Reskilling for the age of digital work: what do we need from a modern employee?

Skills
lisegagne / iStock
Andy Campbell
HCM Strategy Director
Oracle
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Virtually every industry is being impacted by the rise in automation and an increased reliance on data analytics. As a result, businesses are being forced to rethink the way they work and turn to new technologies to remain successful.

One consequence of this trend is that technology is poised to take the place of humans for certain repetitive or administrative tasks, dramatically reshaping the workforce and changing job descriptions in the process.

Despite fears that automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are putting jobs at risk, many roles will simply evolve as companies look to profit from their technology investment. With some of the more basic tasks off their plate, workers will instead be able to focus on more innovative value-driving activity.  

To add to this, the rise of automation and more sophisticated analytics will see countless new roles created as employers seek digitally-savvy workers to help them master these technologies.

However, in order to prosper the modern employee will need to learn new skills. Indeed, recent research by Capita Resourcing found that 54% of leaders think training and development for automation should be a major HR focus over the next five years.

The modern employee’s skillset

So what skills does today’s employee need to develop as their role evolves?

First of all, the modern employee will need to develop their analytical skills. The technologies that are becoming increasingly widespread will still depend on the way they are exploited and how the new systems that use them are actually designed. As a result, there will be an increasing need for employees to truly understand problems in order to configure technology appropriately. Employees will need to grasp the likely benefits and implications of the various options open to them, as well as the best way to deliver and then execute the solution.

Given the analytical requirements outlined above, it’s never been more important to be able to listen to and understand what is required to make effective decisions. This includes the ability to research, challenge and really get to the nub of a problem and then design intuitive solutions that deliver what the business requires.

It’s never been more important to be able to listen to and understand what is required to make effective decisions.

Additionally, the modern employee will be required to develop new skills around data and numeracy, as the volume and variety of data upon which businesses increasingly rely grows exponentially. As a result data scientists, or people with a high level of data science knowledge, will become increasingly in demand.  

As you would expect, this will be a focus in more technical sectors such as financial services and pharmaceuticals. However, with data analytics becoming increasingly important in business functions such as marketing, as companies strive to get a better understanding of customers, these skills will become equally necessary in industries such as retail, manufacturing and utilities.

But it’s not just about skills. As new technologies are gradually adopted, modern employees will need to embrace a ‘growth mindset’. This will give them the flexibility to successfully deal with the continuous improvement that is made to business processes and the agile development and rapid deployment of technology that will characterise modern digital businesses.

If companies fail to experiment, it’s highly likely that they will lose out to more innovative rivals.

There also needs to be an increased willingness to experiment. In many organisations making mistakes is not seen as acceptable and as a result a blame culture can exist. However the fear of failure and lack of desire to try something new and different restricts our ability to be creative. This is no longer appropriate in a world where change is the norm. If companies fail to experiment, it’s highly likely that they will lose out to more innovative rivals.

HR can help with this latter point by incorporating it into an individual’s performance review process. Employees should not be judged solely on successful work, but also in their efforts to innovate and test new ideas, products, services and ways of working. This will foster a culture of experimentation and collaboration in which employees are less concerned about the negative impacts of taking risks.

HR’s role in reskilling the workforce

Employees will look to their employers to help them develop the new skills they need as their roles change and evolve. This will apply equally to workers young and old. New entrants into the workforce may be more technologically savvy but they may not have the experience nor business acumen of their more established colleagues. Improvements in coaching, mentoring and indeed reverse mentoring will go some way to fill this gap.

It’s important for HR to note that training cannot be a tick-box exercise – it should be a continuous process based on collaboration and instant-access to relevant information. Marathon training sessions for all employees are not necessarily the best way to make an impact.

Of course learning opportunities must be relevant and tailored to the way people work and reflect the way they behave in their life away from work. YouTube and social media has been shown to be a great learning tool, with endless instructional content that will help you with anything from DIY to how to perfect your golf swing.

Just 39% of non-managers say their organization uses online and collaborative learning tools to promote their development.

HR must adapt training and develop similar systems to fit with employee expectations and deliver training effectively. However, there is work to do, with just 39% of non-managers surveyed by Oracle saying their organization uses online and collaborative learning tools to promote their development.

The latest technologies should also help democratize training across the company. The use of collaboration platforms and on-demand training modules means this level and quality of training doesn’t have to be the preserve of senior staff.

Tools like virtual reality also have huge potential to play a role around learning and improving performance. For example, it could be used to help younger workers develop their ability to speak to clients, pitch for new business or make speeches by simulating the relevant situations, audiences and reactions.

By putting these new training approaches and systems in place, HR will help employees develop the skills they need to perform the new tasks that are required of them. This will provide organisations with the skills base they need to consolidate the benefits provided by emerging technology and ensure employees are in a position to be able to generate business value in the future.

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