Winning Strategies to Build an Agile and Skilled Workforce for The Future

By Archana Jerath December 19, 2019
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This article is based on inputs from the Panel Discussion held on Day 1 - SHRMIAC’19 moderated by Siddhartha Gupta - CEO at Mercer Mettl with Harshvendra Soin - Chief People Officer at Tech Mahindra Ltd., Raghavendra K - Senior VP & Global Head, HR at Infosys BPM and Prithvi Shergill - Co-Founder of Co Create Tomorrow as panelists.

With developed economies facing an aging workforce, the world is changing rapidly. Businesses will thrive only if they are agile and adapt quickly to change, which means their workforces must become agile as well.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report  highlights that company leaders must rethink and reorganize business models and the way in which they produce and distribute products and technology over the next few years to flourish. It further suggests that the division of labor between humans and machines will shift from 71% and 29% in 2018 to 58% and 42% in 2022, which will impact jobs and employee training. The Report also predicts that 75 million jobs that exist today will go away, 133 million new jobs will be created and those that remain will be massively redefined.  Their inefficient and low value components will be eliminated due to technological advancements, automation and the rising demand for business agility. In fact, 54% of employees will require significant reskilling by 2022, per the Report.

Building an agile and skilled workforce that can adapt to this accelerated pace of change will require strategic transformations among employers. Here are a few of the suggested strategies.

Focus on putting people first with technology as the enabler

HR cannot ignore the human in Human Resources. Organizations and HR in the new digital age need to think out-of-the-box in shaping the work, worker and the workplace.

Said Harshvendra Soin, "Our biggest challenge moving forward as HR will be to re-imagine the function with the same willingness and drive that we have re-imagined the customer functions/ product side and equip our workforce for the future with technology working as an enabler."

Any efforts to transform the workforce will work only if employees understand that change is imminent and are equipped to become adaptable, agile, flexible and capable of learning continuously. Simply put, a mindset change among employees is an imminent requirement.

"We gathered insights and data on various fronts … (and) encouraged employees to think and converse on how life will be different with the fast pace of changes. We then re-engineered things at the organization including hiring and firing decisions. We had a leaner and more responsive HR team as a result of this, and the satisfaction scores are going up as a function. We have been able to build readiness for change, build learnability and effectively skill our workforce for the upcoming change using this approach," said Raghavendra K.

Building a learning culture

Learning, reskilling and upskilling must not be shoved down people’s throats forcefully. Learning needs to be embedded within the overall workplace culture.

"Employees need to figure out what they want to learn. If the individual cannot figure out what skills he/she will need to stay relevant in the business, then his/her understanding of the business and the industry is already in question. People must understand what will keep you relevant. The role of the organization and HR is to create a roadmap for learning and skilling, create an enabling environment and invest in and provide the employees with the right tools, technology, etc. By doing this right, we can ensure that collective and individual capability and capacity grow," said Prithvi Shergill. 

Organizations and HR need to create learning agility with the help of technology. By leveraging technology, they can provide employees with bite-sized and virtual modules, enabling them to learn on the go. Gamification, in-module tests and more can be provided to elevate learning outcomes.

Learning must be tailored and customized for different age groups, location, role and levels in the organization for optimal results, and technology enables customization at scale.

Top management and cross-functional buy-in is key

Leadership conviction and the HR team’s evolution are key to creating learning agility and culture to reshape the workforce for the future.

As Raghavendra K shared, "Talent development and learning cannot be looked at in isolation. Knowledge of where the business is going and what hot skills are required shape the learning and skilling culture. L&D or HRD cannot build a learning culture by itself. A cross-functional group led by someone from leadership must figure out the technical skills required to run the business. They must effect the changes, which ensures a cross functional buy-in. HR, on the other hand, must focus on learnability, agility and behavioral skills and how to equip employees with these. HR should not lead the learning initiatives. Considering the importance of technical skills for business continuity, the buy-ins are taken care of. Equipping employees with critical behavioral skills such as emotional intelligence, storytelling, influencing and consultative skills is a big challenge that HR needs to grapple with." 

Policy-level changes too may be required for reshaping the workforce for the future as simply reskilling may not be effective if the work and the workplace do not change. It is the organizational leadership that will create a future workforce that is agile, skilled and equipped to adapt to the changing world of business.

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