How do you make sure your workforce is fit for future purpose?
Want to hear a scary fact? According to McKinsey Global Institute, virtually half of the work activities currently carried out by humans could be automated by technology that already exists. Yet, as AI and algorithms advance and the world of work evolves at such speed, we face a gap in the skills businesses need and those employees have—we’re not ready for the significant transition we are faced with. To get the most from our people and be ready to respond to an evolving economy at a moment’s notice (see 2020), it’s clear that we need to rethink learning and development and focus on lifelong employability.
In the past, recalibrating your workforce to be future-ready worked very differently. If you found it was absolutely necessary to adjust structures or downsize your business, you would call in a firm like LHH to consult on how to help transition people out of the organization with dignity and provide outplacement support so that they could find new roles outside of the company. Organizations would then set about reducing headcount where necessary before bringing in new talent.
It’s time to think renewable vs. replaceable when it comes to talent
But in today’s working world, the fire-and-hire ways of the past just don’t stack up. It is critical for companies to fully leverage their talent and avoid throwing away the knowledge, relationships and potential held by everyone. Companies often rehire people they’ve let go, and the reality is that, in many cases, the new talent needed just isn’t out there. Recent phases of tech advancement, including digitization and advanced data analytics, have revealed a significant gap in the kind of talent companies need and the kind they have. Instead of looking outward, fighting for graduates with the right skills, only to find the skills we need have changed, we need to find a new approach to work that works for everyone. It’s time to think renewable vs. replaceable when it comes to talent.
Retraining and reskilling aren’t enough
As a purpose-driven business, LHH passes on value to our clients through reskilling and upskilling, making sure hiring managers are making the most of the talent they already have. I love this, that we are there to help businesses to support their employees through key career moments. We recognize that retraining and reskilling aren’t enough—they sound episodic, like a reaction to a problem rather than the shift in mindset that is needed. We want people to stay flexible and employable for their entire working lives. With life expectancy rising, it makes perfect sense that people should look to continuously adapt to a changing job market. Some of our most progressive clients have already inverted their spend from the 70% outplacement, 30% internal mobility they had in place previously. And yet, as the widespread uptake of this kind of approach is still relatively new, some managers—and often even the talent themselves—need convincing of the value of lifelong learning and employability. I’d like to share some of my top tips for getting people on board with the shift to sustainable talent.
Convince and arm managers—they are key
In my experience, busy managers don’t like to deal in hypotheticals. When having the internal mobility discussion with decision makers, it’s important to demonstrate that the skills gap won’t just have a negative impact on the business and its people in the future—it’s having an impact right now.
Show them how the process works
Having all the necessary information is key in making decisions. At LHH, we’ve created an easy-to-understand phased approach. First, we encourage businesses to self-assess the approach they already have—and see if there is anything there that needs to change. Next, we work with them to carry out a base-level assessment and create an inventory of skills they have in their existing talent base. This gives us an idea of the people who, at least on paper, are likely to be successful in upskilling. We’ll then examine the future state of their industry and begin the matchmaking process—what skills do we have, and which skills do we need? For those companies that are unsure of how factors like automation and augmentation are going to impact their workforce over the next few years, we partner with Faethm, a company that uses AI to predict the impact of forces such as automation, robotics, and the pandemic on current and future jobs.
Explain the financial benefits
I find that people often think that reskilling or upskilling their staff will mean spending more. The reality is that it often means simply spending differently. Working with people to ensure their lifelong employability may mean investing in continuous learning but will ultimately mean spending less on bringing in talent from outside as well as less on severance costs for exiting employees.
Frame as an opportunity for everyone
This is a focus on lifelong employability rather than fixed skills or job roles—everyone has the chance to benefit. A great example is a financial services client we recently worked with, who was automating their accountancy. We discovered that accountants had high potential to be successful as cyber security analysts—which is a job in very high demand, both in that business and in the wider market. Reskilling was a win-win approach. It’s all about working to uncover those “aha!” moments.
How do you convince your employees?
Just because the data show that someone is likely to be successful in being retrained or moving into a new role, doesn’t necessarily mean they will be keen to do so. While 77% of people are receptive to going on that journey, according to PwC’s research, some aren’t—and that’s ok. Sometimes it’s just about ensuring they have all the necessary information.
Show them they can be employable for life
Managers can work with employees to create career plans that help them chart a path to more and better opportunities. Embracing lifelong learning will help them achieve their goals. It supports career advancement and personal enrichment.
Explore more immediate benefits
People who embrace lifelong learning and bring a growth mindset to their careers are more likely to take on new challenges and are typically better able to cope with disruption and adapt to change. These attributes will serve them well, enhancing their employability both now, and throughout their journey.
How do we keep people agile?
It won’t have escaped your notice that 2020 was a tumultuous year—with people being uprooted and dramatically rethinking expectations on many issues including their relationship with work. I recently heard a futurist say that, as a result of COVID-19, we are now in 2021 where they expected us to be in 2030. The question is, with so much up in the air, how can we keep people energized when they may be experiencing change fatigue?
This isn’t just a problem for the individual. We also see managers wishing to hold on to their old ways when it comes to managing their talent. The alternative just feels like playing the long game, like more work. But as part of a growth mindset, organizations must do the work to foster a culture of change and prepare their people for this change, and those of us in the talent management industry must support them by continuously affirming the importance of building a sustainable workforce. I think the answer lies in positive framing and building resilience. Hope speaks louder than fear. Rather than focusing on imagined, worst-case scenarios, let’s focus on creating a culture within the organization that supports lifelong learning so that you have a workforce that’s agile and ready for the demands and challenges in a fast-changing landscape.