May 9, 2020

The Future of Work: Is your business ready for the reskilling revolution?

Skills data will be key to the success of global efforts to insulate workers from technology-driven changes at the workplace.

Editorial Team
The Future of Work: Is your business ready for the reskilling revolution?

Over the past five-odd years, an increasing number of governments and intergovernmental organisations have started initiatives to reskill and upskill workers. The fear is that innovation, the spread of technology, increasing automation, demographic change and climate change (which is transforming business processes) is rapidly making existing skills redundant, changing the way we work forever, and leading to a potential crisis at the workplace.

Here are some of the statistics being cited:

(Sources: World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report; OECD Employment Outlook 2019; Cedefop’s European Skills and Jobs Survey 2014; Accenture)

Skills demands are growing - failure to meet them will prove costly

But all is not bleak.

Though 75 million jobs are expected to be displaced by 2022 in 20 major economies, as many as 133 million new roles could be created by technological advances and new ways of working, said the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report.

However, these new jobs will require a variety of new skills and skill sets.

Skills likely to be in growing demand are tech-related skills such as analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, technology design and programming, as well as human skills such as creativity, originality, initiative, critical thinking and analysis, persuasion and negotiation and attention to detail, said the Future of Jobs 2018 report. On the other hand, skills on the decline include manual dexterity, endurance and precision; memory, verbal, auditory and spatial abilities; management of financial and material resources; technology installation and maintenance; quality control and safety awareness; coordination and time management, and technology use, monitoring and control.

Countries are therefore faced with the challenge of reskilling and upskilling workers to enable them to seize new opportunities and guarantee the health of their economies and the wellbeing of their people.

This is not expected to be a one-time effort as lifelong learning is said to be an important component of the future of work.

“Change is required in the well-ingrained behaviour of individual workers, companies, social partners and, above all, in policies,” said an editorial in the OECD Employment Outlook 2019. “...[W]e should move away from a model of front-loaded education – whereby recognised skills are mainly developed in schools and universities and subsequently used at work – to a system in which skills are continuously updated during the working life to match changing skills needs."

An intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries, the OECD or Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development launched its Future of Work initiative a few years ago to track changes in the labour markets of member states and understand the implications for skills and social policies.

European Commission’s investment in skills

The European Commission has been steadily working on the issue too. As far back as 2016, it announced a new skills agenda for Europe to help make the right training, skills and support available to people in the EU.

Last year, the EC hosted the conference, Future of Work: Today. Tomorrow. For All in which governments and other stakeholders met to discuss how EU members states could respond to the new challenges at the workplace and capitalize on the benefits of technological innovation.

Skills data – such as data that tells you what skills are in demand or what skills are difficult to find – is said to be key to the success of any reskilling or upskilling initiative.

The EC seems to have recognized this fact by publishing online the Skills Panorama, an invaluable compendium of beautifully visualized data related to the labour markets of EU member states. Its stated objective is to enable policy makers, analysts, researchers and career guidance counsellors to respond better to the real-time demands of the labour market by keeping up with the latest developments and identifying trends.

The European Skills Index, also hosted on the site, is a valuable research resource for those working on the future of skills in Europe. It measures and monitors through time the performance of skills systems in each EU member state. The top-performing EU countries in this composite indicator so far are Czechia, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg and Slovenia, while the worst performing are Spain, Greece, Italy, Romania, Cyprus.

Collaboration is key

Experts say collaboration between all stakeholders – governments, businesses, policymakers, educational institutions and individuals – is vital if reskilling and upskilling initiatives are to succeed.

The start of one such collaboration was witnessed in Davos on January 22, when the World Economic Forum at Davos launched what the “Reskilling Revolution” that is aimed at reskilling a billion people around the globe by 2030. Several countries – United States, Russia, India, Brazil, France and the United Arab Emirates – signed up as founding members of this initiative, while its business partners include PwC, the Adecco Group, Salesforce, ManpowerGroup, Infosys, LinkedIn and Coursera Inc.

“The best way to foster a more cohesive and inclusive society is to provide everybody with a decent job and income,” Klaus Schwab, executive chairman, World Economic Forum, told reporters. “Here in Davos, we are creating a public-private platform to give one billion people the skills they need in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The scale and urgency of this transformation calls for nothing short of a reskilling revolution.”

Use technology, say experts

Experts also suggest that businesses should also not shy away from technology while looking at reskilling and upskilling.

“The good news is that just as digital is transforming business, it also lies at the heart of advances in the world of HR,” David Storey of multinational professional services firm Ernst & Young was quoted as saying in a report. “Data analysis is generating deeper insight into current employees, and enabling new approaches to developing talent pools based on underlying capabilities to match current and anticipated needs.”

Skills data will indeed be crucial to the success of any reskilling or upskilling initiatives.

At a high-level conference on Skills for Industry Strategy 2030 held in Brussels last June, international strategy consultant Jan Sturesson said in his presentation that stakeholders working on the future of skills must ask themselves these questions (among others):

  • How to support companies willing to embark on this journey with solid data, methodologies and tools?
  • How to support and transform HR functions and individuals in assessing matching jobs?

As governments and businesses gear up to secure the future of work, the answers to these and more questions will determine the success of the reskilling revolution.


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