Automation and artificial intelligence technologies are posing a peculiar challenge to workforce management. On the one hand, they are taking over certain types of jobs, sparking unemployment worries among workers. On the other hand, they are creating new opportunities requiring workers with specialized skills that are, unfortunately, in short supply. In numbers this reads as 5.5% of the world’s job seekers remaining unemployed, even as tens of millions of positions remain unfilled. We are staring down the barrel of a huge skills crisis.
Fortunately, it is not too late to do something about it. Much like relying on digital transformation to deal with the disruption of their business, enterprises must embrace workforce transformation to tide over the talent crisis. And it is no exaggeration to say that in the light of the technology-powered renaissance of our world, the biggest task at hand for us, when it comes to ensuring the digital transformation of our businesses is to reskill our people.
While the first push may come from the need to plug the talent gap today, workforce transformation is really about building resources over and for the long-term. It takes farsightedness, commitment, and a willingness to make fundamental changes in organizational structure, culture, and mindset. Of course, the right tactical moves matter too, meticulously guided by a strategy to provide the conditions – culture, infrastructure, policy and environment – that would incubate a workforce fit for the digital age, one that will work alongside smart machines, bringing in complementary human abilities.
Companies nurturing their digital-ready workforce find that they must now consider new approaches to talent management, and several new ideas are taking root. Here are three that are my favorites because I have, from close quarters, seen these create value – both for businesses and people - in a rapidly changing economy.
Attack the skills gap from several angles, beyond STEM. The agenda is to offer learning and growth opportunities to a diverse community of aspirants, not just those with advanced computer science degrees or STEM qualifications, but also others whose drive make up for their lack of formal training, including displaced workers and community college students. In addition, expanding the candidate pool to include students of humanities, liberal arts and design helps to bridge the talent deficit faster. However, but more importantly, it brings together holistic skills that enable not just application of technology but the creation of highly-usable, innovative solutions and imaginative ways to solve some of our toughest problems. It’s about nurturing a creative, critical-thinking talent base with a sense of curiosity. These are qualities that are of utmost importance to readily take on the future, and luckily for us not STEM graduate exclusives! Whether it is agents for virtual travel, trainers for gamers, paramedics for robots or even traffic management for drones, our digital future needs diverse skills cutting across a wide and varied spectrum.
Make learning always-on, modular, and non-interruptive. Elaborate, intensive training programs, lasting several weeks to months, are leveraged almost universally to reskill experienced workers in new technologies and induct new hires into the organization. In addition to investments in such training, apprenticeship and cross-functional rotations, an idea that’s evolving in enterprises preparing to face the challenge of building a digital-ready workforce is just-in-time, on-demand, byte-sized modular learning delivered through experiential means. Not as an interruption or ‘learning break’ from business-as-usual but as a way to learn, when working, to operate in a nimbler fashion with a more fluid, flexible set of contemporary skills that are constantly improving, on the job. It’s about enabling the transition from lifelong employment to lifelong employability, achieved through continuous acquisition of new skills and experiences, even as employees go about their regular business.
Transform the workplace to amplify the workforce. Successfully transforming talent also entails investing energies in a strategy that dictates how and where work will be done. It’s about providing an immersive environment that is built for the needs of the digital economy: An open workplace without walled-off cabins and cubicle farms, where immersive fluid digital screens allow employees to connect with colleagues and clients so seamlessly as to make physical distance irrelevant. It's where innovation is not relegated to a corner in space and time and the very workspace is a living lab. It is equally about experimenting with new HR policies and structures in tune with the reality of a digital workforce. It's a way of working that anticipates employee needs, rather than simply reacting to it. It entails identifying unique needs among employees and serving them uniquely by offering individualized learning plans, personalized rewards and even tailored growth paths.
Having said that, it’s equally irrefutable that fully closing the skills gap will be hard work and no one tactic will be enough. No one company, leader, or even government can do it alone too, so it is imperative that everyone works together, bringing the best maneuvers we all have, to do what is right for our people.
Our own local approach to workforce development, leveraging the three tactics I mention above, Boosting American Innovation is just one example of the kind of transformation that is possible when industry works together with local communities, decision-makers and education institutions. Just one compelling approach to embracing creative corporate solutions and deploying new ideas to ensure that our workforce is ready to take on the jobs of the future.
And that future is coming fast. It’s time we all kept up.
Ravi Kumar S. is the president of Infosys.