We are entering the age of automation. Soon, millions of jobs are going to be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence. At the same time, millions of new jobs are going to be created to build, repair and work alongside these machines.
These jobs don’t share the same skill sets. But that doesn’t mean the same people can’t do those jobs. Through reskilling initiatives, organizations can help employees transition from one role to another, acquiring new skills that complement automation-driven modes of work.
In many industries, the need for reskilling is vast. That’s why companies must adopt a systematic and pragmatic approach if they are to keep up.
Why Reskilling is Essential
A McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that 375 million workers — roughly 14 percent of the world’s workforce — will need to change careers due to the rise of automation and AI. This is akin to the large-scale shift from agricultural to manufacturing working that occurred during the Industrial Revolution, McKinsey’s Pablo Illanes, Susan Lund, Mona Mourshed, Scott Rutherford and Magnus Tyreman write.
Terminating these employees is not the answer. Daniel Newman, a principal analyst at Futurum Research, believes that technology will never fully replace people. Innovation and new ideas will still be the domain of human employees. That’s why it is important to help employees learn how to work alongside robots and AI.
There’s also a financial case for reskilling, notes Allison Dulin Salisbury, a partner at Entangled Group: It’s cheaper than laying off people and hiring people with the new skills an organization needs.
Employees want this kind of career development, too, says Ben Eubanks, a principal analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory. His company found that 70 percent of employees they spoke to had left a job because of a lack of career development. Almost all of those respondents (95 percent) said they would have stayed with a company if opportunities for growth were available.
Start by Forming a Dedicated Reskilling Team
Organization is key when it comes to establishing a company-wide reskilling program, and often that will mean the creation of a dedicated role — or team — to oversee the project.
McKinsey’s André Dua, Liz Hilton Segel and Susan Lund argue that companies need dedicated leadership if they are to be successful in developing reskilling programs. In particular, it may require the creation of a new position: the chief skills and learning officer. In much the same way the CTO has become a core C-suite role over the last 20 years, the authors argue the CSLO role will become much more common in the next two decades.
Research suggests these executives may need training themselves before they are able to carry out their duties successfully, however.
Michael Hughes, Mazen Ghalayini and Michael Orehowsky at West Monroe Partners’ report that almost half of managers (43 percent) admit they didn’t know how to reskill employees. This fact isn’t lost on employees, either. Sixty-five percent of employees surveyed report that managers need reskilling themselves.
If organizations don’t believe they have the requisite skills in-house, it may be best to partner with a training and reskilling organization, advises Jeff Mazur, executive director at LaunchCode. “Experts can help identify the inputs, activities, and outcomes necessary to meet a business’s individual goals,” he writes. “In turn, both parties can work together to create and deploy curriculums that pave the way toward overarching business goals.”
Understand Where You Are and Where You Need to Go
The first job of this new executive, team or partner will be to identify the current skills of your employees and the potential roles you’ll need in the future.
Much of your company’s success in reskilling will depend on how successful you are in this endeavor, say PWC’s Antonia M. Cusumano and Mitra Best. It’s important to take a long-term view and not just focus on what skills your organization needs now. Assess the current capabilities of your employees and identify the gaps your company will have several years from now to pinpoint the direction you need to go in.
Roger Casalengo, senior vice president and CHRO at Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions, recommends involving managers in the process of identifying current abilities and skill gaps. After all, no one knows your employees better than your managers. By leveraging their knowledge, executives can gain a more in-depth understanding of the current employee experience and their needs in the future.
From there, you can identify skill adjacencies that align an employee’s current skill set with a more promising, in-demand role of the future, says Matt Sigelman, chief executive of Burning Glass Technologies. In doing so, you help to create “logical, reasonable career paths” that employees will be genuinely excited and motivated to follow.
Make Learning Multi-Dimensional
With new roles and careers identified, it’s time to develop a training plan that is as diverse and multi-dimensional as your employees. Traditional classroom-based learning isn’t for everyone, which is why organizations must offer a variety of training methods if they are to be successful.
The same digital tools that are transforming businesses need to be a big part of the re-education effort, writes Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and professor at MIT Sloan School of Management. Take Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) as an example. These use machine learning and an “experiment and test” model to speed up learning.
The more courses available online, the better, says Bas Kohnke, cofounder of HR software company Impraise. “The reality is that with an increasing number of remote workers and globalized teams, online learning is a simple and effective way to ensure your employees continue to develop their skills.” It’s also a much more cost-effective solution.
That doesn’t mean traditional forms of education should be discounted, however. Sometimes, in-depth training is necessary. When this is the case, organizations shouldn’t be afraid of turning to colleges and universities for help.
This is the approach AT&T took when it implemented a $250 million employee re-education program, John Donovan and Cathy Benko, from AT&T and Deloitte respectively, write in the Harvard Business Review. The telecommunications giant partnered with Udacity and Georgia Tech to offer a fully accredited online master’s degree in computer science at a fraction of the cost of a campus-based program.
Collective intelligence-based programs can also be effective, writes Gianni Giacomelli, chief innovation leader at Genpact. “Collective intelligence occurs when businesses create opportunities for employees to source knowledge and learn from each other, leveraging what people know, and what they get exposed to collectively,” he explains.
In practice, businesses can achieve this by establishing master-apprentice groups in which employees lacking a certain skill learn directly from colleagues who have that skill.
Develop a Culture of Continuous Learning
Reskilling is not a one-off strategy. If organizations want to stay on top of their employee’s reskilling needs, they need to develop a culture of continuous learning that permeates every corner of the company.
James Engel, chief learning architect at the Southeast Asia Center (SEAC), says companies must have learning incorporated into their visions. “The ones that see this as ‘I have to reskill right now’ are working to survive, not thrive,” he warns.
For some companies, achieving this could mean moving away from the concept of reskilling. In fact, Engel goes as far as to suggest companies remove the word “reskilling” from their vocabularies. The word has taken on a connotation of job scarcity. It’s far better to have a dialogue centered around employee growth, Engel says.
But you have to back this up with the support and resources that are necessary for growth, writes Abby Kearns, executive director at Cloud Foundry Foundation. The skills that employees need will change rapidly. The kind of training discussed above must be made continuously available to employees for reskilling or employee growth to keep pace.
Every employee must be included, too, writes Ian Bailie, managing director at myHRfuture. Contractors and contingency workers cannot be forgotten when it comes to reskilling. “In order for companies to truly understand the talent that they have access to, for now and the future, then really they need to look at their total workforce, not just permanent employees,” Bailie writes.
Reskilling initiatives aren’t set overnight, nor are they finished in a few months. The companies that will remain on top of reskilling in the future will be the ones that go out of their way to make it part of their culture today.