In my work as a business and workforce consultant, I’ve observed that in times of change and uncertainty, some organizations stop spending money – and especially money that goes to employee training and development. However, given the future work trends of cross-functional teaming, workforce-wide digital fluency, and an emphasis on uniquely human skills, this may be a short-sighted approach. Let’s look at these one by one.
I’ve noticed that employees are starting to move around organizations with greater speed, and so they may need to know more skills than were required in the past. Even if they received a solid university education, employees might well be moved to a role in which nothing they learned in their degree program applies. For instance, it’s not unusual for someone trained in finance to end up in marketing, and vice versa. And, even those schooled and working in marketing often find it beneficial to have cross-functional expertise in finance.
My hunch is that employer training might not be able to keep up with the reskilling and upskilling requirements of cross functional teams, and this is why there are gaps. And, in the Career Advisory Board’s 2018 survey, Talent Activation, the Employee Experience, and Skill Development, 77 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: In my organization as a whole, I am concerned about employee skills gaps.
In the study, the greatest skills gaps were observed in the areas of technology/digital fluency (cited by 62 percent of respondents), communication (56 percent), business acumen (48 percent), diversity and cultural awareness (46 percent), and customer service (42 percent), and skills gaps affect employees at all levels. And, when asked about barriers to closing skills gaps, our respondents cited a too-small training budget most frequently.
If anything, it’s my opinion that cross-functional teaming requires larger training budgets, not smaller ones.
Workforce-Wide Digital Fluency
In the Career Advisory Board’s 2017 Job Preparedness Indicator survey, we defined an applied technology skill as a skill that is needed by employees to leverage the right technology to do their jobs. It’s another way to talk about digital fluency, and the research indicated that a majority of employers is now looking for these skills in new and existing employees.
Training existing employees in applied technology skills is a major challenge, in part because current professionals did not receive this type of instruction via traditional education paths. In response, many survey respondents are ensuring that their workforces continuously train and retrain on applied technology skills through the development of internal courses (40 percent), internal trainings (38 percent), tuition reimbursement (35 percent), and external trainings (31 percent). Only one-fourth said their organizations are taking no actions to develop this skillset.
As discussed above, however, developing skillsets can be expensive – especially when one round of training isn’t enough. So, in my recommendation, employers should have a specific and ongoing budget set aside for applied technology skills alone – in addition to other training requirements.
Human Skill Emphasis
As a result of my experience as a business and workforce futurist, I’ve learned that, at least in the near future, machines aren’t likely to replace most human jobs completely. Rather, machines may automate and/or manage certain aspects of certain jobs, leading to the rise of the human/machine hybrid team. On such a team, humans and machines will work side by side, performing the tasks for which they are best suited.
In order to build this sort of team, however, we must take active steps to develop the skills that humans bring to the table but machines cannot. These include what we’d normally identify as the “soft skills” of interpersonal communication, empathy, judgment, intuition, and creativity. In my opinion, it’s essential that all human employees at all levels are strongly versed in these skills, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Based on my experience working with a multitude of companies over the last decade, I’d suggest that every 21st century organization consider a training program that teaches human employees how to bring their greatest gifts to life as they face escalating competition from smart machines.