In a post-COVID world, the importance of reskilling and upskilling the workforce will be even more pressing as we face the changing work environment. We know there will be increasing automation, advanced digital technologies and new jobs for which we are yet to fully grasp the skill requirements. We are told that increasingly employers will need people with ever higher levels of specialized skills and knowledge, creating unprecedented new opportunities for some while potentially leaving others behind.
Increasingly there is a focus on the need for employees and businesses to be adaptable and agile (and isn’t COVID-19 teaching us a lot about that), but many commentators warn that businesses are unprepared for the challenges ahead despite the solution being strikingly obvious. Given the high costs of lay-offs and redundancies, one suggested solution is teaching new skills to the current workforce. While this in itself is an expensive investment, it is still cheaper than hiring especially as there will be high demand for specific talent, which will be in short supply.
The World Economic Forum in partnership with the Boston Consulting Group has produced two reports recently, both about the challenges of reskilling. The first focuses on developing a method to identify reskilling and job transition opportunities, the second on how industry can lead the way in a new reskilling revolution. Using the United States as an example, the first report indicates “the average worker has 48 viable job transitions, but that figure falls to half that amount if employees are looking to maintain or increase their current wages”. A key barrier to larger potential job transitions is an expectation of high job similarity. The report argues that reskilling could uncover a larger set of opportunities. More than a million jobs in the US are projected to be disrupted in the next six years, the majority of which belong to women. The message from this research is that workers at risk of displacement should be focussed on lifelong learning and regular reskilling to stay relevant and employable. This is especially important for mature professionals, both men and women, who already encounter stereotypes about their technological skills and their ability to adapt to change.
While this issue is particularly acute for workers, the report also warns against complacency among employers expecting to access new workers with the right “ready-made” skills and suggests without attention to reskilling there will be serious skill shortages.
The second report highlights the fact that not only is reskilling necessary but there remains a vast untapped opportunity for most companies within specific demographic groups— including women, older workers, indigenous people, specific ethnic groups and people with special needs — that can bring a competitive advantage to companies that move fast and in the right direction.
One of the problems is that companies don’t generally have a good grasp of the capabilities of their workforce including their learning capacity, ambitions, interests or skills sets. Better engagement with their workforces might yield surprising information about the skills they already have and also potentially undermine stereotypes that are often applied to older workers. Both employers and educational institutions will need to work closely together to help people into new jobs and find new career paths while also providing innovative ways in which to reskill and retrain through micro-credentialing, online learning and “nano” degrees.
While uncertain, the future does offer new opportunities for all workers but especially mature professionals who are attentive to the issues, willing to try new things and open to continuous learning.
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