Creating the Future Workforce, Today

Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer, Accenture

Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer, Accenture

We are living in a time of unprecedented, high velocity change. Headlines abound about machines taking over our jobs, jobs without workers—particularly in IT—and workers without jobs. This digital revolution will create winners and losers among both organizations and individuals.

Leaders need to leverage every advantage at their disposal to rise to the challenge. In an era that heralds technology as the silver bullet, leaders must not overlook their most important source of competitive differentiation—their people.

If this sounds like an HR issue, think again. Solving the skills shortage and transforming the workforce for the digital age is the responsibility of every C-suite leader—because of the complexity and urgency of both the challenge and the opportunity. But how?

"Success in the digital age requires a more dynamic script that involves continuous learning and multiple pivots"

In our recent study, Harnessing Revolution: Creating the Future Workforce, a picture emerged of three key actions that leaders can take to proactively shape and prepare the future workforce:

1. Accelerate reskilling people
2. Redesign work to unlock human potential
3. Strengthen the talent pipeline from its source

Building Skills – Better and Faster

One of the most important actions organizations can take is to rapidly reskill their people. Our analysis shows if we double the pace at which people learn new skills, the risk of job loss due to automation can be reduced significantly—from 10 to 4 percent in the US, 9to 6 percent in the UK, and 15 to 10 percent in Germany.

And people are ready to learn new skills. Our survey of 10,000 workers around the world showed that they are not only optimistic about the impact of technology on their jobs—84 percent saying it will improve their job experience—but they understand the importance of remaining relevant. Eighty-five percent indicated they would invest their free time to learn new skills.

At Accenture, we faced our own reskilling challenge and upskilled over 70,000 people in new IT skills like Agile, DevOps, Cloud and Mobility in one year. And it was not just about training—we created boot camp experiences, field work, job shadowing and on-demand digital learning boards to accelerate job readiness in a relatively short amount of time.

Other companies are blurring the lines between learning and working with intelligent technology. In our work with Shell, we collaborated with UpSkill on intelligent wearable technology for roles ranging from field technicians to lab scientists. The latest phase of work focused on new ways to collaborate, connecting the “what I see” perspective of the hands-on worker to the knowledge worker in the lab, enabling real-time information sharing on critical tasks.

While reskilling is an immediate action, it is ultimately about creating a more relevant life script for the digital age. Gone are the days when you went to school and learned a discipline for life. Success in the digital age requires a more dynamic script that involves continuous learning and multiple pivots.

Redesigning Work to Unlock Potential

Technology is not the only thing disrupting the workforce. Demographic shifts are nearly as significant. By the end of the decade, 75 percent of the workforce will be millennials. And for the first time in history we have five generations working together in the workplace.

The traditional employee/ employer relationship is becoming outdated as workers are looking for new options and more flexibility. Our analysis shows that over 50 percent of all workers expect to stay with their current employer for no longer than five years. And, 67 percent seek to pursue freelance opportunities or self-employment.

And, according to Accenture’s Worker Value Index, emotional factors like quality of life, engagement, status and respect are equally if not more important than a paycheck to today’s workers.

The bottom line is the way we work today isn’t working very well. Organizations need to create more flexible workforce models that abandon rigid and hierarchical structures. A case study from Accenture’s Technology Vision 2017 shares how WordPress parent company Automattic (450 employees in 45 countries) uses technology to run their company much differently than most. Automattic has eliminated traditional organization hierarchy and conducts business through project teams ranging from 2-12 workers. Teams experiment with new ways of collaborating to complete work, and so far, the experiment has been a great success. Automattic is valued at more than $1 billion, and has become the ubiquitous leader in content management on the Internet with 25 percent of websites using the Automattic platform.

Savvy organizations must expand their definition of “worker” to include both employees and contractors–offering personalized benefits, learning opportunities and a vibrant gig-like environment to all, so full-timers and freelancers alike want to stay connected to the company.

Strengthening the Pipeline

Changes brought on by the digital revolution are widening the global talent shortage. And, it is not just IT skills where companies are falling behind. While technology skills will continue to be critical, it is the more “human skills” that are becoming increasingly important. Our analysis of O-Net data from 2011-2014 show critical thinking, creativity and empathy are now more important for all workers to keep pace with change and ability to contribute to their companies’ success and their own personal satisfaction.

The root cause of these skills gaps reaches far back into the ecosystem—to primary, higher and vocational education. And, leaders need to do more to influence change at the source, finding new ways to partner with government and academia to align education to the needs of industry.

A great example of a public/ private partnership is the Global Apprenticeship Network. It bands together businesses, associations and other organizations to promote quality apprenticeships. Their remit is to create job opportunities for young people by aligning skills to demand.