Workplaces and jobs are changing faster than many businesses can keep up. Emerging technology opens the doors to new ways to do things better, faster and smarter. All the while, we race to keep up with what’s new, what’s coming, and what is just so yesterday. Keeping our employees trained is a challenge itself.
Preparing for what the future holds will require creative thinking and careful planning on HR's part. “Employers need to appreciate that a profound change is happening right now in the types of work, and underlying skills that are needed in the new 'second machine age,'" Ben Pring, vice president and director of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and co-author of What to Do When Machines Do Everything, told HR Dive. "Every organization that seeks to continue to be relevant in the future has a responsibility to help their current and future employees be equipped with the skills needed going forward."
Finding motivated workers
"Employers can get ahead by identifying high performers and providing them with ongoing opportunities to develop new or transferable skills," she said. Implementing such initiatives is a great way to attract new candidates that you want, too, she said, "as 73% of digitally talented employees prefer to join organizations known for their upskilling and training programs.”
According to the World Economic Forum Report, The Future of Jobs, 60% of industry leaders believe mobile, cloud technology, big data and computing power are driving change in today's workplace. For 2018 to 2020, they predict advanced robotics, automated transportation, AI and machine learning, advanced materials, biotech and genomics will advance the workforce. Are we prepared?
- At the collegiate level, it seems not. For tech educators, it’s estimated that almost half of subject knowledge acquired in the first year of a 4-year tech degree is outdated by graduation.
- For HR, becoming more strategic and earning a seat at the boardroom table will be required. HR will need new tools (or need to better use tools already available) to analyze trends, spot and address skills gaps, and capitalize on transformation in the talent pool and technology.
- For learning professionals, innovative training and a proactive approach to anticipating technology trends and skills categories will be required. They’ll also need to be flexible and ready to align training with an emerging variety of tech.
For all the changes that will occur, employers can set a baseline of some skills that will never be obsolete. Kathleen Downs, senior vice president of Robert Half Finance & Accounting, suggests that, regardless of their field, "professionals will need three types of skills: technical, soft and technology."
"The need for technical, functional expertise will never go away," she said. "However, soft skills are often as important – or even more so as professionals advance in their careers. Technology proficiency, including general aptitude and curiosity for it, is mandatory for nearly all positions.”
What the future holds
In another report, 21 Jobs of the Future: a Guide to Getting - and Staying - Employed Over the Next 10 Years, the team from Cognizant reminds us that the fear of being replaced by automation is not new. But Skynet will probably not become self-aware. As tech continues to advance, they believe it will enhance the workplace, replacing repetitive tasks and jobs that are dangerous. They anticipate emerging job titles like:
- augmented reality journey builder;
- man-machine teaming manager;
- virtual store sherpa;
- personal memory curator; and
- space controller.
Yet across the wealth of jobs that will be created, they see common themes that will remain in demand, like the ability to coach others and connect people with machines. They foresee using tech to augment our work, not replace us.
There will always be things only humans can perform (at least as of today). Pring explains: “As our report points out, the paradox of machines doing more of the work we do today is that a lot of the work that will be left will be non-technical in nature.”
Learn or be left behind
An old principle for recruiters says that you can teach the work but you can’t teach the traits. That mindset may have to change now; if we can’t predict what “work” we’ll need to train for, we’ll need to teach (or reteach) the soft skills that make successful employees.
Although cloud and distributed computing has been the number-one spot of LinkedIn’s Top Skills list for the past two years, O’Brien says the numbers show soft skills are just as important. Fifty-eight percent of hiring managers agree that the lack of soft skills (grit, adaptability, communication, strategic thinking, etc.) among candidates is limiting their company's productivity.
"Companies will need folks with strong soft skills to see them through the next wave of change," she added.
World Economic Forum says they look at how to train across a variety of core skill sets that have nothing to do with technology. They suggest that recruiters focus on skills that work for any job.
- Cognitive skills: creativity, flexibility, logic and problem solving.
- Content skills: written and oral abilities, comprehension and active learning.
- Interpersonal skills: negotiation, persuasion, the ability to coordinate with others and emotional intelligence.
- Systems skills: analysis, judgment and decision making.
- Resource management skills: material, time, finances and people.
Upgrades across many disciplines will be needed to meet the challenges of the future, and some are already taking place. These include:
- retooling HR and education to meet the needs of the market and talent;
- incentivizing lifelong learning and training; and
- cross-industry and public/private collaboration.
Part of staying on top of trends includes providing relevant training for emerging capabilities, according to Downs. "But don’t stop your professional development program there. Also coordinate mentor relationships and job rotations to help employees expand their skills and learn different perspectives.”
We’re already seeing many initiatives to prepare for the future of work. HR is collaborating with apprentice programs, addressing the skills gap in today’s market and beyond. Employers are training for that “last mile” from education to application. MOOCs are changing the way we teach and new technology is changing where and how we learn. Governments, employers and other organizations of all sizes are creating opportunities for employment and learning. Incentives for learning, from badges to advancement are new training paradigms. Although the list of jobs in the future is uncertain, the resolve to meet the challenge is not.
The bottom line? “Employers need to stay ahead of the curve in understanding how jobs are changing and provide training to help their employees keep their skills up-to-date," Downs says. "Firms that fail to do so risk watching top performers to leave for one that does. Hire for the skills you’ll need both short- and long-term.”