August 9, 2022

Building an Adaptive Workforce in an Uncertain Global Economy

Adaptability is critical to an organization’s survivability. Particularly now, in these uncertain economic times, companies should prepare themselves for shifts that will test the sustainability of their operations. One key element to becoming that flexible organization is building an adaptive workforce. Accomplishing this requires leaders to face the reality that skills have a much shorter shelf life than they used to.

“We live in an age of hyper-disruption,” Michael Bertolino, retired global CEO of people advisory services at EY, says in his keynote speech at our “Cultivate” talent summit. “And as the speed of disruption gets faster, the half-life of skills is shorter.”

A Newsweek survey finds that the pandemic has accelerated the rate at which skills become obsolete by 70 percent. This means leaders must close skills gaps by upskilling employees in order to develop the new capabilities critical to confronting any future economic shifts.

Identify Skills Gaps That Need to Be Closed

Skills gaps are growing as roles evolve. Closing them is critical to navigating future disruptions. To do that, business leaders must first assess the skills their workforces already possess and then identify those required to meet future needs.

AI-backed talent intelligence tools can help HR teams achieve these outcomes.

Such tools enable talent teams to gather “workforce data that provides a real-time view of workers’ skills across the entire talent ecosystem,” according to Jeff Schwartz, et al. at Deloitte.

The technology can also use predictive analytics to forecast which employees are best suited to develop the skills needed to succeed in future roles. One way AI does this is by identifying skills adjacencies that would indicate the fit of an employee to learn certain new skills and be productive in new roles.

With this information, leaders can move toward closing the skills gaps by creating learning roadmaps for their employees to develop the new capabilities. “Compare the skills you need with the skills you have to get a laser-focused learning journey,” Bertolino advises. And then invest in providing employees with those opportunities to learn.

two people playing Jenga, a game of physical skill using wooden blocks; adaptive workforce concept

Upskill Your Workforce to Develop Future-Facing Capabilities

Hiring managers should consider looking internally instead of externally to find talent with the future-facing skills they need within the organization.

“External recruitment is often seen as a one-way ticket out of the skills gap, but whilst hiring new recruits can provide a fresh set of perspectives and skills, existing employees can also possess and provide the same required abilities if the opportunity is presented to them,” writes Cyril Le Mat, director of data science at talent management system Cornerstone OnDemand.

That’s where upskilling comes in, and it should be the primary strategy for creating an adaptive workforce. “Upskilling is the only talent strategy,” Eightfold CEO Ashutosh Garg, Ph.D. notes in another session of Cultivate ‘22. Through upskilling, organizations can intentionally build flexibility into their workforces so they can more quickly adapt to disruptions.

Talent intelligence platforms are a critical tool here, as well.

AI-backed technology facilitates upskilling by enabling HR to develop personalized career paths that guide each individual through learning opportunities that prepare them for the future. Having that vision and plan in place helps ensure employees stay motivated to follow their paths and learn the skills they need, which makes the organization more agile in the long run.

In the end, survival is all about preparation.

In order to build an adaptive workforce with sustainable skills to thrive in the face of disruption, business leaders must accept that when it comes to the skill sets of their employees, “whatever we know today will be out of date soon,” says Garg. Preparing for the future requires leaders to look ahead to the capabilities that will be needed to help their organizations weather any storms and survive over the long term.

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