We need to talk about skills

The skills of our workforces are critical to productivity, innovation and growth. With the advances of technology, changes in the workplace, and projections for the future, many are predicting that up to half the jobs we do today could disappear in the next 10 years or so, and new jobs requiring new skills will emerge. There are many implications for how we educate future generations, and calls for changes in the educational system to build the broader base of skills almost every job will need. Importantly, there is a growing recognition that amongst the key skills will be the profoundly human abilities of emotional intelligence and empathy, as well as critical thinking and creativity. People management and basic leadership skills will also need much more focus, and organisations will need people who can be adaptive and resilient, able to learn new skills and capabilities, and almost all of us will need to understand how to work in an increasingly digital world.

For organisations and the HR and L&D professions, the implications are profound. The ability to upskill and reskill our workforces will need to become a truly strategic capability and critical for how organisations will adapt. We will have to create learning cultures, where development is increasingly embedded in tasks and processes, and tacit knowledge as well as structured learning is enabled and shared widely. The development of digital learning, the curation of content from multiple sources, and ability for learners to learn anytime, anywhere is already becoming a game changer and, in turn, HR and L&D professionals are having to learn new skills to meet these opportunities.

But our latest research shows that, particularly in the UK, job-related adult learning has fallen significantly in recent years. Meanwhile, employers increasingly report that the skills of the workforce don’t match their needs, and more and more employees complain they are over-skilled for the jobs they do. Simultaneously for higher level skills, particularly in the STEM skills domain, many organisations report difficulties in finding the skills they need. It’s clearly time to reverse these trends.

Your role as HR or L&D professionals starts with helping organisations take a more strategic and long term view of the kind of skills they’ll need for the future. This is a tough challenge when it’s becoming harder to predict future jobs and skills needs. That’s why we need to identify the core skills required and then create the agile learning capabilities to build the skills as they emerge. That includes fostering closer links with education providers to support lifelong learning. Together, with real engagement in job and organisational design, we can play a major role in creating adaptive organisations and capabilities. Our Learning and Development Show next month is the perfect opportunity to invest some time in your own learning and development, so you’re better equipped to help others with theirs.

Beyond what we can do within organisations, political and educational reform will clearly be important as other significant questions arise. Should we give people time off work to learn? In Norway and Sweden, for example, employees with more than three years’ service have a right to unpaid training leave. And who will help the self-employed keep their skills up to date? Our skills report concludes with recommendations such as personal learning budgets, co-funded by government, employers and employees, which can be used at different stages of an individual’s career. They’ve already proven successful in Scotland, Sweden, Canada and the United States. Providing a comprehensive approach to skills development will be vital to industrial strategy and competitiveness for all of us in the future. 

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