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Are You Building A Workforce Equipped to Handle Future Challenges?

A guide to future-proofing your workforce

The future of business is fast-approaching and creating revolutionary changes on its way. In this fast-changing business landscape, is it enough for businesses to just adopt futuristic technologies for sustained competitiveness? NO.

According to an Accenture study, India and other countries across the globe are facing a risk of losing between USD 1 – 11.5 trillion in potential cumulative GDP growth over the next 10 years, if skilling does not catch up to the pace of technological progress.

So to be competitive and successful in the evolving landscape, organizations and economies need to proactively and strategically take steps to make their workforce future-ready. The process of future-proofing the workforce is not easy, given that organizations need to prepare for an uncertain future with no certainty on the exact skill requirements. There needs to be a structured approach to future-proofing employees.

Reimagining and designing learning programs: Making it agile and continuous

Several reports and researches are highlighting and underscoring the need for accelerating the pace-process of skilling the workforce to equip them to handle future challenges with ease. To do so, the present learning, development and training programs need to be completely reimagined and transformed.

Every employee, irrespective of experience, seniority or qualification, must be encouraged to learn continuously and upskill themselves. Week-long training programs or 1-day workshops and traditional approaches to learning do not make the cut. Learning must be continuous, agile, flexible and most importantly, self-directed. Employees can be offered guidance and direction on what to learn (based on their skill level/ strengths/ weaknesses, etc.) or how to plan their career, but the drive to learn, grow and future-proof oneself needs to come from within.

Organizations should assess the current skill level of individual employees, understand their aspirations and craft highly customized and flexible learning programs. There are several tech tools and platforms such as AI-powered platforms, e-learning platforms, automation tools, gamification, AR-VR applications, etc. that can be leveraged to achieve customization and flexibility at scale.

Organizations must not rely on single/ linear approaches in designing learning programs for their workforce. There needs to be a mix of short-term and long-term e-learning/ m-learning courses, experiential learning, MOOCs, live streaming lectures, targeted micro-modules, learning labs, etc. to suit the needs and career aspirations of different kinds of learners. All learning modules must be bite-sized and on-demand so that employees can access modules on-the-go and learn effectively without interrupting their working hours. The content needs to have a mix of visual and textual, and there should be in-module tests, extra references and analytics to ensure that learning is engaging and effective. Analytics in L&D initiatives has multiple benefits; it enables learners and HR/managers/Team Leaders to understand strengths and areas for improvement of learners, their evolving needs, feedback on programs, etc.; it helps assess the impact and ROI of the initiatives; it is a useful tool for HR managers for budgeting and planning.

Organizations should leverage gamification for nurturing an agile mindset in the workforce and innovative art-based/ theatre-based training, to address workplace biases and nurture innovation and entrepreneurial competence. Peer learning, coaching, reverse coaching and mentoring are wonderful learning avenues for a multi-generational workforce.

While technical skills and domain-specific hard skills are essential, interpersonal skills are critical for the future of work. So, technical and hard skills must be augmented with interpersonal skills such as empathy, respect, active listening, etc. which help create great team dynamics and a workplace culture where everyone can thrive.

Effective learning and development programs result in an actively engaged and productive workforce that is ready to take on emerging challenges and convert them into opportunities.

Strengthening the basics

Irrespective of the industry, a strong foundation in the fundamentals of the domain/subject has become indispensable. This can be done through Back to School online learning programmes, peer learning and mentoring programmes (such as the ones at Google), etc. When all employees/ team members have a firm grasp of the basics, team leaders/ managers can better groom them in emerging skills and specializations, and ensure a smoother transition into other projects.  For instance, an IT professional needs to strengthen their rudimentary knowledge and skills in core areas like computer architecture, coding, programming, problem-solving, analytical thinking, etc. Without this foundation, they will not be able to transition smoothly into learning skills in automation or AI-ML.

Hiring the right mix of talent

Organizations must rethink and redesign hiring based on in-depth analysis of their unique needs and contexts, skill requirements (technical, creative, interpersonal, etc.) and workplace culture.

HR needs to figure out how to balance employees, gig workers and machines and ensure seamless operations. For instance, organizations may want to employ consultants for niche and difficult-to-find skills, machines for repetitive drudgery while using full-time employees for the rest. In either case, given that a blended workforce is the future reality, organizations need to be upfront and transparent with employees about why gig workers/ consultants and machines are being employed.

Organizations must look at high potential talent pools that were hitherto under-recognized or unrecognized by recruiters (for instance, persons with disabilities, trans-persons, formerly incarcerated people, etc.). This is the best way to bring different perspectives to the table and strengthen the organization for the future. 

Engaging with the youth who will be your future workforce

There is a big pool of youth/ fresh graduates who have the educational qualifications but are not employable owing to the big lacuna between their education and the industry skill requirements. For instance, an Accenture Report states that 25% of India’s technical graduates are not employable in the IT and ITES sectors. Put differently, education is not necessarily making the youth job-ready. In the years to come, this will translate into a larger talent crunch.

Organizations need to find ways to engage with the talent outside the organizational context. Apprenticeship, STEM programs in schools and colleges, mentoring, bootcamps, hackathons, certified training programs in association with educational institutions, etc. are effective ways to ensure that a future workforce is career ready and to build a pipeline of talent who are skilled and fit the organizational culture.

Industry-level initiatives such as those by NASSCOM, National Skill Development Corporation, etc., wherein the ecosystem player partners with firms in the domain to develop a skill-based and industry-oriented curriculum, are necessary too. Such initiatives empower students to be aware of what is needed of them and accordingly, make themselves career ready.

Remember that change will be the only constant in industry 4.0. Technology will rapidly evolve and continuously mould and augment business functions creating plenty of opportunities and challenges. To thrive in such a dynamic world of work and leverage opportunities, the workforce needs to have the right mindset, future-proof skills, digital dexterity and learning agility.

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