the big questions around the Future of Work and what this means for the organisations and their workforces. In the latest episode Jonathan Eighteen and Aoife Kilduff discussed the skills needed to keep the future workforce human.

Over the years, learning and reskilling in organisations has generally been provided by delivering similar types of content to large volumes of people. However, this era is coming to an end as it’s no longer guaranteed to create value. Alongside personalisation trends of products and services, the approach to building skills in people will need to be personalised too.

At the same time, there is a real disconnect between organisations and their people in terms of skills they recognise as valuable. While organisations are focused on building broader human skills, employees think that they need to build advanced IT skills to remain employable. We get more and more questions from our clients around the nature of these future skills and how to develop them in the most efficient manner, and our general observation is that more needs to be done to foster a collaborative approach to reskilling, supported by adequate and flexible technology.

Focus on human skills

Organisations have started to focus on developing human skills a lot more than they have done in the past. Human skills – such as curiosity, insight, empathy, and resilience – come to the forefront due to automation and other factors, and if an organisation’s workforce is skilled in this domain, they will be more agile in their approach to delivering value for customers.

For example, consider empathy, the ability to understand and consider others’ feelings, and how it is applied within health and social care. We can argue that it is possible to automate a healthcare professional’s role to an extent by getting a computer or a robot to learn every single piece of scientific research ever written, and that way the robot would be able to diagnose an individual. However, it is impossible to replace bedside manner with technology because it requires the human skill of empathy, and this is very important to someone’s care as well as supporting others around them.

Another more extreme example of the importance of human skills is illustrated through using resilience in problem solving. If you automate a problem solving algorithm and a computer says ‘no’ to a particular task, this might lead to a dead end. It is skills like resilience that give us the ability to push on and critically analyse the next step to take – and these skills are not yet possible to replicate through programming.

Skills like emotional intelligence, the ability to collaborate within a team and across functions, and critical thinking are relevant to most roles today and in the future. They are also transferable and can be developed on an ongoing basis. However, roles are often described in very specific terms and similar work is phrased differently across functions or industries. This makes it difficult for people to recognise that their skills are transferable, and they can apply them in another role inside or outside of their organisation. To address this, organisations can start to adopt a common skills framework so that people can self-assess these human skills and understand how to further build their capabilities internally and externally.

What’s driving this new approach to learning?

The ever increasing pace of technological change and the impact of automation are key drivers changing the approach to learning and skills. Technology is altering internal operations and competition in the market and organisations are having to keep up.

An example of this, also in healthcare and life sciences, is that traditionally these organisations would have competed with other big players in the market but now they are also competing with smaller bio tech companies and start-ups. More aware organisations are beginning to think about work itself and are challenging the older, more traditional ways they operate - in research and development, manufacturing, and commercial and sales. They question the way that the work in the future can be done, and the way that they source talent – not just in terms of required skills themselves but also how skills are brought into the organisation: are they on balance sheet or off balance sheet? Are they freelancers? Can this work be automated, robotised? As the shape of the workforce changes so does the shape of the workplace.

Our latest Human Capital trends research has shown that organisations are recognising that learning, training, reskilling and reengineering their workforce is a key strategic lever. Even if we consider workers on balance sheets, organisations are starting to realise that the skills they need are often expensive to buy, and it's difficult for them to go externally and recruit for new skills. They have to put more emphasis on retraining and reskilling their internal staff, and this shapes new requirements for learning. However, many organisations are realising that their learning strategies are not up to the challenge. They have to consider a new learning and reskilling strategy that will support the organisation moving forward.

Successful organisations focus on offering experiences through multiple channels. Opportunities to learn are everywhere and course content should be available internally and externally and through networks of specialists who have knowledge around a certain skill.

Individual careers, individual experiences

As the definition of learning is getting broader it is more challenging for an individual to make personal choices because of the amount of options. Even if we only consider technical skills, there is so much learning available, especially online, that it's difficult for individuals to figure out what it is that they should be learning and what skills they need in the future. Also, people tend to jump between jobs over a period of time and grow their skills and capabilities as part of their career. This gives a rise to learning agility. But how do you navigate your way and personalise your learning so it’s suitable for you and your situation? And how can organisations embed learning into the employee experience?

Weaving learning into the employee experience

Let’s consider how people learn about a company before they even join. Some organisations embed learning at attraction stage and use VR to simulate ‘a day in the life’ at the organisation. When an individual joins the organisation it’s a good time to consider the key skills that you want them to develop during the on-boarding process, instead of focussing exclusively on compliance and safety training which is often practiced today.

Moving along the employee lifecycle, it's really important to consider learning analytics. Successful organisations focus on the full picture and ask themselves, what are the training courses, online learning and the other types of learning that are available in the organisation? What's working, what's not working? What do our employees prefer? What has the greatest impact on employee performance?

Next, how do organisations ensure that employees get recognised and rewarded for their learning? Some organisations have changed their reward structure so that their bonus reflects recent performance but their base pay is influenced by the relevant skills they've developed in the last year. Other organisations have recognised the need to reskill their workforce and reward individuals financially based on their aptitude and interest in retraining and getting accredited and certified in a new role. This creates a new currency for skills and begins to link reward and recognition to development.

At the same time organisations need to incentivise managers to support and guide their teams in learning, and have fundamental conversations about reskilling. There is also a need for innovation in reskilling people without disrupting their day to day jobs. Employees who deal with customers on the shop floor or in a warehouse are often the ones affected by automation and technology, but are also least likely to benefit from reskilling as organisations think it's too costly to take people off the shop or warehouse floor for training.

Finally, retention and internal mobility is an important part of learning and reskilling. We need to enable people to move around the organisation and learn on the job so that they don't necessarily have to leave the organisation to develop further. Recently, some organisations have implemented an AI enabled talent marketplace, where anyone in the organisation can advertise projects/work, and the AI matches it to people who have the skills, capabilities and ambition to do it. This enables people to move around more freely and build on skills in line with their development needs and desires, at relatively low costs the organisation.

Communication and collaboration are key

We mentioned above a disconnect between employees and organisations in terms of the skills that employees think they need to learn. There is also a disconnect in terms of who employees think are responsible for learning. Employees think it's the responsibility of their organisations to reskill them.

How we are skilling our future generations is also going to be important. Children of today will not be able to stay in one trade for their whole careers, but they will need to be able to learn and learn agility so they can change and go where their interests are. There are graduates entering the job market who have not necessarily got the skills that organisations need or want.

Some organisations are starting to partner with schools and universities to create more bespoke curriculums that will help students develop the skills these organisations need. Some organisations are also creating more academic partnerships than they have in the past, as well as connections with academia and other partners in their ecosystem, to enable them to either jointly develop learning approaches/programmes in a different way, which will start the pipeline of skilling earlier.

Listen to the full interview [podcast] with Jonathan Eighteen and Aoife Kilduff.

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