Reskilling the Global Workforce

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In a recent Manpower Group Talent Shortage Survey of 39,195 employers in 43 countries and territories, 45 percent of respondents said they couldn’t find the skills they need – that number climbs to 67 percent at large organizations. In the 12 years that Manpower has conducted its annual survey, this year’s global talent shortages are at their highest levels.

Most organizations affected by the skills gap are painfully aware of their problem. “We know from our research that organizations don’t yet feel prepared to adapt to digital or AI,” says Michael Griffiths, lead for Deloitte’s Learning Consulting Practice. “The 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report found that 72 percent of our respondents see AI as important, but only 31 percent feel ready to address it.”

The emergence of new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, internet of things, mobile apps, and the pace of change in these new technologies, requires individuals in the workplace who have deep skillsets in these new technologies, and they are in short supply, notes Heide Abelli, senior vice president of content product management at Skillsoft. At the same time, workers in transportation, administrative support, sales, and logistics are finding their jobs being dramatically changed or eliminated due to automation.

In some ways, this gap is a problem of employers’ own collective making, thanks to an addictive “microwave” mentality of pushing people as hard and fast as possible. Instead of reskilling their existing workers, companies focus on recruiting new employees with the desired skills. Only 11 percent of C-suite and human-capital leaders said they plan to provide training or reskilling to meet changing business needs — versus 59 percent who said they plan to hire extensively instead, one survey by Randstad Sourceright found. Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Sourceright, says this will push the skills gap even wider. “A limited number of companies are investing in on-site training programs to prepare their current workforce for in-demand jobs of the future.”

The problem is far too vast for employers to just hire their way out of it. “No company is in a position to swap out the workforce every few years,” Abelli says. “That means companies will be required to train and retrain over and over again, as the shelf life of existing skill sets gets shorter and shorter,” she says. “Going forward, the ability to train and upskill better than the competition may end up being the one critical source of differentiation.”

Here’s what companies need to know to keep pace.

Embracing a New Model of Learning

In a world where continuous change is the only constant, agility can make or break an organization. In this “learn or die” environment, all employees must continue learning or risk becoming irrelevant. Unfortunately, Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends study found that only half of organizations have adapted to this new reality.

“In the past, learning was something that happened at the start of your life before you went to work, and usually involved a mixture of subjects, but the most useful ones were always math, science, languages and technical education, like engineering,” says Lewis Garrad, senior consultant at Mercer-Sirota. For the past 50 years, that model has worked, he says, but as technology continues to advance, employees will need to know more than these basic subjects.

Meanwhile, “the incumbent workforce also finds itself becoming out-of-date with relatively little support in terms of learning infrastructure to reskill — schools are mostly still for children and young adults,” Garrad says.

Garrad says it’s time to change the education and learning conversation. “The rhetoric right now is that we should be ‘teaching people how to learn’ in their early life, and then helping them deploy that into later life to stay relevant in the job market.”

But this ignores the changing skills that workers will need throughout their career, and he says it also fails to account for people learning at a slower pace as they get older. “It’s also likely that work will become less transactional as tech takes over repeatable tasks, even complex ones, and more about relationships and expertise. This means the development of social skills becomes even more important,” he says.

Adapting L&D for the Digital Age

There’s no shortage of money being thrown at the problem. Last year, organizations in North America spent $161.1 billion on training activities, about 44 percent of the estimated global figure of $362.2 billion, reports. However, this training is often generic and irrelevant, with its impact immeasurable.

“The model of the last 150 years — of corporate training, taking people out of day-to-day work and teaching them in classrooms or though lengthy online courses — won’t help people succeed,” Deloitte’s Griffiths says. “It also isn’t what employees value, which is why we found organizations that push training to their workers have shockingly low net promoter scores.”

The new L&D models focus on delivering on-demand, self-service learning that is accessible by the learner at any time, anywhere and on any device. “This means that training content must meet the learner where he or she is, instead of the other way around,” Abelli says. “Training content must be readily accessible within the learner’s natural work context, and the process of finding content that specifically meets the needs of learners must be frictionless and targeted.”

A Fresh Approach to Credentials

Sometimes employees with a bachelor’s degree need additional training in specific areas, but they don’t have the time or money to pursue a traditional master’s degree. “MicroMasters” programs are one way to bridge this gap. Schools including Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech offer online MicroMasters programs in targeted areas.

James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation at the University of Michigan, says the school works closely with employers to understand skill gaps, and also works with learners to understand their starting points. “We have developed a range of flexible and affordable credentials designed to help learners at all levels to develop new skills in areas of growing demand,” DeVaney says. “Our MicroMasters programs, MasterTrack Certificate programs and MOOC specializations are designed for learners with different academic and career objectives, and help learners to develop skills in areas such as programming, user experience design, finance, applied data science and construction engineering and management.”

These programs can also help narrow the credential gap, for those employers that require or prefer formal education credentials to more casual online training. And these programs can be designed to be “stackable,” says Thérèse Hannigan, director of Rochester Institute of Technology Online. “For example, a MicroMasters certificate can provide the foundation for a graduate-level advanced certificate at RIT, which can lead to a master’s degree,” she says. To ensure that these programs are relevant, the school conducts market-demand research to determine how to fill gaps in the market, she says.

It Takes a Village — Or Not?

But is it solely the responsibility of companies to reskill their workers? While schools like Michigan and RIT are stepping up, should we expect the government, schools and other entities to play a role, as well?

“It would be a big expansion of the government’s role to take over the task of training workforces for employers,” says Peter Cappelli, a management professor and director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Particularly if you are in favor of small government, it’s very difficult to see why that makes sense.” He warns that the government hasn’t done a good job of anticipating training needs. “It is work-based skills that come from work experience, and the government can’t provide those.”

In the past, employers often assumed more of that responsibility than they do now. “In the 1970s, most people got their job training on the job — back when most people didn’t have a college degree,” says Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “If they can’t find the people they want, they need to make the people they want. If you’ve already got someone working at the company, train them up — it’s going to take time and money, but there’s no other choice.”

Carnevale says he thinks the solution is both education and training — but that it usually takes a while. “The employers will go to the government and say ‘It’s your job to educate these people.’ ” Europe has an apprenticeship program, but in the U.S., our education system is our job-training program, Carnevale says. “But there’s always a lag. If you’ve got a job that you can’t fill today, it’s usually going to take the education system four to five years to train someone.”

Sometimes, he says, employers will go to a community college and say, “We will pay you to teach them, or you go find these people and train them, and then we’ll hire them.”

Either way, Carnevale says, it’s usually a long process because companies have to communicate their needs to schools, which in turn have to develop the required curricula.

Few companies understand the importance of developing digital skills as well as Google. The company recently announced a partnership with JFF, a workforce-development nonprofit, to offer an IT Support Professional Certificate at about 25 leading community colleges around the country. “Industry-driven programs like this can be adapted and updated to stay current more quickly than traditional college courses,” says Kathy Mannes, vice president of JFF. “This collaboration not only helps to close the skills gap, but also provides economic mobility to everyone.”

Currently there are over 150,000 open IT-support positions, paying an average of $52,160 a year. Some of the companies that have agreed to consider graduates of the program include Bank of America, Walmart, Sprint, GE Digital, PNC Bank, Infosys, TEKSystems, UPMC and Google.

Garrad, who is based in Singapore, says everyone should be involved in reskilling workers. “In Singapore, the government has a specific statutory organization called SkillsFuture that is mapping out current and future skills needs in the economy,” he says. “That data is then used to inform people, educators and employers about where to invest their time and resources for learning and development.”

Garrad admits that this isn’t an easy process — especially without the social infrastructure — since it’s hard to hit a moving target. “It’s impossible to know what the future will hold and what skills might be most in demand, so educators have difficulty deciding what new programs to implement,” he says.

Taking Cues from Manufacturing

Manufacturing is one area that has generated considerable concern over mass layoffs of workers who don’t have transferable job skills. However, that sector also provides some of the strongest examples of the government, schools and companies working together to reskill employees. The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute (ARM), a nonprofit created by Carnegie Mellon University, received $80 million from the Defense Department, and it’s one of 14 Manufacturing USA Institutes (each institution has a unique tech concentration, such as modeling and simulation, electronics and biotechnology). ARM’s purpose is to fund projects that help create manufacturing jobs while accelerating the use of robotics in manufacturing.

More than 160 organizations are contributing resources to ARM, bringing the total potential investment to more than $250 million.

Howie Choset is a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University and the chief scientist at ARM. In addition to creating jobs, Choset says ARM’s goals include making American workers cost-effective and competitive, lowering barriers so small companies can leverage manufacturing and making the U.S. the leader in industrial robotics. ARM provides training, certifications and other educational tools to people ranging from students to displaced workers.

“Our hope is to have enough impact on American manufacturing to support the creation of well-paying, middle-class jobs where robots and people work together,” Choset says.

Planning for an Uncertain Future

The future of work is as uncertain as the future itself. Cristal Glangchai, founder of VentureLab, and author of “Venture Girls: Raising Girls to be Tomorrow’s Leaders,” says the majority of kids will have jobs that we cannot even imagine today. Without a crystal ball, it’s difficult to formulate a strategy to transform the workplace and the education process.

But we can plan for what we do know. And since we know that the economy will continue to rapidly evolve, companies — along with schools and the government — need to address ways to make learning a lifelong process. It’s in the best interest of workers, it’s in the best interest of companies and, ultimately, it’s in the best interest of the country.

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