By Janice Burns, Chief Career Experience Officer at Degreed, explains how business leaders can support their people through sudden job shifts.
All organizations have faced a sink, swim, or surf moment over the past few months. The COVID pandemic, economic and political volatility, a looming global recession, and social disruption have caused many challenges, shifts, and strategic pivots. This will not ease anytime soon. Indeed, the ‘new normal’ will be defined by a lack of stability and a need for greater agility, adaptation, and resilience.
The trends causing job shifts
Digital transformation has accelerated (by two years in just two months) causing a critical need for widespread digital skills. The climate crisis is causing a drive towards greater sustainability, with ‘nature-positive’ solutions expected to create 395 million jobs by 2030. Plus there are the consequences of COVID and the Great Pause to contend with – what operations will snap back to normal? What business models will evolve out of today’s challenges?
59 million European jobs are at risk in the short-term. The impact of the Great Pause is unevenly distributed, with customer service, sales, and food services most at risk. Conversely, these industries are also the most likely to be affected by displacement through automation. Workers in these industries, in particular, must develop the ability to quickly shift roles and adapt to change.
Without the right people in place, with the right skills for a project, organizations cannot effectively address the challenges ahead. Moreover, job shifts are likely for every individual, either in the type of work they complete, or the roles and industries that they work in. Employers will need to support their people to do this, to mobilize people into the best roles and projects for their skills, interests, and aspirations. In doing so, employers can expect greater quality of work, higher retention, and lower overall recruitment costs.
Some of these tactics were quickly put into action during COVID. Swedish airline SAS shifted 90% of its cabin crew into healthcare positions to help plug urgent skill gaps in the under-pressure Swedish healthcare system.
Focus on skills
To equip people with the adaptability and flexibility to shift suddenly across roles, industries, and environments, business leaders must focus on skills. Knowing what skills people have, (both relevant and niche to their existing role and also transferable to other business areas) will help leaders redeploy people in an informed way if demand for their current job disappears.
A skills framework will link a workforce’s existing skills with business needs. By looking at the 3-5 year goals for each department (and the business strategy as a whole), leaders can quickly identify the skills they will need in the short and middle-term, then implement ways to build those skills. The ideal scenario is finding a middle ground between what skills the business needs and what an employee wants to develop.
Another crucial data point is to understand their aspirations and interests. No strategy works when solely top-down. Without a person-centered approach, mobilizing workers into new roles will ultimately result in low morale, dwindling engagement, and high attrition.
Upskilling in preparation for a shift is also important. Luckily, most workers will likely be on-board with this, with 74% ready to re-train or learn new skills to remain employable in the future.
There are several ways to develop new skills and refine existing ones. Forward-thinking organizations are offering several learning options, from learning in the flow of work to formal courses and virtual resources. Peer-to-peer learning is also proving popular with individuals, with four in ten workers regularly sharing content and knowledge with their network. Again, individual preferences should be considered and catered for to ensure high, continuous engagement.
The skills to develop
Technical skills such as programming, data, and digital skills can be easily taught through a course, instructor-led training, or on-the-job. However, higher cognitive skills and ‘power skills’ (ones with applications across many roles and industries) are harder to develop through formal learning. They develop on-the-job, through experiences, outside of work through side and passion projects, and through self-led efforts.
The demand for such skills will grow exponentially, especially as automation becomes mainstream. Machines are a long way from mastering the art of creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing.
Continuous learning is critical
With numerous shifts on the horizon (and many workers having to move roles more than once) there is a critical need to instill continuous learning habits. People will need a certain amount of digital dexterity and the ability to pivot as new ideas, strategies, and business models appear. It won’t be enough to rely on skills and knowledge picked up decades ago at school, college, or university. Likewise, once-a-year courses aren’t going to cut it.
Instead, Gartner recommends non-traditional programs like boot camps, consumerized learning, competitions, and hackathons, as well as making learning part of day-to-day operations.
Prudential recognizes this, so it took an on-the-job approach with its upskilling strategy. It found that 70% of learning happens on-the-job, and so, its leaders went function-to-function, asking department heads to look forward three to four years to predict what their function would look like.
From this, it could work out the skills needed, and this informs the training offered through its accelerator programs. These currently cover digital literacy, leadership, and other power skills. There are also specific programs to help individuals go from existing jobs into skills and jobs that the organization needs in the future.
Working together to succeed
Business leaders are dealing with a world in flux. So are their people. By working together to build the skills needed by the business, that meet individual aspirations, both parties can thrive in an uncertain future.
A final point. The main skill leaders must develop in their people is the skill of learning. As Peter Drucker states, “The only skill that will be important in the 21st century is the skill of learning new skills. Everything else will become obsolete over time.”
If people are encouraged to be curious, to learn every day, and constantly build their skills, they will be in a much better position if a shift does happen in their work lives.