It was a stark reminder of the importance of preventative measures.
In September 2020, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, a group created by the World Bank and the World Health Organization, released a study that argued an investment of just $5 per person in global health infrastructure could largely prevent the next pandemic from bringing the world to its collective knees.
These people know what they are talking about. This is the same organization that in September 2019 – just 90 days before China formally identified a new pneumonia-like virus – warned the world that we had failed to prepare for a global pandemic that would lead to “widespread havoc, instability and insecurity. The world is not prepared.”
After more than a year suffering under the suffocating presence of COVID-19, we can certainly see the wisdom in the GPMB’s admonitions. The world did not have the strategies, supply chains or medical equipment and supplies to weather the pandemic storm.
The very same scenario we have faced in the pandemic is bearing down upon us when it comes to the future of work.
For many years now, the best and brightest thinkers in economics and human resources have been warning us that we need massive investments in transformational business strategies, including re/upskilling of millions of workers who are about to see their jobs disappear as AI-powered machines assume a bigger role in the business world.
There are a few countries and organizations that have adopted a preventative approach. They are adopting new technologies to replace low-skill tasks and then reskilling their people to perform new, higher skill roles.
But clearly, far too many of us are ignoring an impending crisis, ready to apply corrective measures to problems that could have been prevented with a little advanced planning.
The future of work preparedness gap
How big is the gap between current skills and future skills needed to build more productive, more sustainable careers? Two different sets of numbers from the World Economic Forum describe in graphic detail what current pressures are being applied and the rewards we may accrue if we start acting now.
The first number is alarming and, for many of us, rather depressing: by 2025, the WEF estimates that half of all work currently performed in the world will be done by machines, and that more than four in 10 companies it surveyed plan to reduce their human workforces as they adopt technology to automate manual tasks.
Then, we have the second and perhaps more encouraging number from the WEF: widescale investment in re/upskilling has the potential to boost global GDP by three percent or $6.5 trillion by 2030. The growth in economic activity will come from transitioning people out of jobs being assumed by machines and training them for a new generation of jobs, many of which that will involve creating, supporting and managing all that new technology.
We have a challenge, but we also have an opportunity. Unfortunately, not enough companies are rising to that challenge and offering the reskilling or upskilling opportunities that their workers demand.
Survey data shows that notwithstanding the enhanced focus on reskilling and upskilling, companies are failing to make the proper investments. A 2018 global study by Gartner revealed that only 20 percent of employees have the necessary skills for both their current role and a future job that is more sustainable in the age of AI.
In the past, employers have responded to this kind of gap by firing employees with outdated skills and going out onto the open market to hire new people with a new array of skills. Unfortunately, the global skills shortage that existed prior to the pandemic is still a major obstacle to the fire-and-hire strategy. Increasingly, the most successful organizations are looking for strategies to reskill and redeploy.
Unless we change this equation – and find ways of transitioning workers from outmoded jobs into the jobs of the future – millions of the world’s working people, and their employers, will get steamrolled by technology.
A preventative – rather than corrective – approach to workforce management
The biggest challenge for companies facing the future work preparedness gap is figuring out where to start. Between the challenge of adopting new technologies and finding the people with the right skills to work in that new environment, it can be difficult to plot a preventative course. In many instances, we don’t know what the solutions are because we’re not quite sure what kind of problems we’re facing.
There are three questions organizations should ask themselves to determine the size and scope of the future skills gap, and whether there is still time to apply preventative measures.
1. Have you identified the jobs of the future and the skills needed to fill them? Many companies are focused intently on the adoption of new technologies, but spend little time identifying the people they will need in these roles. For example, Faethm, a global leader in workforce analytics, has identified 32 skills and capabilities needed to fill the most common future jobs. If you haven’t taken the time to identify future roles and the skills needed to fill them, then you’re going to be one step behind in your talent management strategy.
2. How well do you know your workers? Far too many organizations overlook redeployment opportunities because they suffer from a profound knowledge deficit when it comes to the skill profile of their current employees. As difficult as it is to believe, these organizations don’t have a clear picture of the existing skills of their employees or their preferred career aspirations and thus, have no idea which ones have transitional or transferable skills that would allow them, with some focused learning opportunities, to transition into different roles within the company. Performing a detailed skills assessment that includes an opportunity for employees to identify future career paths is essential to closing the preparedness gap.
3. Do you have a learning strategy to fill the jobs of the future? To get as much value out of existing employees, organizations need an effective learning strategy that combines career-focused reskilling opportunities that are connected directly with future employment opportunities. In other words, organizations need to open the door to learning with the understanding that on the other side, there is a rewarding and sustainable job that will be future proofed going forward.
These strategies are very broad and can contain within them many sub-strategies and tasks that should not be overlooked. However, if these proactive, preventative strategies are embraced now, rather than waiting to implement reactive corrective measures later, the future skills crunch won’t overtake your workforce strategy, and can effectively prepare an organization for the future of work.