September 30, 2021

        September 30, 2021

Building tomorrow’s skills

To remain relevant in the future, employees are projected to need a new set of skills, but do you know which ones?

 

There is no argument around the fact that COVID-19 has changed the world of work. Those that were quick to adapt and move on have managed to mitigate effects of the crisis well while those who waited for status to return to normalcy of pre-COVID times, have only ended up losing more business through prolonged anticipation.

Organisational agility which was once a nice to have, is today a must have for business survival.

92% of C-suite executives believe organizational agility is critical to business success, yet only 27% consider themselves highly agile. – Project Management Institute (PMI) and Forbes Insights

An adaptive workforce is a fundamental component of an agile organization. But what skills does it take to create an adaptive workforce?

An adaptive workforce would possess a set of skills that will enable them to thrive through and beyond the current pandemic and stay resilient amidst pressures of different natures. Here’s why we say so. The industry within which an employee operates can be subject to volatility based on the type of shock, and there is no single industry that can be entirely categorized as risk proof.

Let’s look at travel and leisure versus healthcare, two industries, both which require intense physical interaction, but have been impacted differently by the pandemic. COVID-19 has largely only spared industries that have been able to generate the same level of output with remote working. Travel and leisure has been wildly disrupted as people fear to navigate large crowds in an airport, in a movie theater, in hotels and restaurants as it is one where people pay for an experience, and such offerings cannot be enjoyed remotely. But, healthcare on the other hand, also one that requires physical interaction between doctors and patients for, physical examination, use of specialized machinery, as well as support of nurses and technicians, has experienced a growth spurt given the nature of the externality demanding continued support of healthcare experts.

Hence, while some sectors such as healthcare, digital and content marketing, finance, and IT-related fields are favoured to be some career paths that are in immediate demand post COVID, it is only prudent for employees to reskill for future needs rather than piggy back on today’s surviving industries as this can change in the future. A truly adaptive workforce is one that would be prepared to withstand any type of future shock and not be one that is only geared to weather the current pandemic.

In light of being future-ready, reskilling at scale has grown to be a concern and priority for ~80% of C-suite executives worldwide – McKinsey survey.

So, what are some of the ‘new skill’ areas one should look to develop?

Tech is permanently erasing some of the previous job roles off the board. As automation, AI, and robotics take hold, the need for manual and physical skills, as well as basic cognitive ones, will decline…

Replacing customer service and front-line roles – The desire for contactless has become widespread, and led to structural shifts. Long term change is evident in roles involving on-site customer interaction, for example salespeople in retail and tellers in banks. These job roles that involved heavy face-to-face dealing have moved online, even enabling self-checkout counters at supermarkets to avoid interaction. Such frontline, often low-wage service roles are examples of previously existent roles that may never re-exist at the scale it used to.

A Mckinsey survey of 75% of people using digital channels for the first time indicate that they will continue to use them when things return to ‘normal’.

So, the future as it holds today seems like even restaurants may have robots serving people with any human waiters/waitresses only being a luxury service in fine dining.

Replacing repetitive tasks – Jobs requiring basic cognitive skills, physical and manual work and those deemed repetitive such as data entry, basic office work, roles played by administrative assistants and bookkeepers as well as monotonous tasks in factory settings and production facilities will be replaced by robotic automation.

A Mckinsey survey revealed that over the period 2016-2030, the demand for basic data input and processing skills will fall by 19% in the United States and by 23% in Europe.

…but tech is opening up a new set of jobs for people, specifically skills facilitating technology adoption.

Technological/Digital Skills – As the saying goes, “If technology were to replace man, it would have replaced him by now.” While growth in technology will close employment opportunities that used to previously be available, it will create the need for a new set of skills.  As AI and robotics are seeming to soon be commonplace technology, skills that would complement such technology such as developing hardware and software, operating and controlling them, maintenance and fixing tech breakdowns is something employees/employers should look to develop. This would call for specific skills such as digital fluency (i.e., digital literacy, learning, collaboration and ethics), software use and development (i.e., data analysis and statistics, programming and algorithmic thinking) and understanding digital systems (i.e., smart systems, cyber security, tech translation).

New skilling essential services to work with intelligent technologies – The potential influence of technology in essential services such as education, healthcare and science, at least in the medium term, is expected to be more of an enhancement role helping to improve lives rather than replace roles. Technology enhancements would enable smarter, safer and more productive lives through smart systems in key areas such as health care, education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) rather than replace current roles played by doctors, teachers and scientists. Hence, such professionals would need to learn new skills to be able to operate such technology and let go of conventional methods as advancements are deployed.

Accenture’s recent research shows that 75% of employees believe it is important that they develop new skills to work with intelligent technologies, but only 4% of organisation are significantly adjusting their training budget to support this.

As technology takes hold of the workplace, soft skills are growing in importance, because they are unique, cannot be replaced by tech, are transferable between jobs and optimize the hard skills one possesses.

“87% of companies are experiencing skill gaps or expect them within a few years, and this tumultuous job market has birthed a new desire from employers to replace traditional skill sets with “soft” skills” – McKinsey

Soft skills cannot be replaced by tech – As automation and AI take over a set of skills that man once performed, it’s time to nurture skills that technology cannot easily replace or master. Unlike formal education programs, which teach the same theories to students, soft skills are unique because they vary based on a person’s own experiences and views. How one person leads an organization or solves a problem may be very different to another’s approach while they both may generate success in different ways. Such unique capabilities are difficult for tech to grasp, as they do not have a common pattern for one to program, at least in the near future, and will be of high demand.

Soft skills are transferable and keep one relevant – Soft skills are transferable between jobs and across industries as they are more people oriented and not technical or job specific. They enable workers to be well-prepared for a rapidly changing landscape where adapting to external changes will be pivotal.

Soft skills help optimize technical skills – While education degrees and hard skills can help drive performance of employees, project execution can still fail if employees do not possess the right soft skills. For example, understanding what a customer clearly wants, identifying issues that can largely impact performance delivery to timely communication or course correction are more an influence of soft skills than hard skills. For example, software developers must possess business acumen to understand what customers want to accomplish so that they can help code what is really useful for them.

So, what are some of these specific soft skills one should focus on developing?

Higher cognitive skills – this includes skills such as critical thinking, complex problem-solving, mental flexibility, resilience, creativity, originality and emotional intelligence. Global giants such as Google and Amazon have been among companies that have recognised this. Over the years, they have been emphasizing that possessing soft skills such as learnability and problem solving is key to having a successful career with them.

Demand for higher cognitive skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing, is expected to grow through 2030, by 19% in the United States and by 14% in Europe, from sizable bases today – McKinsey

Interpersonal skills – This includes social and emotional skills such as empathy, inspiring trust, developing relationships, teamwork effectiveness as well as time management.

Between 2016 and 2030 the demand for social and emotional skills is expected to grow by 26% in the United States and by 22% in Europe – McKinsey

Self-Leadership Skills – This incudes self-awareness, self-management, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and goals achievement. Truly agile firms have more leaders committed to change at all levels of their organization. In a constantly volatile environment, folks that have the skill to influence a crowd and gear them in one direction will be of high demand. This is because, in this ever-changing world of work, leaders will need to keep reimagining the future, pivot workforce to new growth targets and either upskill/reskill their people.

The workforces of change leaders thrive on fast-paced change: 83%, compared to 51% of their peers. Vision and direction’ have three to four times greater impact on benefits realization than any other factor.

Employers would need to identify ways to quantify and measure soft skills

Assessments gauging soft skills should be introduced to complement assessment of hard skills. In order to encourage further development of such skills, employers must find new ways of educating, training and rewarding their workforce on soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and ingenuity.

As automation changes the job market, 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers agree that candidates with strong soft skills are increasingly important. In fact, 89 per cent said bad hires typically have poor soft skills. – LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends Report

Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises house a smaller number of employees than large counterparts, given the need to maintain lower operating expenses. Hence, it is even more important for MSMEs to carefully prioritize the skills they need as they look to recruit. The concentration of skills within smaller firms largely includes hard skills, which they find more valuable as they focus on offering specialized solutions, which is most often the basis on which they have been founded – a highly niche or focused offering to a target market that is currently not catered to. Such specialized hard skills, while it may cater to unique needs, may not enable foresight of externalities that can render them irrelevant in this ever-changing apex. Those with soft skills, on the other hand are more intuitive about such changes that are coming upon them and would be able to proactively respond with improved offerings, helping MSMEs to stay relevant.

References :

“Future-Proofing Your Supply Chain for the New Normal” – Supply Chain Brain, September 2020; “Risk, resilience, and rebalancing in global value chains” – McKinsey, August 2020; “Global Supply Chains in a Post-Pandemic World” – Harvard Business Review, October 2020; “COVID-19 and business failures” – NCBI, September 2020; “Colgate-Palmolive” – Automation World, July 2021; “What Supply Chain Transparency Really Means” – Harvard Business Review, August 2019; “Smarter Supply Chains Help Apparel Companies Keep Pace” – RISNews, January 2019

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Seyeda Mowhiba is a Consultant at Stax and has been with us since 2016. As a holder of ACMA, CGMA, UK and four world awards in Financial Management and Strategy, she has led multiple projects assisting companies across diverse industries on business strategy formulation, process improvement, and financial modeling. Prior to her role at Stax, she worked at Moody’s Analytics and Dilmah.

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