December 15, 2020

Reskilling the workforce to better adapt to technology advancements

In a world where technologies are ever evolving how can companies keep up? Skills are the new workplace currency, and now more than ever leaders need to invest in reskilling the organisation to keep pace with the ever-changing technological landscape.

Technology needs are consistently emerging as businesses pivot to the changes in market conditions and customer and employee needs. The current COVID-19 pandemic is an indicator of how companies are leveraging technology to survive, thrive, and adjust strategies in response to the ever-evolving circumstances. Examples of these needs are in contactless deliveries, seamless payment solutions, and even Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to support remote work and protect company data.

Never have we been more dependent on technology than in the face of this global pandemic. To harness new technologies to their full effect, businesses will need to retool their corporate structures and their approaches to work. For example, approximately 40% of organisations make significant investments in AI and still do not report business gains from AI [1].

Technology advancement alone isn’t the solution to value creation. Desired technology skills amongst the workforce become more complex every year, and this year has been exceptionally challenging. As digital channels become the primary customer-engagement model, technology advancement and new business needs arise, creating the need for new skills as a primary driver of productivity. However, as technology continues to advance, industries are left struggling to reskill and quickly adapt to the ever-changing environment.

There is a decision to be made when choosing whether to acquire new talent or to invest in reskilling the existing talent to meet the demands of these technology advances. Companies like Amazon have made the decision to invest internally. According to the World Economic Forum, the average cost of hiring a new worker in the U.S. is $4,425 [2]. This, coupled with the months of lost productivity as the employee onboards suggests that acquiring talent can be more costly than reskilling talent. However, reskilling takes agility in an organisation to be successful. It requires the ability to make bold moves and the willingness to adapt to something new if the first set of initiatives fail.

In a recent McKinsey & Company survey [3], companies that had successfully launched reskilling programs shared that they felt more prepared to address future skills gaps. Even so, those that felt the first iterations were less successful, shared that they were more prepared to take on the next skills requirement. As businesses prioriti a skills-based focus for both hiring and existing talent development, they have a great opportunity to leverage the talent that’s already in-house and build the infrastructure to support continuous reskilling and upskilling initiatives and help close the technology gap more effectively.

There are three factors to consider when it comes to reskilling the workforce talent to better adapt to technology advancements:

1. Align Human Resources (HR) with C-Suite technology priorities

Technology investments are intended to improve business processes and humans are required to interpret the output of said technology. Skills that are necessary extend past technical capabilities and require a nuanced understanding of the business itself which overall increases workforce productivity. This alone is where the need for leadership alignment with HR becomes critical to shrink the technology gap.

It is imperative that HR teams keep an open dialogue with C-Suite to remain attuned to new and existing trends. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) recognise the need for skills development as one of the most important external forces that will impact their business [4]. Initially, the executive leadership bench must collaborate and discuss the business model, including elements of upscaling the workforce model that is currently in place and then proactively unify all layers of the workforce and its scalability from the lens of the technologies being used.

When it comes to technology advancements and talent alignment it is important to consider how employees can manage and continue to advance their skills. This communication should rally from top down management to ensure that the entire organisation is aligned to the underlying technology initiatives and the overarching corporate vision and strategy. Leveraging a holistic approach to skills development through a modern Human Capital Management (HCM) solution encourages HR to invest in reskilling as opposed to acquiring new talent as it encourages employees to expand their knowledge and become better positioned for additional responsibilities and higher-level roles on a particular career track. Organisations must therefore recognise the importance not only of making and advancing technologies to become available in their organisations but of reskilling employees to consume them well.

2. Leverage internal talent to shorten the ramp to productivity

Traditionally, employers find themselves looking externally to find the needed skills. However, this approach is often costly to the business. Consider the cost of turnover rather than the investment in retraining and retaining top talent. The three primary costs related to turnover include separation costs, hiring costs, and productivity costs – in ramping and loss of interim productivity. The cost for replacement can be upwards of 150% or more of the exiting person’s salary. The time it takes to close a skills gap through traditional training has increased by more than 10 times in the past four years, jumping three days to 36 days [5].

Technologies such as those that leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence, will always require oversight by humans who can interpret, alter, and impact the way in which the technology is delivering value to the organisation. For the business to see a return on their technology investment and to truly consume its potential to drive the business forward, it will require a human lens. This oversight is leveraged through internal talent who best understand the business and its processes. In a recent example, Amazon announced that they will make an investment in current talent by reskilling and upskilling their employees rather than investing resources to find the 100,000 people they need in the highly competitive job market. This not only improves retention but will likely shorten the timeframe to productivity and consumption of business technologies [6].

Executives can glean valuable insights from the Human Resources data into the skills and experience people have, to understand what gaps they need to fill and what opportunities they must reskill. When employees are given the opportunity to expand their skills to meet the technology demand employers should expect to see higher engagement and retention all while minimising potential productivity loss.  

3. Develop a culture of continuous learning to help build high-demand skills

Investing in a culture where skills and learning are paramount to success allows employees to stretch and grow alongside the business. When employees’ capabilities are aligned to their job, they thrive – and are likely to stay when companies invest in their growth and development. Reskilling and upskilling present a unique opportunity for organisations to strengthen the workforce both culturally and educationally through a learning environment. For the workplace to remain agile, employers must be willing to develop their resources in technical skills, but also “power” skills, such as the ability to problem-solve, collaborate, and be detail-oriented. To scale, organisations should consider working with internal teams to launch training programs to meet both business and employee-specific needs. These training programs should aim to focus on personal development skills and reskilling initiatives to help new and existing employees evolve alongside the vision of the company.

By leveraging learning management systems, organisations can broaden the reach to their workforce, making the content available on demand from anywhere. Providing a digital learning framework will allow employees to incorporate learning into their work lives as naturally as they access email. With tools such as Single Sign-On (SSO), learning is available as the need arises and allows organisations to truly embed learning into the flow of work.

Building a technology-first reskilling strategy

The C-Suite is not only responsible for delivering on business outcomes, but also acting as a champion for a technology-first strategy that relays the importance for the organisation staying on pace with advancing technology. Once talent strategies and business priorities are aligned, organisations can use people data to understand business critical roles and skills and areas to reskill that will drive the most value for the business. However, one-off reskilling efforts simply aren’t enough.

To ensure workforces remain competitive and agile, organisations will need to constantly invest in continuous learning. Now more than ever, it is imperative that workplaces utilise their Human Capital Management system to identify the needed skills and provide a necessary learning framework to be successful. This provides a solution that allows leaders to transform the learn and work experience. By investing in and leveraging internal talent to boost productivity amongst teams and allowing for skillful consumption of new technology, organisations can remain conscious of the ever-changing technology requirements of the future in order to quickly and successfully adapt.

 

[1] AI Stats News: 65% of Companies Have Not Seen Business Gains From Their AI Investments, Forbes, 2019

[2] Patrick Thibodeau, Upskilling employees vs. firing? Amazon bets on retraining, TechTarget, 2019

[3] To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforces now, McKinsey, 2020

[4] The enterprise guide to closing the skills gap, IBM, 2019

[5] Deanna Bretado, Retaining talent is more cost effective than hiring, 2016

[6] We've been talking about the tech skills gap for 10 years. Why hasn't the conversation gotten any more productive?, Entrepreneur, 2020

Ceridian Institute

The Ceridian Institute provides forward-looking insights that build awareness and advocacy of the trends and challenges facing the workplace. The Institute is composed of industry leaders from Ceridian’s Industry, Value, and Solution advisories, reflecting the team’s research into the future of work and business intelligence.

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Tricia Waibel

Tricia is a Solution Advisory leader at Ceridian who has spent nearly two decades helping organisations to realise value and opportunity driven from a digital transformation. Tricia's professional experience has allowed for valuable insights gleaned from various roles in the customer lifecycle ranging from corporate training, operational leadership and solution advisory.

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Umair Anjum

Umair is a Senior Consultant in the Value Advisory practice at Ceridian, consulting numerous organisations to help shape their organisational and HCM transformation agenda. His professional experience spans from management consulting at Accenture to corporate strategy & development where he has contributed in large technology transformation, operational improvement, and strategic mergers & acquisitions projects in a variety of industries across North America.

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