Skills of the Future Workforce: Upskilling for Hybrid Jobs

SYSTEMS & TECHNOLOGY, TALENT MANAGEMENT   |   4 minutes  |   July 26, 2019

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Technology has triggered rapid growth in the agility, efficiency, and evolution of current job expectations. There is hardly a job that does not require a holistic skill set.1 This evolution of job requirements has meant that most employees are now expected to be digitally skilled, strategic and analytical. Increasingly, businesses are looking to hire hybrid candidates for what they consider hybrid jobs.2 The advantage of hiring a hybrid workforce is that they are usually agile and adapt to new work environments. They are also able to work with artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.3 Businesses should be diving into the changing landscape by employing hybrid candidates, who are able to walk the line between the modern and the traditional worlds.

Robert Atkinson of ITIF explains that while the new technologies we are seeing will help productivity and wages, it may still cause some harm.4 Although technology is not the only factor motivating hybrid roles, Atkinson points out that there “are always winners and losers in major economic transitions”.5 While companies are generally excited to implement AI and automation to ease operations in their business, it does cause concerns about whether companies have the right skills in-house to maintain and manage these new technologies and blend them into their workforce. Research by Burning Glass revealed that 42% of traditional jobs could be automated, but only 12% of hybrid jobs can be automated.6

We use software to gather and analyse data, but you need a human being to interpret the software’s analysis for real-world application. Self-driving cars can get you to your destination, but engineers and analysts are required to build them. It can be argued that the top skill for a company’s future workforce is being human, as we will always need people to weigh their morals, ethics, context and experience against computated decisions.7 But it also means that an in-demand skill that hybridised candidates offer is being able to work with AI to better perform in job functions.8

Skills of the future workforce

Businesses that want to stay ahead need to ‘update’ these skills in their workforce. Modern businesses need employees who are not only proficient in one area, but who can work across departments to help create a more streamlined and integrated business structure. While general digital skills are expected in almost every role these days, the skills most needed in the future workforce are data analysis, social media, and business development.

Companies that intentionally want to prepare their workforce for the future should focus on building the following five key areas into all of their staff at a basic level:

  • Soft skills, such as communication, empathy, teamwork and flexibility9
  • A familiarity with digital tools and technology. With the AI and automation revolution changing the business landscape, workforces without the skills to operate and work with these technologies risk falling behind their competitors10
  • Data analysis is vital for almost all roles now, as data drives the majority of business decisions and employees are expected to be able to give valid reasons for their actions and decisions11
  • The fundamentals of business and management12
  • The basics of good design. While designers are still vital and relevant to a business’s needs, the basics of design are becoming more desired in broader job roles with tasks such as social media, data visualisation, and presentation creation, demand that even assistants have some idea of good design principles

To breakout of working ‘silos’ or departments, businesses need employees who can think beyond their immediate job role to promote fluidity across a wider team. There has been an increased need for soft skills in key areas to facilitate this integration in a team with different skill sets and strengths.13 These are the interpersonal traits that enable your employees to interact with each other and with their work.14 While AI is able to analyse and calculate, it cannot be empathetic or compassionate, which is key to employee and customer retention.15 With companies evolving and pivoting so regularly with the growing and fluctuating markets, employees should be prepared for their job descriptions to grow and pivot, too.

The necessity of upskilling and reskilling

Companies are beginning to come to the realisation that they’re spending a lot on the hiring process,16 but that they could be saving by reskilling (to improve a team’s skills) or upskilling (teach new skills) current employees.17 Comparing your hiring spend with your training budget is an important first step. As a leader of the business, should you be spending more on finding new talent, or building up talent you already have?

It follows logically that you should be investing and growing the people you have already hired.18 The very future of the workforce depends on companies investing in training and development for their staff, as not many hybrid roles are naturally taught within the traditional learning structure and require additional upskilling or reskilling.19

Jack Shwartz, CEO of General Assembly, explains, “…we’ve seen the rapid rise of specialised and technical skills that require almost constant upskilling and reskilling to keep pace with innovation. That means a lot more organisations are coming to the sudden realisation that they need to change their approach to learning.”20 He continues to explain that learning shouldn’t be viewed as a bonus or perk, but rather as a vital tool to use in developing your workforce, which would benefit both corporate and employee growth.21

The future of the workplace requires that ongoing education and upskilling is necessary, and not only on a linear growth plan. Employees need to develop both their creative and analytical sides to succeed.22 Employers need to find employees who not only possess skills that suit the job role, but also a hunger to upskill and grow with the company. More importantly, companies should be focusing their attention on the employees they already have, who will likely become liabilities in a few years without proper training and development (costing both the company and the employees time and money).

The choice to upskill or to reskill?

This realisation of the future skills landscape poses the question of whether companies should be reskilling or upskilling employees. Unfortunately, there is no black-and-white answer, because each industry and business has its own requirements for growth.23 Both options are important in any business training plan, and some industries require one more than the other. However, this will require you to analyse your own necessities and goals with regards to employees and corporate growth.

Whether you find that you need to teach new skills, or update and improve overall skills, the concept of continued learning is what will make the difference.24 Not only do continuous training programmes stand to improve profit margins by 24%, but they’ve also proven to increase employee retention by 40%.25 Companies need to understand the importance of continued training and development, instead of once-off courses or programmes, in order to really see the potential in their workforce.26

Lean into the changing business landscape and grow with it, instead of grinding against the change. Just as the future employee now requires a combination of traditional soft skills and more modern hard skills, companies need to facilitate this by evolving in their own right.27 If you want to work towards an agile work environment that is nimble to change, then you have to create a workforce that can help your company adapt. Begin with implementing ongoing learning within your teams, as a hybrid skill-driven culture is motivated by upskilling and reskilling your established staff. You can then analyse your company’s future needs and search for new candidates. Hybrid candidates are needed for hybrid jobs – each relies on the other – and this is indicative of a thriving and growing, learning methodology that supports and drives a good economy.28

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