The current rate of technological change means careerlong-learning is now a must

It’s safe to say that “the career for life” is over. People now hold an average of 15 jobs in their working lifetime. What’s more, according to Deloitte the lifespan of a skill has decreased to just five years from 30 on average. Rapid technological advancements are increasingly impacting the traditionally steady trajectory of professional development, as businesses adopt new operational solutions which employees must master.

In the UK, nine in 10 employees will need to reskill by 2030 according to a report based on McKinsey analysis; in the US, the proportion of American workers who believe it will be essential to develop new skills over the course of their working lifetime is only 54 percent. We need to close this gap between expectation and reality if we are to ensure everyone has the skills necessary to participate meaningfully in the economy.

The conclusion? We need to radically redefine our perception of learning as a career-long continuous process to cater to the evolving demands of the workforce.

Supply and demand: The ubiquity of tech

The global pandemic has accelerated the rate of digital transformation in business by around seven years, with more companies embracing new technologies than ever before.

Many companies have turned to robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and machine-learning solutions for cost-saving, hygiene and/or competitive reasons, requiring appropriate levels of employee expertise in order to fully optimize and exploit the benefits. These changes are unlikely to be temporary. With economies in flux, entire industry sectors being disrupted and a growing skills gap, it is essential to encourage greater education-workforce alignment to not only protect workers, but to unlock huge, and pent-up economic potential regardless of sector.

The proliferation of AI-driven tech will continue to have an impact on business, with data from Deloitte suggesting that by 2030 AI will contribute almost $15 trillion to the global economy. The ubiquity of the technology means that adoption and adaptation in business is a requirement – alongside a growing demand for AI-literate workers. However, supply does not currently match this growing demand. The UK’s Career and Employability Service projects that the current market demands 10 times as many computer science graduates as are being produced by institutions; data scientists are 344 percent higher in demand compared with 2013.

What’s more, even with the excellent foundation that a university education can provide, today’s workforce must continue upskilling and reskilling between graduation and retirement, in line with an evolving economic and technological landscape. Whether university-educated or not, employees will need continuous education and skills training throughout their career in order to be able to grasp the latest, in-demand skills, and stay relevant.

Need-to-have vs nice-to-have

As we continue to adapt to the disruption caused by the global pandemic, there will no doubt also be continued economic contraction on a national and international scale. With increasing implementation of automated and AI-driven alternative roles, jobs will not only be transformed, but also displaced in some cases – and in others, created.

Indeed, the World Economic Forum predicts that over the next five years, while 97 million jobs may appear, around 40 percent of workers will require reskilling to cater to changing job demands.

What’s more, in order to counter a productivity deficit emerging from a combination of growing skills gap low investment and the pandemic-induced shift to remote working, businesses must acknowledge the positive impact of building community and connection. Taking an interest in personal development by supplying employee training offerings based on future workplace demand is one way to demonstrate commitment to employees, engage workers and improve morale and loyalty, while increasing their capabilities and productivity in equal measure.

Cultivating an open mindset

The task of leveraging AI and emerging technologies for the benefit of a business lies with business leaders. In nurturing an open, agile and experimental mindset and culture, leaders must learn to embrace and understand the potential of new technologies, alongside the concept of career-long learning. Expanding worker capabilities is crucial to harnessing the technology, and therefore staying competitive.

Indeed, according to McKinsey, companies experimenting with new digital technologies prior to the pandemic fared better during the crisis, having already demonstrated flexibility in adapting operations.

Applying the same open mindset to employee upskilling simply makes sense: investing in training and development will expand capabilities across the entire organization. In a world where businesses are looking to ‘future-proof’ using tech solutions, bringing employees with them on the journey will only enable more effective execution. The more training and practical experience employees engage in, the more AI and digital literacy will become part of an organization.

Leading by example

It is just as important for the C-suite and business leaders to become proficient in technologies such as AI and data science so they can speak the same language as their engineers and better understand how to build and leverage successful artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data initiatives.

It’s never been more important for business leaders to have a basic level of knowledge of emerging technologies so that they can effectively manage their tech talent and make sure they invest in the right people and tools. To put it simply, without an understanding of the tech behind the solutions can lead to some business leaders being left behind.

Employees, engaged and empowered

An open mindset towards career-long learning, as well as technological innovation, will ensure that employees remain engaged. In recognizing strengths that employees can build upon, leaders will nurture confidence and curiosity, and enable existing capabilities to be enhanced as part of a continuous process towards individual and business resiliency.

In providing continuous training, employers are providing the opportunity not only for engagement, but for improved employee wellbeing and increased personal growth. For individuals, this might reinforce the feeling of being valued, while decreasing the fear of becoming redundant in the shadow of emerging technological solutions. In addition, from a business perspective, engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization, ensuring a lower staff turnover, and retaining a dedicated workforce with built-up knowledge of their company.

Lastly, in supporting employees with continued training throughout their career, business leaders are nurturing an agile workforce, and a subsequently more agile business. In today’s world of ever-evolving market conditions, cultivating agility is certainly an astute approach to respond positively to changing demands.

Continual progress

It’s clear that businesses who fail to prioritize emerging technology put themselves at more risk of falling behind in the market. However, innovations simply cannot be fully leveraged without the direction of workers who understand them. At the end of the day, successful digital transformation is much more about people than technology. And in a world where technology literacy is becoming increasingly vital to functioning competitively at both the level of enterprise and employee, encouraging career-long learning is a responsibility all business leaders must embrace and actively participate in themselves.

Samuel Schofield, Vice President, EMEA, Udacity

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