Skills as future currency

July 25, 2019

“Skills are the currency of the future of work.” So says David Blake, co-founder of the lifelong learning platform Degreed and co-author of the book The Expertise Economy: How the Smartest Companies Use Learning to Engage, Compete and Succeed. And his is not the only voice saying this. It is increasingly recognised that skills are the key to future success and the companies that have the right skills, in the right place, at the right time, are those that will create and maintain a competitive advantage.

Skills and employee development have always been important but they are now more of a priority than ever before. Why? New innovations come to market so quickly now and change happens so quickly and then happens again, that skills needs keep changing. This has made the regeneration of skills a critical, ongoing process. Organisations have to be constantly horizon scanning, looking to find out where the skills gaps are currently and where they are going to be in the future.

And who should be steering that horizon scanning? L&D, of course. Learning professionals are absolutely pivotal in the drive to boost skills development.

We all know that skills needs are changing fast. We are on the brink of huge change, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution being just around the corner. According to figures from the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than half of employees will have to upskill or reskill by 2022, a date that really isn’t very far away. In fact, when the WEF published a piece of research called Accelerating Workforce Reskilling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2017, it found that at least one in every four workers in OECD countries reported a mismatch with the skills they possessed and the skills their job required.

No organisation wants to have a situation whereby it has employees that aren’t equipped with the skills to do their job properly. A report by the IBM Institute for Business Value, called Unplug from the past, confirmed what Blake said about skills being competitive currency. This report found that of the 2,139 chief human resources officers interviewed, 65% said people skills would impact strongly on their business in the next few years, prompting the creation of new strategies. People skills rose in importance as a key business concern, from fifth to third place.

What skills will be most in demand? As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, any skills that help organisations meet the technological challenges ahead will be critical. So of course, digital skills are a must-have. But it's doesn't end there. Research shows that soft skills are also increasingly required, skills such as creativity, problem solving and communication.

What learning professionals need to be doing now is identifying current skills gaps and future learning needs. What’s the best way to do this? By keeping abreast of current research and thinking, of course, but the best tool at L&D’s disposal is actually data. L&D must make better use of data and insights in order to help business meet current and future learning needs.

And L&D knows this. Our research, The Insight Edge: The quest for data-driven learning, shows that 85% of L&D leaders believe that by using data and insight to predict future learning needs within their organisation and to better understand learning behaviours and patterns within their workforce, they will be able to improve learning delivery and performance and workforce agility.

In the shorter term, L&D leaders are aware of the role data and insight can play in overcoming existing skills gaps. Over half (52%) of the L&D leaders polled in our research said all skills gaps within their organisations could be addressed by the better use of data.

It’s not just employers and L&D having the skills of the future. Employees are also very aware of the need to keep upskilling if they want to remain employable and relevant in an age where AI is on the rise. As a result, employees want to work for organisations that make skills development a priority and is ready to manage a hybrid workforce – one made up of humans and robots – because that is the imminent reality. Over half (51%) of employees say they will leave their organisation if it doesn’t manage the transition to a hybrid workforce, making it crucial to get right.

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