Business should take the lead on building skills for the future

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Creating the workforce of the future is a board level challenge. Acting now with a ‘test and learn’ approach can help leaders as they rethink their role in helping workers develop the skills to succeed in a changing economy.

The challenges and opportunities that face business and society because of digitisation and automation are well documented. They are on the agenda at forums from the Department of Education’s Skills Summit to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. And increasingly discussed in the boardroom as skills become the latest scarce resource.

Businesses can’t continue to wait for more granular data to predict the future. The speed of change and scale of the opportunity requires a more agile approach and a test and learn mindset.

McKinsey said recently that by 2030 as many as 375m workers (or 14% of the global workforce) may need to switch occupations as digitisation and automation disrupt their work. The executives surveyed see the need to act with 62% expecting to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023.

The challenge is here and now. In a recent study by Capgemini and LinkedIn, over 54% of organizations surveyed said that the digital talent gap is hampering their digital transformation programmes. Surprisingly, more employers (59%) say that their organization lacks employees who possess soft skills than hard digital skills (51%).

For business leaders looking to experiment with new approaches to identifying, developing and retaining digital skills (soft and hard), here are three good places to start:

  1. Build new networks with government, other business and educators

Like many firms, Capgemini has established a partnership with Aston University to deliver our degree apprenticeships in digital technology. However, our relationship with Birmingham University has brought other, unexpected benefits. Together we have hosted a range of initiatives from a community challenge where 1st and 2nd year students get to develop their innovation skills, experience the Capgemini values and work on a real business problem, through to internships which can last from a few days to a couple of months. The students gain an insight into the industry and Capgemini gains a pipeline of new talent.

In the East of England, Anglian Water has demonstrated the impact of taking a regional view. Using the BITC Business Connector initiative to work with other businesses in the area, they have created a hub for collective action to tackle social issues including employment. The area now has a platform for sustainable employment opportunities which can respond to new demands such as the digital skills gap.

  1. Rethink the work environment

At Capgemini’s Telford office, the space has been configured to include a gym, open rest areas, space to brainstorm and space to relax including exercise classes. This new space design works in tandem with a different working culture which includes more personal accountability, a flatter team structure and a strong emphasis on living our corporate values. Appealing to the ‘millennial’ mindset with a more flexible, outcome driven approach has been helpful in developing and retaining these scarce resources, and in introducing a new mindset across to all employees. Implementing a model where teams choose their own leader, own the product and design for the whole lifecycle has been a crucial component in the success of our digital delivery capability.

  1. Foster individual ownership

This new, more flexible way of working demands a high degree of trust between employee and employer. As individuals take full accountability for their own deliverables, this naturally leads to them taking responsibility for their own learning and development.

Readers of my previous blogs will have heard about our engineering community benefitting from access to an open learning platform funded by Capgemini. This approach to learning as you go has really taken off across our technical community – the initial 30 strong group of pioneers has now swelled to almost 500 in the UK and there’s going to be a global rollout as we scale this idea across the business. In Telford we have created a Tech Hub where anyone can visit to learn new skills and engage with new technologies with expert guidance on hand to help. Visitors range from non-technical teams learning to code on a Raspberry Pi through to developers experimenting with new coding languages.

While the scale of the challenge and lack of data on future jobs can seem daunting, it’s still possible to act now. The key is to apply the lessons of agile – start small, test and learn, and empower employees to take more responsibility for building their own future.

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