Posted: 21 Apr. 2021 5 min. read

2021 Global Human Capital Trends

Beyond reskilling: Unleashing workforce potential

The “so what” in 30 seconds

We’re now well into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and things are starting to get serious. It’s inevitable that some roles will face transition and that many workers need to quickly build new skills to evolve with the pace of change. In fact, the World Economic Forum suggests 42% of core skills will change in the next two years.[1]

Here’s the problem. No one can afford that size, scale, and pace of reskilling. That’s why you’re hearing so much about lifelong learning or work integrated learning.

So, we need to think about learning differently. We need analytics to understand the problem. We need to free employees to drive their own learning and we need to utilize every tactic we can think of to integrate learning into work….

Imagine employees consuming bite-sized pieces of learning, delivered in time for them implement at work. At the same time, they’ve been intentionally placed on a team where others already have the skill they are trying to build, so they can see others excelling in practice. These, plus another half-dozen tactics, are required. It’s time to design learning to target skills that matter in the modern workplace. It’s time for a mindset shift.

A deeper dive

Continuous disruption will negatively affect an organization’s workforce—we didn’t need a pandemic to prove that. However, the breadth of this disruption has highlighted the inadequacies of work structures, and how work impacts well-being. What’s more, it’s shown how ineffective, top-down, narrowly focused, and overly prescriptive traditional workforce development approaches are. These archaic programs lack the agility and dynamism required to navigate today’s changing work landscape.

Organizations have recognized that success in this new environment depends on their ability to quickly redeploy workers to where the workers are needed most. Additionally, they must ensure their employees have the skills, passion, and capacity for ongoing reinvention in order to feel fulfilled at work. Leaders must also try to preempt these talent conversations, providing better alignment between their workforce and business needs. But without the insights needed to empower workers to reimagine what, how, and where work gets done, this can be a difficult task. 

Trailblazing organizations across different industries are tapping their workers’ potential to choose how they can best help tackle critical business problems. This way, leaders can build adequate guardrails to channel their workers’ interests and abilities toward the good of the organization.

To unleash workers’ potential, organizations will need to make the following shifts:

  1. Stop assuming what skills workers possess. Start building opportunity and talent marketplaces that actively address both sides of the workforce supply-and-demand equation.
  2. Stop relying on top-down workforce planning mandates. Start providing more agency to their workers by prioritizing potential.
  3. Stop relying on static and linear frameworks and data collection. Start using a real-time view of workers’ skills across the entire talent ecosystem.

What does this mean for organizations? 

Organizations that build their workforce development strategies on the potential and agency of their workers will be better equipped with the tools, data, and engagement levels to adapt and seize opportunities presented by the future of work.

What is the impact of driving this change?

By investing in more variety and choice in workplace learning, as well giving their workers the agency to make their own, organizations can:

  • Gain valuable data, including data on the latent potential of their workforce, to add to their skills graphs and engines.  
  • Benefit from a motivated and engaged workforce—their people will be doing work that matters to them.
  • Shift both sides of the workforce supply-and-demand equation, creating clear business and project needs for workers and building workforce skills and capabilities for the organization.
  • Unleash the potential of their workforce and benefit from increased agility and creativity emanating throughout the organization.
  • Create a culture where people are motivated to engage in lifelong learning, adaptation, and reinvention—at the individual level, the team level, and the organizational level.
  • Position the organization as dynamic and adaptable, with the ability to sense evolving patterns and quickly activate workers around the emerging priorities. 

New possibilities ahead

The COVID-19 crisis accelerated the need for more worker agency and choice as people were forced to reimagine their work, often expanding beyond their traditional roles. Now is the time to invest in unleashing worker potential. Through dynamic action, leaders can position their organization to thrive in a new era of perpetual change.

72% of executives and 60% of workers identified the “capacity of workers to adapt” as the most relevant skill they will need to thrive in the labour market.

Providing more agency to workers can enable them to learn in the flow of work, gaining new skills and engaging in ongoing adaptation and reinvention.

For more information, read the 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report.



Key contacts

Aaron Groulx

Aaron Groulx

Partner, Human Capital

Aaron is a partner and national Human Resources (HR) transformation advisory leader at Deloitte. He has worked across both Canadian and global industries, helping organizations implement better HR transformation strategy, operations, and technology. Aaron’s focus is helping HR functions expand their services to significantly enhance the role HR plays in business success. He has helped clients adopt a uniquely human approach to extend the influence of their HR teams to alleviate the increasing pressures imposed on modern businesses.

Stephen Harrington

Stephen Harrington

Partner, Human Capital

Stephen is Deloitte’s National Lead – Workforce Strategy, and has been a writer and speaker on the future of work since 2011. With 20 years’ experience in Consulting, Stephen leads transformations in workforce strategy that enable our client’s people to feel personal purpose and impact, as the business drives improved results. Stephen is co-author of the Intelligence Revolution, a recent paper covering implication of the future of work in Canada. He has lead multiple projects in the last few years helping clients build new frameworks and capabilities to stand up future-ready workforces.