How CHROs Can Cope With a Constant Need for Reskilling Employees

Automation and AI mean some jobs will disappear in the future, others will change, and new roles will emerge. 

The workers of the future need to be adaptable and ready to reskill. This is true for most people, regardless of their field of expertise. Yet tech workers in particular need to remain relevant in a fast-changing technological landscape.

Encouragingly, the majority of knowledge workers are optimistic about and comfortable with reskilling amid automation changes. A new report by automation company Blue Prism, called Automate or Stagnate, argues that it’s wrong to assume employees are pessimistic about the future of work. Indeed, workers are far more optimistic than business owners about their future capabilities.  

With this optimism in mind, we explore how the employment market is changing and what steps CHROs can take to ensure their organizations are able to close any skills gaps that might open up.

Tech Skills Most in Need

Tech workers must upskill and reskill regularly. But there are core areas that CHROs should focus on to ensure their people develop in the right areas, as McKinsey researchers Satty Bhens, Ling Lau, and Hugo Sarrazin advise.

For instance, roles such as experience designers and engineers are in demand, so tech workers should look to focus on developing skills in ethnographic research, human-centered design, and rapid test-and-learn cycles.

CHROs wanting to develop scrum masters and agility coaches should encourage employees to reskill by focusing on agile development. Other important skills to consider include fluency in web/mobile user interface, middleware microservices, and back-end databases, the McKinsey team writes, as are being able to handle and scale data, and refine algorithms in software code. 

The C-Suite Is Paying Attention to Skills Shortages

CEOs are increasingly worried about their future workforces. PwC research shows that 79 percent of CEOs worldwide think a lack of skills threatens their organizations.

That’s why so many CEOs are focused on significant retraining and upskilling, with many looking to close skills gaps by hiring from outside of their industries. Carol Stubbings, joint leader of global people and organization at PwC UK, says reskilling, while investment-heavy, still remains economically advantageous compared to hiring all new people.

Successful happy group of students learning software engineering and business during presentation; reskilling employees concept

Real-World Examples of Reskilling

In 2019, Amazon launched its Upskilling 2025 initiative, which has a machine-learning component geared toward retraining tech workers with coding skills, as David Howell at IT Pro explains. The company is also including an Associate2Tech program to retain fulfilment center workers for technical and IT support roles and managing machines.

The company plans to invest $700 million over the next six years in the training program, which amounts to around $7,000 per employee, Chip Cutter at The Wall Street Journal reports. A third of Amazon’s U.S. workforce will be reskilled this way.

Meanwhile, AT&T will spend $1 billion on its Future Ready initiative, combining online courses, career centers, and collaborations with leading universities to reskill staff to meet modern business needs. AT&T veteran Susan Bick, who has worked in different IT roles in the company over the past 20 years, tells CNBC she began reskilling back in 2014, when she took courses in agile processes. 

Senior EVP Bill Blase says the company wants to provide employees with a roadmap from the present to the future, along the way preparing them for new roles with the skills they will need. By 2020, the company aims to have reskilled 100,000 employees for new jobs.

A Strategy for Reskilling

CHROs need to own the reskilling process and find the best solution to the organization’s current and future needs. A problem for some organizations is that they’re relying on old and unusable company data about current and required skills, argues Ian Bailie, managing director at myHRfuture.com. 

But they also are uncertain about where their people want to get to. Having systems in place that can inform organizations about what skills are required will be beneficial. For instance, people have up-to-date profiles on professional social networks so they can be appealing to potential employers and projects. Companies, Bailie says, should create internal systems that work in similar ways. Doing so would give them insight into their current skills shortages as well as the future aspirations of employees. That’s why we built the Eightfold platform to give HR leaders visibility into people’s ambitions.

Whatever the specific approaches companies take to identify high-priority reskill areas, they need a strategy that is scalable. Jeff Mazur at Chief Executive warns not to create training programs for the few but rather for the majority of employees. A full-time course for five people might not be as effective as a part-time course for 50, he says.

Focused young african american businesswoman looking at laptop holding book; reskilling employees concept

Develop a Culture of Learning 

CHROs will need to foster a culture of ongoing learning and development for employees to adapt and thrive. 

Sarah Tierney at AI Business says it will take time and resources to determine how people will adapt to AI and other technological shifts. She tells employers to encourage employees to learn digital skills that align with their career objectives — and to foster employee enthusiasm for developing soft skills such as curiosity, innovative thinking, and agility.

Training Must Be Engaging 

While the bulk of tech employees would train via digital courses, anyway, it’s important to note just how valuable the online medium is. 

Danielle Westermann King at Human Resource Executive points readers to Accenture, where chief leadership & human resources officer Ellyn Shook transformed the retraining curriculum from purely classroom-based learning to 75-percent digital courses. That move has led to a 92-percent average increase in the number of people being trained every year.

Organizations might choose to deliver training online or in classrooms — or a combination of both. They might favor bootcamps, team learning, gamification, and one-on-one coaching in rotational stints, as McKinsey researchers André Dua, Liz Hilton Segel, and Susan Lund explain. The important point is to deliver training in ways that engage employees. Make sure the training is flexible, suitable, and interactive. 

Dua, Segel, and Lund argue that many organizations will need to create a new C-suite role to manage training delivery. They talk of a chief skills and learning officer (CSLO) with close ties to people development and HR. However, a CHRO could certainly oversee the training as well.

AI in HR

There is huge potential for AI applications in HR. 

Momentum is shifting in developed markets, and more organizations see AI’s value. Chris Havrilla, VP of HR technology and solution provider strategy at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting, says she expects AI to be a regular part of HR in the next five years. 

Pointing to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, Havrilla says that the majority of respondents understand the importance of AI and automation in human capital. Yet only 26 percent are ready to implement these technologies. 

It’s up to HR leaders to rethink or recode work, Havrilla explains. Hand over the simple tasks to machines and let people focus on “superjobs” that require problem-solving, interpretation, design, communication, relationships, decisions, and outcomes, she advises.

Tech workers will be key candidates for superjobs. Havrilla says 84 percent of organizations are thinking about reskilling, retraining, and investing in superjobs.

The employee of the future is committed to a professional life of learning. It’s up to CHROs and their teams to create a culture, alongside processes and policies, to ensure this learning happens. Tech workers should be encouraged to keep developing their skills and find new opportunities to reskill. Indeed, they should be lining up to take the superjobs. 

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