According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), 65% of children entering primary school today will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist1.
For me, this fact alone sums up the huge challenge that businesses are facing when it comes to skills. How do we upskill our workforce when the rise of digital disruption, AI and automation mean we have very little idea of the skills that people will need in the future?
And what about those from disadvantaged or vulnerable sections of the community; what about young jobseekers or the over 50s? How are the obstacles they encounter to developing their skills different to those faced by ‘mainstream’ employees? How do we ensure these people aren’t marginalised?
These were some of the issues I wanted to explore when I recently moderated a round-table discussion on technology’s role in the new learning ecosystem, as part of the Connected Britain event2. Speakers included representatives of a homeless and housing charity, a leading technology membership body and an industry organisation that brings together multi-sector expertise from technology, telecommunications, housing and customer service delivery.
But first, let me share some more figures to set the overall scene:
According to the WEF3, 54% of the global workforce will require upskilling or reskilling by 2022 – little more than 12 months away.
Our own Human to Hybrid research here at Capita further underscores the urgency of this challenge, with 88% of business leaders saying that increasing employees’ skills and training for new roles is critical. However, only 22% of those surveyed believe that their organisations currently have access to the skills they need.
In short, jobs – and the skills required to do them effectively – are changing at a pace that has rarely, if ever, been seen before – and our workforce is simply not keeping up.
According to our round-table participants, those seeking to reskill or upskill face six distinct challenges in a rapidly changing jobs market:
- Inclusion – how do we ensure that bias is removed, different backgrounds are considered and diversity is encouraged so that training is available to all?
- Accessibility – how do we make sure that learning is fully accessible to everyone, for example by making online learning work for people with visual impairments?
- Confidence – how do we give disadvantaged jobseekers the reassurance that their learning needs will be met?
- Optimism – how do we show people that training and upskilling will lead to great career opportunities?
- Opportunity – what can we do to build on the opportunities provided by the COVID-19 pandemic to do things differently?
- Unconventional needs – how do we take account of all jobseekers’ and learners’ personal circumstances?
In addition, developing people’s soft skills ─ such as critical thinking, problem solving, conflict resolution and effective communication ─ is just as important as developing their technical ones. These soft skills, also known as ‘power’ skills, are the wraparound abilities that enable us to take full advantage of the technical knowledge and expertise we have gained. They’re essential in today’s rapidly changing workplace because they make employees adaptable and give them the ability to deal with – and make the most of – change.
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in this as part of a broader learning ecosystem, especially as the need for digital skills comes to the fore. Indeed, our Human to Hybrid research suggests that fully 60% of employers believe that AI has accelerated the imperative for employees to be able to upskill and reskill in the shortest possible time.
It has three main benefits:
- Technology makes it easier to create and share learning among employees
- AI can be used to identify an organisation’s learning capability and opportunities to support specific career paths and development
- Automation helps employers to track and manage skills gaps.
Let’s take remote learning as an example. Traditionally, face-to-face learning and development has been the preferred choice of employers and employees alike. Now, however, technology is a powerful enabler for improving access to remote and online training.
And, in fact, recent research by the CBI5 has found that, while on-the-job training – usually informal – remains the most common approach to workplace learning, cited by 85% of survey respondents, just over three quarters (79%) are also using e-learning materials alongside short, more intensive learning courses (74%). These findings match global trends highlighted by Pearson, which demonstrate that people are increasingly using digital and virtual learning, as well as ‘bite-sized’ modular courses, across their entire lives.
So, whether it’s watching a YouTube video during their lunchbreak or doing a free online course during the commute, technology is empowering people to take learning into their own hands and be responsible for keeping their skills up to date.
For employers and trainers, such learning is generally cheaper to provide and therefore more cost effective. It can also serve as a major asset for HR professionals, who can use AI and automation to identify and manage individual employees’ training requirements and track their skill levels. Indeed, automation can help to identify a person’s opportunities and aptitude for learning that a HR lead might easily miss; it can even be used to remove bias when considering their learning capabilities.
The benefits for employees and jobseekers are evident, too. Remote learning means that people don’t need to travel unnecessarily or be in a certain place at a certain time. It enables them to train at their own pace and at a schedule that suits them, fitting it around responsibilities such as caring for family members, working and so on.
More generally, the benefits for business of adopting a technology-led approach to learning are clear. By giving groups of people who historically may have missed out access to learning, employers can inject new diversity, inclusion, creativity and innovative thinking into their organisations. It really is a win-win situation for all concerned.
We see real demand from employers for new ways of learning and upskilling. Employees also recognise that the training environment is changing rapidly, and they’re excited and inspired by it.
Working together, both groups must embrace the new learning ecosystem that’s emerging – and the critical role that digital technologies will play in it. With the appropriate support from all stakeholders, including government, the future for technology-led learning and training is very bright indeed.