Skills for a Brave New World

Skills for a Brave New World

Rhona Perkins discusses the current business climate, the need for individuals to up-skill and the necessity for training to be championed by business leaders.

Congratulations on existing in 2019! You are here because your ancestors were survivors. The ability to adapt to change is encoded in your genes. Whilst evolving, human beings have learned how to do many useful things like make tools, plough fields and keep records. We have also learned how to do many unnecessary things along the way, like using a Blackberry, which we’ve subsequently unlearned again.

Here we find ourselves in the throes of the fourth industrial revolution. We continue to learn new skills to gain competitive advantage in a rapidly changing business environment. These changes are occurring at an unprecedented rate and the impact is felt keenly in the workplace. A recent report by the World Economic Forum (“WEF”) predicted that 65% of children beginning primary education today will end up in jobs that do not yet exist. But how easy is it to adapt to a world filled with Cyber Security Experts and Data Scientists when growing up your understanding of personal data was the cardboard folder in your GP’s filing cabinet?

Automation of jobs threatens around 1.5 million jobs across the UK according to government estimates. However, more optimistic commentators believe that the creation of new jobs may offset those lost, and a suggestion of this can be seen in the increasingly demanding regulatory environment surrounding the financial world and big data. The societal transformation we face as a result of this landscape change is rendering many jobs obsolete and creating a need for new skills.

As job requirements change, workers are now expected to be lifelong learners. By 2022, the WEF predicts that 54% of all employees will require re-skilling and up-skilling. As with all culture shifts, there will be some significant psychological barriers to overcome throughout society and the workplace, but particularly for the more established employees.

Access to education has become easier than ever with various flexible learning platforms available. With experience comes enhanced focus, better time management and an understanding of which of the available learning methods suit us best. Despite the availability of learning platforms however, for those of us imbrued in busy adult lives, there is less time available than ever for illustrating notes with superheroes or making brain boosting smoothies and therefore “studying smart” has become more important than ever.

As people mature, they acquire wisdom, experience and social status, whilst often experiencing a side-effect of change resistance. Re-training can be daunting and people often experience a crisis of confidence. It’s tough and so understanding the need for training, as well as acknowledging and managing responses to it, are key for both employees and their employers.

Openness to up-skilling and life learning can be achieved through culture change and the onus is not only on employees to adapt to this new business world; strong and effective leadership will help spearhead the way for companies who want to upskill their employees and enhance talent. Businesses should ensure they have policies and mechanisms in place which are conducive to an upskilled and modern workforce.

Business leaders must be advocates for CPD, up-skilling and re-training and understand that employees have evolving expectations of what should be offered to them. Although it is often presumed that today’s employees are primarily looking for job satisfaction, research from global analytics and advice firm Gallup shows that the main driver behind Millennials’ career choices is actually personal development.

Alongside this appetite to learn, it has become harder to hold on to talent than ever before. A survey conducted by LinkedIn revealed that over the last 20 years the number of companys people have worked for in the five years after they graduated has nearly doubled. Hence, employers are having to compete for employee loyalty. With the availability of information through platforms such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn, businesses must ensure they are offering genuine, quality opportunities for learning and development.

Businesses must also make sure that employees are not just presented with opportunities, but also actively encouraged to take them. It is well documented that female colleagues can be less forthright than their male counterparts in putting themselves forward for positions and opportunities. A well quoted report by Hewlett Packard found that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, whereas women apply only if they meet 100% of them. There also remains a ‘class pay gap’ even amongst employees in the same profession and for as long as these factors remain the case, it is even more important that all employees are actively encouraged to obtain relevant skillsets. An upskilled and competitive workforce is a healthier and more resilient one. 

Would you be spooked if this article had been composed by an algorithm? Changes, like the use of Artificial Intelligence, can be unsettling, but they can also present new opportunities for those who embrace them. When our ancestors invented the equipment to plough fields, the competitive advantage it gave them formed the basis of our modern economy. We must embrace new skills as individuals and businesses must build a conducive environment whilst creating new routes towards equality. This is the law of the jungle. Those who are prepared for change will survive and those who are better prepared will thrive.

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