The Coronavirus pandemic has driven organisations to reframe their rules of business engagement and push the fast-forward button on a host of digital initiatives. In the past 12 months, employees have had to get to grips with the realities of remote working and new operational models that are changing the way they work.

Indeed, Covid-19 is set to rapidly accelerate the impact of technology on the job market over the next decade. According to a recent World Economic Forum report*, by 2025 half of all work tasks will be handled by machines. A process that is set to both create 97 million jobs worldwide and simultaneously replace almost as many.

With more disruption on the horizon, organisations need to prepare now for the ‘jobs of tomorrow’. That includes thinking about how to upskill personnel as technologies like AI, robotics and big data continue to impact job roles and established work practices.

Adopting more sustainable approach to addressing the skills gap

As the workplace continues to evolve at pace, employees will need to acquire the relevant digital and soft skills required to retain their roles or perform them effectively. Yet 68 per cent of UK employers report already struggling to find workers with the right skills. A skills gap that is costing them an estimated £4.4 billion a year**.

But attempting to buy in skills, rather than build them, is a short-term response that ultimately does not pay long-term dividends. To keep up with today’s fast shifting business environment, a more sustainable approach is needed.

In the absence of ready talent, many forward thinking organisations are recognising that creating an agile and motivated workforce that can adapt fast to new challenges begins with the initiation of a culture of continuous learning and development that will enable workers to acquire the skills they need to transition to new and emerging roles.

So, what L&D priorities should top the list for organisations that want to ensure their workforce is able to keep pace with upcoming changes?

Preparing for disruption

Few organisations could have predicted how the global pandemic would disrupt their industry overnight. Having leveraged digital transformation to transcend recent events, they’ve invested in new cloud-based infrastructure and communication and collaboration tools that now make it easier for any employee to access on-demand learning content.

As they initiate new AI and automation tools across the business, they’re also taking the opportunity to embed highly targeted learning directly into workflows: supporting workers with the relevant skills and capabilities they will need to perform immediate tasks, and providing signposting to additional learning resources that workers may want to build on for the future.

These micro moments of learning enable workers to practically apply highly relevant new skills quickly, in context, and at the moment of need. Ensuring they are able to continuously evolve their capabilities in line with any incremental updates to workflows.

This informal approach to learning new skills on the job has a wider relevance to workforce skills acquisition. As organisations begin to look at what emerging skills will be needed to undertake a variety of roles across the organisation, targeting curated skills acquisition will be a top priority. According to the World Economic Forum, companies estimate that 40 per cent of workers will need formal upskilling or re-skilling, regardless of their current specialisation, within the next five years.

To prepare their human capital for a future characterised by persistently changing work environments, firms will need to accelerate and democratise the delivery of employer-led training programmes as work processes become increasingly digitised.

With 97 million new roles emerging that will require re-write the division of labour between humans, machines and AI algorithms, adopting learning technologies that make it easy for workers to access learning on digital skills such as data analysis, computer science and information technologies will be vital to ensure they can acquire the core skills they will need.

Enabling an agile self-learning and development culture

According to a recent report, 45 per cent of firms are concerned about becoming obsolete in the next 3-5 years. The implications of emerging technologies for organisations is resetting the delivery of L&D resources and is increasingly making in-the-moment learning a top strategic priority.

Increased reliance on machine learning systems will make it possible for organisations to rapidly deploy resources and services wherever these are needed to create value and boost efficiency and customer satisfaction. Which means workers will increasingly need to engage in human-machine partnerships with AI and other technologies for discrete work tasks.

To manage this shift, organisations will need to ensure their continuous learning programmes are focused on developing competencies that can be nurtured over time rather than purely job-related skills. That includes the so-called soft skills that distinguish people from machines.

For the future, workers will increasingly become digital resource conductors who utilise their instinctive skills of intuition, human judgement, and emotional intelligence to undertake daily activities and solve problems. One thing is for sure, the ability to make sense of combined human-machine outputs will be the key to success in the next era of human-machine work partnerships.

To achieve this, workers will need to develop creative thinking capabilities that make it easy to circumvent constraints, to improvise, and find workarounds to challenges. As well as being confident they can master the utilisation of emerging technologies to tackle the job in hand.

Keeping pace with change

Today’s fast shifting business environment requires skilled workers that can adapt fast to new environments and future challenges. Anticipating and preparing for future skills requirements and job content is becoming increasingly critical for organisations that need to manage the disruptive change to occupational requirements.

Narrowing the workforce skills gap will also require new approaches to L&D delivery at scale that makes it easy for workers to continually acquire and develop the work skills and resources they will need.

In the face of emerging new technologies, organisations and their employees will need to commit to continual learning and development to ensure they have the skills they require to succeed in the future.


*The Future of Jobs Report 2020, October 2020, WEF

**The Open University Business Barometer Report 2019

The next era of human/machine partnerships: emerging technologies’ impact on society & work in 2030, Institute for the Future and Dell Technologies, 2017