The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped the slate clean. The parameters and assumptions which defined our old reality have been rendered, for the most part, obsolete. While we can use our work from the past to inform our endeavours to come, executives and organisations must accept that we are operating in a new paradigm. Naturally, this calls for a reimagination of our workforces.
The future of work has always connoted a radical evolution of the demands organisations and executives place on their workforces. As times change, so must people. In particular, the prospect of automation has had a significant influence in shaping our understanding of the skills and capacities an employee ought to possess in order to contribute to an organisation’s overall mission. Accordingly, reskilling employees such that they can maximise their productive potential has been at the forefront of the agenda for years.
COVID-19 has bulldozed our expectations and forecasts. At the very least, our predictions have been altered. At most, they have been rendered entirely redundant. This is true from the macro to the micro; no strategy is safe from the effects of a global pandemic that has essentially redefined what it means to ‘work’. This is especially true when it comes to reskilling our workforces. Organisational strategies have been transformed in light of altered conditions, necessitating a different type of worker than that envisioned only a few months ago.
As Feld, Reich, Stork and Durth write for McKinsey, “the virus has accelerated and intensified… revolutions in technologies, consumer preferences and business models affecting the global workforce.” In 2017, McKinsey Global Institute suggested that at least 40% of the global workforce required partial reskilling to continue in their current roles. These numbers, already significant in themselves, have spiked as a result of the pandemic. In fact, according to PwC’s Talent Trends 2020 Survey, 74% of CEOs interviewed were concerned about the availability of key skills to meet organisational needs arising out of recent global events.
This paints a clear picture for executives and other workplace leaders: As we commence our return to work and formulate new business strategies, recalibrating workforces to meet new demands is absolutely pivotal.
In implementing policies designed to facilitate reskilling, PwC’s Digital Pulse contributors Carol Stubbings and Nicole Wakefield raise some points for executives to consider moving forward.
Firstly, employees WANT to acquire new skills. PwC’s survey suggest 75% of workers acknowledge that the business world is in transition – for COVID reasons and non-COVID reasons – and understand that they must adapt. This provides a prime opportunity for executives to implement their strategies. It is not every day that employees are so willing to let go of their routine and try something new.
Secondly, it is vital that executives accept the link between upskilling and engagement. If someone understands why they need new skills and the end goal of their own transition, then their willingness to throw themselves into the reskilling program will spike. It does not take much to understand this connection. Put yourself in your employee’s shoes: If you see the bigger picture and the role you have to play in it, the prospect of investing time and effort in new skills is far more desirable.
Finally, executives must begin to shift their workforce’s mindset from one of routine to adaptability. It has been long accepted that the future of work is one of disruption. Not many people envisaged a catalyst like COVID-19, but this global event is demonstrating that our predictions are coming to fruition. Naturally, there is no set of skills that will, without fail, apply to radically changing circumstances. New disruptions will require different things from different people. To manage this reality, we must foster a culture of, in the words of PwC, “lifelong learning.” Once employees accept that reskilling will be a tenet of our future, the prospect of change will become a lot less daunting.
Change looms large on the horizon for organisations across Australia. This not only affects executives, but members of their teams as well. At its core, this is an issue of leadership. Managers and other high-level employees must rise to the occasion and ensure their workforces continue to be an asset for their organisations.
It is time to accept our new reality and push on.