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Skilling your workforce for what’s next


Why organizations must rethink learning now

The coming change will divide companies into two groups: those that prepared, and those that miss out on the greatest opportunities of our day. As the pace and scale of change gain momentum in today’s workplace, new and more effective approaches to re- and upskilling are required. Technologies such as AI and automation are disrupting business models and methodologies, and the augmented workforce is becoming the norm. At the same time, the increasing prevalence of remote work, the shift towards more agile ways of working and the transformation from line to project organizations all require new skills from employees. Organizations that fail to leverage the combined strengths of technology and human ingenuity will fall further and further behind.

The future will belong to the organizations that effectively upskill their workforces today. To quote from the 2021 edition of Conversations for Tomorrow, “Those companies that can shift their approach to learning and build a culture that prizes upskilling will enjoy a significant advantage.“ Is your organization leaving your workers to fend for themselves in unfamiliar spaces, or giving them the skills to thrive in new environments? Read our blog series to learn how to create the future of learning – to prepare and empower your people for future challenges.

Meeting the future head-on

The business necessity of learning is gaining recognition by company leaders. No longer a side project for HR, re- and upskilling has made its way into the board room, as noticeable in conversations with C-level executives. But even when company leaders recognize the need for re- and upskilling, many are stalled on the runway. According to a study by the Capgemini Research Institute, only 56% of organizations are taking adequate steps to adapt their employees’ skills to the changes brought by automation – at a time when learning is more important than ever. To meet today’s challenges, learning needs to be reimagined from the ground up, and that starts with a clear and effective learning strategy.

Identifying the skills that create customer value

The conventional way to design a learning strategy consists of identifying skill gaps and finding training materials to fill those spaces. However, learning isn’t just a tool to fill gaps, it’s a strategic tool to achieve business success. Therefore, we need to take a step back and consider something that is being left out of the frame but makes a crucial difference – the customers. Discovering what value your customers are looking for makes it possible to precisely identify what new skills will enable your organization to deliver that value. Consider whether evolving customer needs and technological advances may have changed your customers’ priorities, and how that impacts the required skill in your organization.

Assessing what the future requires from your workforce

The seismic technological changes that are underway also introduce a host of new competencies that will be needed to perform the jobs of the future. To gain a deeper understanding of the impact of coming technologies, and the precise skills employees will need to gain, a technological impact assessment reveals the current state of your workforce, the influence of current and coming technologies on job roles and competencies, and what skills will be required to bridge gaps. It also reveals potential skilling pathways that help prepare employees for new roles. Together with an examination of customer needs, the information acquired through a technological impact assessment provides the foundation for your employee skilling strategy.

Designing an employee-centric learning strategy

Once target skills have been identified, it’s time to figure out how to create a learning experience that fits your workforce’s specific needs. Only when employees regard learning content and design as relevant and engaging does effective learning take place. However, according to our study, for today’s upskilling programs 28% of senior executives receive feedback such as “not fully relevant.” Training employees in subjects they already know starts the learning experience with the message that management doesn’t understand workers, their roles or their needs: “If my boss thinks I need this, he can’t possibly know what I do all day.” However, starting at too high a level leaves participants behind. The solution is to involve employees in the conversation from the very start.

To design your learning strategy, consider your target groups, and what learning preferences and possibilities they may have. Younger generations for example – being used to seamless digital experiences, as user-friendly as Amazon, as engaging as Netflix – arrive at the workplace with similar expectations when it comes to learning offers. Blue-collar workers may require more hands-on training facilitated by learning technology such as AR. Utilizing co-creation approaches and centering the learner here is essential.

Involving the whole organization

An effective learning organization is organized holistically to encourage learning at every level. Therefore, designing and implementing a learning strategy can no longer be the traditional top-down approach of defining what and how to learn – the skill requirements of today are too intricate and fast-changing. Instead, top management’s role is to align learning strategy with general corporate strategy and to set direction. HR can support learning by building communities, organizing required technological resources (e.g. learning experience platforms) and creating a culture of learning. But the place where most of the actual learning occurs is at the level of individual employees and their direct managers.

A decentralized learning structure is the only way to manage change at this scale. In the same way that mid-level managers cannot control every adjustment or foresee every change on a production floor, the precise learning needs of each employee must be addressed individually. Combining clear direction from upper management, comprehensive support from HR and individual consideration from on-the-ground managers creates the dynamic environment where learning thrives.

Building the workforce of the future

Transforming into a learning organization brings quantifiable gains. New joiners are ready to work faster. Time to competency is reduced. New projects launch sooner. Employees commit fewer errors, innovate more freely and come up with more time-saving and resource-saving solutions. Employee motivation and satisfaction is higher, leading to better employee retention und ultimately saving costs. According to the Capgemini Research Institute, upskilling can help a 50,000-strong organization save $278 million over three years. And when a holistic culture of learning takes hold, the benefits are lasting.

Organizations rely upon a skilled workforce to effectively adapt to and prepare for changing times. Knowing what customers and employees want, as well as assessing how technology impacts the workforce, forms the basis of a future-ready learning strategy. In our next blog, we’ll examine how to implement that strategy and design a best-in-class learning experience that motivates and engages people, and sets your organization on the path for continuous forward transformation.