A gigantic elephant tied to a small stump of wood may be a visual that leaves one wondering about the elephant’s capability to break free. As an oft-told story teaches us, elephants, which can bring down trees and walls, never break free from a rope tied between their leg and a small stump. It is believed that as young calves, these elephants would have tried and failed to break free from the stump. As a result, their minds get conditioned to the fact that they are tied to the stump. This conditioning stays with the animal even after it grows into a powerful, five-thousand-kilo giant. This is a perfect example that is relevant to those of us in the workforce today.
As humans, we are often limited by our minds. Professionals may cling to the skills they acquired during their college careers and forget that growth must continue within their field of work. It is not rare to see employees be asked to resign or forced to retire early due to their inability to adapt to changes in the market, customer behavior and technologies. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that in 2018, layoffs and discharges reached nearly 1.7 million.
Today, successful leaders must manage to stay relevant throughout their careers and drive the creation of futuristic organizations. As Jeff Bezos said, “Take inventory of what you're good at and extend out from your skills. Or determine what your customers need and work backward, even if it requires learning new skills.” Learning should be universal and continuous, and it levels the playing field for employees across all hierarchies and roles. And when an entire workforce learns, the organization learns.
Disrupt or die — that is the mantra by which many corporations operate today. Disruption entails innovation, continuous experimentation and rapid agility. These can only be achieved by an organization whose workforce is continuously learning and reskilling to embrace new technologies, best practices and paradigms.
According to the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs” report, “By 2022, 62% of an organization’s information and data processing and information search and transmission tasks will be performed by machines compared to 46% today.” The report also states that by 2022, no less than 54% of employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling.
Bridging the skills gap is not a new challenge for enterprises. However, in an era of automation, the gap is expanding rapidly. Automation is taking over manual, repetitive jobs. Driving disruption implies filling new positions with roles that demand high levels of creativity, customer interaction and understanding of new technologies. Meanwhile, the cost of hiring new employees to fill these roles is increasing.
Therefore, the best bet for organizations is to reskill current workers. Some corporations have taken the first step toward this: Amazon has recently announced plans to reskill a third of its U.S. workforce by 2025 to help employees move into more advanced jobs or find new careers.
But traditional training programs won’t suffice. Because machine learning is a trending technology, an entire workforce cannot be mandated to learn machine learning. Instead, the first step toward impactful learning programs is to conduct a thorough assessment of employee skills. Organizations then need to delve deep into understanding how each employee can deliver value over the next couple of years. Consequently, a personalized road map must be created and learning initiated.
The way we impart learning is changing. Digital platforms and channels are transforming our capability to grasp knowledge. Hyper-personalization is not only the norm for customers, but it’s also the guiding light for employee learning or reskilling programs.
To create hyper-personalized reskilling programs, technical, training and human resources functions within an organization must work in tandem. Together, these teams will be able to measure and guide the advancements of an employee’s career through performance and learnability.
New digital platforms will form the core of such next-gen learning. What this will do is ensure personalization of the training to suit the individual’s current skill set and map the required program, avoiding wasted effort and time in programs that do not suit them. I have seen testing professionals who take up machine learning programs but never leverage this new technology in their careers. A guided learning program will ensure that such mistakes do not occur.
Hyper-personalized learning may also result in employees leaving the organization for better-paying jobs. Leaders must take this in their or risk the rapid decline of their enterprise. One way to reduce the risk of losing employees to competition after paying for personalized learning programs is to link a certain weight of compensation to the skills acquired.
I see a lot more companies investing in cutting-edge training programs. The results of these training programs cannot be seen overnight. And despite an organization’s best efforts, a certain percentage of employees might fail to reskill themselves for the future. However, the upside of learnability is the ability to disrupt, and this outweighs all the challenges. I hope to see valuable collaborations among corporations, educational institutions and the government to drive the future culture of continuous learning.