Future-Proofing the Workforce

Workers want to gain new skills but are unsure about which training they ought to pursue.

Workers are well aware of how developments such as AI and automation are altering and will continue to change the present and future employment. Two-thirds of those surveyed believe their jobs could change profoundly at least every five years due to new technologies. Those employed in more senior positions anticipate change at a more rapid rate than unskilled workers. Despite feeling the inevitability of such changes, a majority of workers report that they lack confidence in their ability to gain the skills required to meet the coming challenges. Many fear that they will lose their jobs entirely. More than half of workers surveyed in India and Singapore are concerned about their employment. In all nations, those aged 25 to 34 years are most worried about losing their jobs as a result of tech developments.

“Survey results reveal a lack of systematic evaluation of potential gaps between the skills that workers now possess and those they would need to be fit for the future.”

Gaining new skills or upgrading existing ones is important to 71% of workers, yet most employees don’t see skill-acquisition as part of their job. While 87% of survey respondents report having considered training, only 10% have actually participated in significant skilling – that is, working to gain skills that are somewhat or completely new over a minimum of three training days. Most of the workers who have done some training have applied themselves to learning skills that are similar to the ones they already possess. This issue stems, in part, from a lack of understanding as to which skills workers will need in the future. Performance reviews, peer feedback and individual research offer some guidance – but not enough. Moreover, while 62% of employees overall feel they bear primary responsibility for skills acquisition, 62% of older workers (aged 45–54 years) believe their employers should provide the necessary training and 22% of 18-24-year-olds feel the government should provide such services. But the greatest obstacles to gaining new skills are money and time; half of workers report being unable to overcome these challenges.

Businesses take a variety of approaches to worker training, but often fail to invest enough in skill development.

Most employers understand the importance of helping their workers develop new skills. To that end, they provide their employees with insights as to which skills the company sees itself needing long-term and offer support in terms of helping workers attain the skill or skills in question. The available training tools vary but may include videos, written materials, gamified learning and on-the-job experiences. While many companies are successful at reskilling or upskilling from within their current pool of workers, others find themselves consistently recruiting new employees to meet their evolving needs. This nonstop need to hire from outside is quite costly. Investment management company RK Invest estimates that employers spend an average of $240 billion a year seeking out new talent. Companies could save as much as $136,000 per person by successfully training their existing workforce.

“While it may be hard to predict what skills will be needed in the years ahead, companies cannot afford to make decisions only when the trends are clear.”

Supposing that an employer does choose upskilling over hiring, two questions still remain: How can the business identify which employees to train, and which skills should they acquire? Some companies handle the first question by focusing on employees who are already doing work similar to the required new skill area. Others use analytics to help identify strong candidates for training or apply assessment and behavioral tests to determine aptitude. Knowing which skills are needed presents a bigger quandary. Many companies hesitate to invest heavily in worker training because they struggle to think beyond a 12-month horizon in terms of skills their business goals require; a three-to-five-year timeline is far more appropriate. Companies can bypass the problem of an unknown future by allowing a large degree of flexibility in training plans. Firms can then tweak training to fit evolving needs. To encourage employee participation, employers must carve out time for workers to do their training during working hours rather than hoping they will do it during their personal free time – something large firms can often do more easily than smaller ones.

Public institutions can help by facilitating access to skill-building resources.

Public institutions like governments and educational, labor and economic organizations can play key roles in helping workers – both the employed and the self-employed – gain new skills. Institutions can help smaller businesses by providing training and skill assessment tools or by connecting them with other companies where they can form collaborative resources. Institutions can also gather data to help assess the work skills needed for individuals, companies and nations to thrive.

“In assessing skills needs, public institutions have a role to play in gathering data on the labor market and mapping skills gaps.”

Colleges and other educational institutions not only offer vital pre-employment training options, but they can partner with the private sector to share information about up-and-coming skill needs, which can shape curriculum development. Public institutions can also bolster the participation of minority groups in training opportunities. Singapore’s government, for example, grants training subsidies to all citizens over age 25.

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