Building cutting-edge technological capabilities within their existing workforce is among the most pressing business challenges organizations face today. The accountancy firm PwC is taking a notably aggressive approach to this upskilling project, giving employees as much as 18-24 months to devote to immersive learning of new skills, with half their time spent training in these skills and the other half working with clients to put them to use. Ron Miller recently profiled the PwC’s Digital Accelerator program at TechCrunch:
[Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader at PwC] estimates if a majority of the company’s employees eventually opt in to this retraining regimen, it could cost some serious cash, around $100 million. That’s not an insignificant sum, even for a large company like PwC, but McEneaney believes it should pay for itself fairly quickly. As she put it, customers will respect the fact that the company is modernizing and looking at more efficient ways to do the work they are doing today. …
Members of the program are given a 3-day orientation. After that they follow a self-directed course work. They are encouraged to work together with other people in the program, and this is especially important since people will bring a range of skills to the subject matter from absolute beginners to those with more advanced understanding. People can meet in an office if they are in the same area or a coffee shop or in an online meeting as they prefer. Each member of the program participates in a Udacity nano-degree program, learning a new set of skills related to whatever technology speciality they have chosen.
The program focuses on a critical set of digital skills that are increasingly in-demand and where expertise is in short supply: data and analytics, automation and robotics, and AI and machine learning. McEneany and PwC’s Chief People Officer Mike Fenlon expanded on their philosophy in a recent piece at the Harvard Business Review, detailing the process through which the program was designed and touting its success at fostering innovation and a growth mindset throughout the organization:
The Future of Jobs 2018, a new report from the World Economic Forum, includes the organization’s latest forecast of how automation will reshape the future of work. As soon as 2025, the report predicts, more than half of “all current workplace tasks” will be performed by machines, up from 29 percent today. That doesn’t mean the world is facing the mass displacement of human workers by machines: The report predicts that automation will create 133 million new jobs by 2022 even as it destroys 75 million. It does mean, however, that employers and governments need to be proactive in readying the workforce to perform the higher-skill jobs AI, robotics, and other emerging technologies will create, according to a statement from the WEF:
Based on a survey of chief human resources officers and top strategy executives from companies across 12 industries and 20 developed and emerging economies (which collectively account for 70% of global GDP), the report finds that 54% of employees of large companies would need significant re- and up-skilling in order to fully harness the growth opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the same time, just over half of the companies surveyed said they planned to reskill only those employees that are in key roles while only one third planned to reskill at-risk workers.
While nearly 50% of all companies expect their full-time workforce to shrink by 2022 as a result of automation, almost 40% expect to extend their workforce generally and more than a quarter expect automation to create new roles in their enterprise.
The WEF reached its headline figures by extrapolating from the companies it surveyed, where executives predicted a decline of 984,000 jobs and a gain of 1.74 million jobs between now and 2022. The report also finds that all industries are facing significant skills gaps, with regard to both technical skills and “distinctly human skills, such as creativity, critical thinking and persuasion.” Reskilling and upskilling the workforce for this change is “the key challenge of our time,” WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab said in the statement.
After the US Congress cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent in December, the airplane manufacturer Boeing announced that it would spend $300 million of its tax savings on corporate giving and employee programs, including a $100 million investment in learning and development over the next several years. The company is deciding how to structure that investment based partly on an internal survey, which found that 39 percent of Boeing employees wanted better technical development and 29 percent wanted new skills for jobs affected by new technology.
Now, we’re starting to see how Boeing is spending that money. The company announced several new education initiatives this week, focused on digital skills development and diversifying the company’s talent pipeline, GeekWire’s Alan Boyle reports:
The initiatives include a partnership with Degreed.com to give employees access to online lessons, certification courses and degree programs. Another initiative will put $6 million into a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and several historically black colleges and universities. That investment will support scholarships, internships and boot-camp programs to help students experience what it’s like to work at Boeing, the company said.
There’ll also be several new programs to help Boeing employees enhance their technical skills and keep up with industry trends. The focus of the first program will be digital literacy, Boeing said.
In the wake of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by the US Congress in December, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, some large employers announced that they were raising pay, expanding benefits, or (most commonly) issuing one-time bonuses for their employees with the billions of dollars in savings they would gain from the tax reform package. Critics of these tax cut bonuses say they are a cynical attempt to curry favor with the Trump administration and mask the fact that investors are reaping the lion’s share of the rewards. Most of the windfall is being passed on to shareholders through dividends and stock buybacks, as the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article noting the impact of the tax cuts on corporate earnings in the first quarter.
Some companies are investing their tax cuts in in employees in a different way. The aerospace manufacturer Boeing, for example, announced in December that it was investing $300 million of its tax savings in employee programs, one third of which would go toward learning and development (its total savings from the tax cuts are expected to be around $400 million a year, the Seattle Times reported in January).
In fact, many organizations are putting part of their tax savings toward learning: Our pulse survey on tax reform at CEB, now Gartner, found that among organizations allotting part of their tax savings to HR, 39 percent were investing in employee training, development, and education—the second most common target for these allotments after pay and benefits. (CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can see the full results of that survey here.)
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The 2018 World Economic Forum, recently concluded in Davos, Switzerland, brought together political, business, and cultural leaders from around the globe to discuss the future of the global economy and its foremost institutions. Gartner EVP Peter Sondergaard was on hand to take in the events and speak with influencers at the forum, where he observed a few key themes in discussions of the future of the workplace: The increasingly digital nature of business, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the impact technology can have on improving diversity and inclusion.
“It became abundantly clear that organizations have reached the point at which the digital workplace must be driven by both CIOs and heads of HR,” Sondergaard explained. This doesn’t mean technology will eliminate the need for people, just that employees will need to work in different ways and companies will need to offer guidance on how to do that. “Such changes will require new models of learning and development,” he continued, “as well as the creation of hybrid workplaces that combine technology and information to accommodate a mix of employees.”
Certainly, we have seen a wide range of technologies promise to reshape how the people and processes of the workplace operate, but artificial intelligence is the driving force behind the most groundbreaking offerings. It’s powering Google Jobs, wearable tech, analytical tools, and voice-activated tech such as Amazon’s Alexa, as well as the automation of processes from candidate sourcing to performance management. As a result, demand for AI talent has skyrocketed as technology providers are scrambling to keep up with the rapid rate of change.
While the rise of AI has fueled fears of the potential for a massive loss of jobs, Sondergaard is confident that AI should ultimately create jobs if deployed properly. “As was true of the Industrial Revolution,” he also pointed out, “technological advances as a result of AI will spur job creation. In 2020, AI will create 2.3 million jobs, while eliminating 1.8 million — a net growth of half a million new positions. Organizations will realize an added benefit as in 2021 AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion of business value and save 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity.”
Salesforce, the San Francisco cloud computing company known for its widely adopted customer relationship management software, is going public with its internal online learning platform. Conceived in 2014 and launched internally in 2016, the Trailhead program has allowed numerous employees at Salesforce to develop tangible digital skills and make stark career shifts. In a recent profile by Elizabeth Woyke at the MIT Technology Review, one employee shared how he moved from recruiting to engineering after getting certified in two programming languages through the self-guided, interactive platform:
[Greg] Wasowski’s chances of making such a transition seemed unlikely—until he began spending several hours a week (in the office and on nights and weekends) on Salesforce’s online learning platform, Trailhead. Within a year, he learned two programming languages, earned certification as a Salesforce application developer, and got a job configuring Salesforce software for customers.
The occasion for this profile was Salesforce’s announcement that it will soon release a version of the platform called myTrailhead, which will allow clients to customize it to train their own employees in the specific skills they need. Trailhead, which uses micro-learning, gamification, and a system of points and virtual badges to make its short, consumable training programs engaging and effective, already contains a range of tutorials geared toward Salesforce users, including on how to master, administer, and program for the Salesforce software itself.
In addition to allowing the tech giant’s own 26,000 employees to upskill for career shifts, the platform has also allowed them to get up to speed on technology changes after coming back from leave, thus mitigating the career risks of having a child or taking other extended career breaks due to family obligations or illness. Woyke also interviews a mother at Salesforce who used the system that way:
Now that every company needs a digitally adept workforce, the race to attract, hire, and retain top talent in this field is as competitive as ever. Demand for tech talent was already outpacing supply, but the problem is getting worse as companies’ talent needs are converging. In our research at CEB, now Gartner, we found that 40 percent of all job postings by S&P 100 companies were for just 21 different roles, including many technical, digital, and data jobs. (CEB Recruiting Leadership Council members can read our full study on competing for critical talent with a market-driven sourcing strategy).
LinkedIn and Capgemini recently completed a study quantifying the severity of the digital talent gap and looking at where companies are missing the mark. They found that 70 percent of US companies say the digital talent gap is widening, while 29 percent of employees believe their skill set is currently redundant or will be soon and another 38 percent believe this will be the case for them in four to five years. These findings also highlight how much more companies need to be doing to train existing employees on the digital skills needed for success in the workplace of the future. Almost half of the employees surveyed were not satisfied with their organization’s current learning and development offerings, and 43 percent said they were willing to move to another company if they felt their digital skills were stagnating.
The data suggests that companies’ development priorities are misaligned with their own future talent needs. Our learning and development research has shown that companies are often too focused on short-term skills gaps when creating development programs. In this case, digital skills may be the long-term blind spot.