Planning for future skills and roles

Concluding our start-of-the-year series exploring ideas that will help shape the way the L&D function can enable and support learning, this week we look at workforce planning and preparing for jobs that don’t yet exist.

How do you plan for the future when you don’t know what that future looks like? That’s a question that concerns everyone working in recruitment, HR and L&D. Skills are changing, roles are changing, the whole world of work and business is changing, and it’s all changing quickly and significantly.

This doesn’t make it easy for HR and L&D to map out what skills and roles will be needed in the future and to plan for that. If we can’t even define a role yet, how can we say what skills are needed for that role? How do we identify the right need, find the right people, recruit them and train them when it’s all so uncertain?

It may be daunting, but it is essential that L&D prepares for the future to enable organisations to build a workforce with the right skills, aptitudes and competencies.

First and foremost, this means accepting that change is inevitable and far-reaching. A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), called The Future of Jobs, predicted that by 2020, over one third (35%) of skills considered important when the report was released will have changed in those five years. That’s how fast the pace of change is now.

As we know, tech is behind all this change, revolutionising how work is done and who (or what) does it. There is a lot of fear and scaremongering about what tech means for the future in terms of jobs and skills – robots will take over our jobs, that kind of thing. However, tech always creates new jobs and demand for new skills, even when it makes other jobs and skills redundant.

Whatever the future holds, we do know it will require new skills. Against this background of change, the WEF report identified the top skills it expects to be in demand in 2020, compared to the top skills needed in 2015:

In 2020:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgement and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

In 2015:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Coordinating with others
  3. People management
  4. Critical thinking
  5. Negotiation
  6. Quality control
  7. Service orientation
  8. Judgement and decision making
  9. Active listening
  10. Creative listening

Of course, 2020 is now really not far away, and if we were to look forward another 5 years, there would be just as much change again.

Because of this rapid change, there is an increasing emphasis on learnability – a person’s ability to learn new skills. As knowledge dates so quickly, it’s imperative that the workforce is made up of people who are able to learn, unlearn and relearn. And not just once – people have to keep learning throughout their working lives, which is why it’s so important for organisations to foster a learning culture.

Organisations also need to have a culture of knowledge sharing. The businesses that succeed are those that enable knowledge to be shared quickly and easily throughout the workforce. Research by the design and consultancy firm IDEO claims that knowledge sharing and collaboration are two vital characteristics of successful, future-focused teams and companies. These are the skills of the future.

And according to research by McKinsey, constant upskilling is the key to success. The management consulting organisation said employers must make training and upskilling a top priority and they know it. In a 2017 McKinsey report, research revealed that 66% of executives considered addressing potential skills gaps related to automation/digitisation within their workforce to be one of their top ten drivers, with nearly 30% putting it in the top five.

Moreover, 62% said they think they will have to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce by 2023 because of automation and digitisation. Now only a few years away, L&D teams need to make sure they stay on top of what’s happening to identify and develop the right skills.