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Reskilling in the 21st century – where we are now, and where we’re heading


A few months ago, the Capgemini Research Institute published a report called “Upskilling your people for the age of the machine,” with the subtitle: “Why a workforce upskilling strategy is key to unleashing automation’s productivity potential.”

The survey draws on feedback from 2,000 people representing more than 400 major organizations worldwide, and offers clear, real-world indications that the benefits of automation cannot be fully realized unless employees are equipped to work with it and to exploit it.

The report concludes:

“It is clear that upskilling and automation rollout need to go hand in hand to realize productivity gains. The good news is that this integrated approach delivers greater benefits while also motivating staff to deliver even more. Employees at organizations with advanced upskilling initiatives are able to advance their career and embrace new responsibilities.

“The main barrier to achieving these gains lies with the gap between executives and employees on attitudes towards automation. Organizations must start by making sure their leaders engage with their people, encouraging them to embark on the automation journey as true partners.”

Self-driven learning

The report’s evidence is clear. There’s no doubt that automation depends for its success on people with appropriate skills. But I’d argue that there’s more than one route to that destination, and in the Digital Employee Operations practice I lead, we’re seeing the signs. However, I don’t simply mean an alternative approach to achieving the same thing. I’m talking about a far more fundamental shift than that.

Yes, organizations worldwide do recognize the need to have highly trained people – but the conversation we are having with the HR and learning communities appear to incorporate a step change in expectations around self-education. While organizations are happy to offer access to learning and education channels, they are placing the onus of learning on their employees. We often hear: “Surely employees are interested in future-proofing their skills rather than being left behind.”

Why is this happening? Because the world of work and learning is changing. The days of people staying with one employer from newbie-hood through to retirement are rapidly receding. If employment is less and less likely to be for a lifetime, it’s not surprising that companies should be less willing to invest in skills development over the long term.

A liquid workforce

Don’t get me wrong – enterprises are still making skills training available, and it’s highly likely they should and will continue to do so. They have multi-generational workforces, and the established training and employment models will persist until the gradual and natural disappearance of the old order makes change inevitable.

We’re already starting to see what will replace these models. At a global technology company’s base of operations in India, one third of the workforce is now “liquid” – that is, fixed-term-contract-based – and the employer is paying top-dollar for them, because they have the skills and experience needed. Another global enterprise – a household name – is no longer hiring full-time staff. Instead, it’s going looking for the people it needs, when it needs them.

There is something both familiar and unfamiliar about all this. What’s recognizable is that the model I’m describing is pretty much that of the classic supply chain, where companies seek out and pay competitive rates for suppliers who can provide services to a defined quality and within set timeframes. What’s new is that those suppliers are now individual people, and the services they’re providing are their own skills. If they are to act as micro-companies, and market themselves as such, they will need to ensure their offer remains current and attractive – and that, in turn, means it will constantly be incumbent on them to enhance their skills.

 Learning on your own terms and pace

We have placed this market trend towards self-propelled learning at the heart of our Digital Learning Operations offer. With this, we aim to go beyond merely reskilling, and to start looking at creating the right channels for people to equip themselves on their own terms and at their own pace – anytime, anywhere, in module sizes that fit their other commitments. Some of it may be classroom-based, but much of it may be in remote virtual teaching sessions, with people coming together in online communities to learn and to share ideas and experiences.

There are implications in all this not just for the employees of tomorrow, but for businesses. It’s likely to shape the world of work, not just in terms of the relationships between employer and employee, but in terms of employment law, health and safety, pay and benefits structures, collective bargaining, anti-discrimination practices, and more besides.

It’s the classic build-or-buy argument. Right now, as our report argues, the center of gravity is still with “build” – but the signs are the balance is shifting, and at Capgemini, we’re watching it closely.

To find out more about how Capgemini’s Digital Employee Operations can transform your HR function and employee satisfaction, contact:

Anjali Pendlebury-Green  is an expert in the field of HR outsourcing and transformation, specializing in delivering HR solutions that leverage global outsourcing platforms, leading edge technology, stack offers, and process standardization. Anjali has led award-winning HRO teams for large multinational companies with a special focus on the manufacturing sector.