Company

UpSkilling for the Future of Work

Natasha Serafimovska

Career Coach, Professional Resume Writer, Freelance Writer


The shelf life of work skills is shrinking. The rapid rate of innovation and digital transformation has made many skills outdated, which is pushing us into what we used to think of as the future of work. This causes a great concern for businesses who rely on their workforce to stay ahead of the curve. The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated uncertainty that came with it have also put an extra strain on businesses who’ve struggled to hire and retain key talent to overcome existing challenges.

The increased adoption of automation and digitalization across industries has also meant that there’s a massive shift in how we define work. The tools and skills we need in order to thrive in the workplace are also undergoing a major transformation. It seems that the future of work is already here, and with it, the future workforce is also emerging.

Inevitably, companies are pushed to rethink how they operate as a business and what skill set its workforce needs in order to stay competitive. A recent Gartner survey showed that 80% of the workforce, 92% of managers and 77% of senior leaders already feel poorly prepared for the future. Add to this the fact that 44% of the skills employees have today will be outdated by 2025. It becomes increasingly clear that businesses can no longer be complacent when it comes to employee development.

Here we look at some new approaches businesses can apply to build an agile and flexible workforce. Finding ways to develop the right skill sets will help see businesses through the current challenges and drive future growth. 

Build Competences Along With Technical Skills

The future of work requires you to combine building competencies along with technical skills.
Build competencies along with technical skills. Combine them for success.

When it comes to employee training, focusing on technical job-related skills has been the norm for a long time. Onboarding programs and ongoing learning opportunities are often offered based on the role and seniority of the employee. However, as traditional job roles evolve and new cross-functional ones emerge, the classic approach to developing and delivering training programs has become increasingly ineffective

Not only is this type of employee training outdated for the “future of work’s” new context in which employees work, but it also fails to meet the needs of employees themselves. In fact, 70% of employees feel they don’t have mastery over the skills they need to do their jobs. In addition, these same employees feel they only apply 54% of the skills they’ve acquired through a traditional, predictive training approach.

Instead, companies need to be more strategic regarding the training they provide. There should be a focus on competency-based training which responds to the realtime needs of the business as well as the learning preferences of the employee. Unlike traditional training models, competency-based training looks beyond the job role. It seeks to continuously align learning outcomes with changing business priorities.

In order to achieve this, take a look at the emerging skills required on the market. Then have a look at the long-term strategic goals of your business. The intersection of these two categories is the sweetspot you need to hit with your training program. Once you have these insights, make sure you replace the “one-size-fits-all” standardized curricula. Instead, use a dynamic, module-based training program that’s measurable and directly responds to your immediate business needs. 

Nurture Cross-Functional Skills

The work skills and tools employees need in order to thrive in the workplace continuously change. One noticeable trend, for example, is that cross-functional skills are becoming more important for running a successful business. According to a World Economic Forum report, the top skills which employers see rising in prominence from now to 2025 are:

  • Critical thinking
  • Analysis and problem-solving
  • Active learning
  • Resilience
  • Stress tolerance
  • Flexibility

In addition, the use of digital tools for collaboration in the workplace has spiked in the last few years. This is likely due to accelerated digitalization and the rise of remote and hybrid work. In fact, 79% of workers said they’ve used collaboration tools for work in 2021. This is an increase of 44% compared to 2019. 

Nurturing a workforce that possesses a good know-how of digital collaboration tools and masters cross-functional skills are key to success. Companies that invest in employee development should focus on these two aspects. It will help keep pace with the changes in the labor market. As these learning areas can easily be integrated in a competency-based training curricula, you can use them to revamp your professional development offers and make your company more visible to the emerging workforce.

Don’t Shy Away from the Gig Economy

Mobility and flexibility seem to be the core traits of the future global workforce. A substantial 50% of Generation Z respondents in the US (those between the ages of 18 and 22) and 44% of Millennials report participating in freelance work. Projections are that the freelance workforce will follow a steady increase in the foreseeable future. With its gaining popularity, the gig economy industry will have a double-digit annual growth over the next few years. 

For most companies this can be a huge challenge as their structures and processes are suitable for an office-based, “one job, one person” environment. Some companies, however, have already started to adapt to the new trends. CISCO, for example, is taking the “one company, many careers” approach. It has introduced an internal “talent marketplace” allowing their employees to find short-term assignments within the company.

Instead of fearing it, you can embrace this workforce flexibility and internally mimic the gig economy in your company. Do this by identifying the opportunities you have to engage your employees in more meaningful ways.

You can start by mapping the various work skills and interests your employees have. Once you have done this, assign them different short-term tasks that encourage them to apply skills in different contexts. Perhaps they could even work in collaboration with colleagues from other departments. 

You might find that you already have the necessary expertise in-house and don’t have to hire outside talent. Plus, embracing and nourishing flexibility will make you more competitive and attractive to the workforce of the future.

Upskill and Reskill Your Workforce

Employee development is very important for the future of work.

The landscape of jobs and skills in demand is constantly changing. It is estimated that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced. Meanwhile, 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the current division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms. Because of the future of work tends to be so unpredictable sometimes, it is no longer so easy to target which skills employees will need to remain successful in the labor market. It can also be difficult to pinpoint which job positions and roles businesses might need to remain relevant and competitive in their industries.

Consequently, HR departments are often wasting resources on teaching employees irrelevant skills that they might never use. Sticking to knowledge and skills acquisition for traditional jobs no longer works. Employee development must be relevant and businesses need to adapt fast.

As the skills needed for the future labor market are not so easy to predict now, build an agile workforce that knows how to adapt to changes quickly and learn new skill sets easily and without frustration. You can start by including change management in your employee training programs while openly discussing new career paths with your employees. Clearly communicate the evolution of your business needs to your staff and how some specific changes affect their work. Don’t let changes catch them off guard.

The Future of Work Has Arrived

Shifting market demands and the fast-paced digital transformation have challenged many of the old ways in which companies operated. Businesses heavily rely on the ingenuity of their workforce to stay afloat as innovation has become a necessary component to remaining competitive.

Employee development and training programs need to reflect this shift by focusing on strengthening employees’ key competences and cross-functional skills. Businesses who embrace flexible and agile working and who continuously focus on upskilling its workforce are well-positioned to not only face current challenges, but also to drive innovation and stay well ahead of their competition.

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