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Humanising the Future of Work podcast
Episode 3: Future skills: Keeping the workforce human
What are the skills of the future? In this episode our experts discuss the importance of 'human' skills and capabilities and why these are essential to business. But how can organisations develop the skills needed for the future of work, and what key blockers are they likely to encounter when reskilling? Listen to find out!
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Jonathan Eighteen, Director, Human Capital and Aoife Kilduff, Senior Consultant and member of the Future of Work team
DH: How do you see the future of work impacting your customer, your organisation or your future workforce? This is Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work podcast, the show where we explore the big questions around the future of work and what this means for you.
In each episode, we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out. And while technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.
In our previous episodes, we have discussed the human machine connection in a world of automation and intelligent systems. Exploring how effective workforce transformation and focused job design can ensure organisations positively impact the type of work carried out by the human workforce. Today, we get to explore these further and understand how they will keep the future workforce human. I'm your host, Daniel Hind. And today I'm excited to be joined by two experts from across Deloitte. Jonathan Eighteen, director in workforce transformation, and Aoife Kilduff from our Future of Work team. Welcome to you both.
DH: So, Jonathan, what are these skills and capabilities of future?
JE: Well, I think it's a very interesting time to be answering that kind of question. If you look back at the way that learning and skills and recycling [?] has been done over the past few decades, I think the time when we were providing the similar types of skills to large volumes of people, in a time of mass delivery of training and skilling is certainly coming to an end. I think now what's driving that is a huge drive towards personalisation. And obviously, as you think about the way that organisations and indeed consumers want to get things from businesses and organisations in this day and age, everything is personalised and therefore by default, the way that we need to skill our people needs to be personalised as well too, because providing something in a very consistent way is no longer necessarily going to create value. So, this has given rise to trying to make sure that people are skilled in a very different way.
And there are some things which are genuinely human that needs to be followed through to make sure they're consistent. So, those enduring human skills that we've got such as curiosity or insight, empathy, resilience, the curiosity to look at various different things come to the fore. And I think organisations are seeking to try and develop these skills a lot more than they have done in the past. So, these are the ones that I would point to that are potentially the skills of the future. And if you can skill your workforce in that particular way, you have the ability to be able to adapt and be more agile in your approach to delivering value for your customers.
AK: The one thing that I would add is that it's quite interesting from our research, that actually, employees see different skills that they need to build to stay employable than organisations. So, in one of our recent surveys, while organisations were trying to build process skills, cognitive abilities and system skills, those broader sets of skill sets, employees thought that they needed to build advanced IT skills to remain employable. So there seems to be a real disconnect between what organisations need and what employees think that they need to build in terms of skills.
DH: And do we think that that comes about from all of these scary headlines about how the robots are coming into the workplace to take over everything and everyone thinks they know how to programme a robot?
AK: Probably. I think also, there's something around, there's so much learning available to people. So, with a mass of online courses, there's so much content out there, it's difficult for individuals to figure out what it is that they should be learning and what skills they need in the future.
DH: Jonathan, from your perspective, is there any particular type of employer or sector or industry that's really embracing these future skills and capabilities?
JE: I think it's a really good question. There are certainly some industries that are naturally more tuned to these kinds of things. You can create big divisions if we create extremes between heavy industry and manufacturing vs a telecoms firm or a multimedia firm or something like that, which is generally a very different business model in that particular way.
However, what I do think is interesting is that I think there are examples of different organisations in all industries, trying to take this up. And this human capability, the human skills is becoming far more prevalent. And we get so many more increased requests for what are these, how do you develop them, and so on. And there are definitely things that you can develop on an ongoing basis, like emotional intelligence, the ability to collaborate and team work better across different silos given different ways of working where people are focusing around particular problems, and not necessarily do things in their vertical cycle in one particular function within an organisation.
Trying to make sure that they're making sense of various different things that are there, critically thinking and analysing various different things to try and identify new ways of value. And I think those kinds of skills can be applied across all different sectors. It's not specific to one in that particular area. But I think it's fair to say that some organisations have certainly gotten past and through the first gate a lot quicker than others.
KA: And I think also in terms of that, there's something around within industries and also even within organisations, the way work is described is quite specific. So, you could be doing a similar type of work in one function and another, but actually, it's described very differently. So, it's difficult for people to see how their skills could be transferable, and they could work in other organisations or roles within the workplace.
So, I think one of the things that we are seeing now is organisations starting to adopt a common skills framework for more of those human skills so that people can start to self-assess, and also figure out where best to go in the organisation to build their skills.
JE: Empathy is an interesting one in terms of understanding and considering others feelings. By definition, I think it's probably a good enough definition of empathy. There are lots of roles in areas where you could think… A stupid example to prove the point, very extreme, but if you could automate a doctor by getting a computer or a robot to learn every single piece of scientific research that's ever been written, and therefore be able to diagnose an individual, but could you get rid of the nurse in terms of the empathy that's shown in a bedside manner. That's a very different skill set, but very important to someone's care who's going through the time of their life where they might need that. So, I think that's one extreme example of empathy in that area.
I think another example could be something around resilience. You can automate everything as far as you can go. But if the answer is computer says no, then that might lead to a dead end. I think the skills in terms of having resilience, being able to push and being able to critically analyse where the next thing could be, and which next step to take, is an innately human skill, which is difficult to programme. So, I think when those kinds of roles where they've got that requirement, that would be a great example of where these things could be applied.
DH: What would you say, in your opinion, is the key driver for businesses to really embrace these skills and capabilities of the future?
JE: I think there's more than one the key is a very crucial word in your question. There's lots of different drivers around that. Clearly, the pace of change given technology and automation you've alluded to, is ever increasing, and organisations are needing to keep up. Barriers to entry are coming down through technology in terms of the opportunity to enter into new markets. The traditional healthcare life scientist type firms are having competition from all sides now, from non-traditional areas by just one example. So, there are loads of different trends and forces that are moving forwards.
I think the firms that we see that are enlightened around the way they're doing this are actually really beginning to think about the work itself, and really challenging the older, more traditional ways that things have got done either in a research and development type area or a manufacturing stuff or a commercial/sales environment or something to that effect, really challenging the way that the work in the future can be done, and challenging the way that they are then getting the talent, and therefore the skills that are needed to develop that work itself, whether those are on balance sheet, off balance sheet, freelancers, automated, robotised, etc, or indeed in terms of different geographies as well too.
So really challenging the way that the work is done and therefore the skills that are needed. The workforce is therefore changing, given the variety of different talent channels that I've just mentioned, and then potentially the workplace could be changed as well, too. So really thinking through all of those things as a nexus of forces is then coming up with a new learning strategy, a new skilling strategy for the organisation that they need moving forward. So, I think these are some of the enlightened practices that we're beginning to see, fledgling in some cases, but different organisations trialling to do work in a very different way.
AK: And I think, also, you mentioned around looking beyond just on balance sheet workers to see who is best to do the work. I think even within those on balance sheet workers, organisations are starting to realise that actually, the skills that they need are oftentimes quite expensive to buy in. So, it's difficult for them to go externally and recruit for the new skills that they need. They actually need to put more emphasis on retraining and reskilling their internal staff, the employees that they've already got, because it's too expensive. to hire it externally.
DH: I was listening to an HBR podcast recently. They were talking about the apprenticeship route in the States, and they were saying that the development of internal pipeline, the development of skills and capabilities is a far more cost-effective route than actually trying to buy it in. So, there’s certain expertise that you can buy in, but to actually develop the workforce and the skills and capabilities that you want to be able to deliver that customer experience is far more cost effective to develop in house.
So just on that, what are the typical barriers to organisations wanting to or being able to actually embark on quite a significant shift in their skills and capabilities framework?
JE: So I think it's important just to back up a second before we go to that really good question. I think that one of the things that we've seen through our own research, our latest human capital trends, is that organisations are recognising this is a really strategic lever in terms of learning, skilling, training, reskilling, reengineering their workforce. End executives are reporting that this is a really hot topic for them in that respect. But many of the organisations are finding that their strategies to which your question is aimed are not necessarily keeping up with the challenge that they've got where they see this as a really big strategic lever. And this is the reason why learning as a topical reskilling has flown up the charts in terms of human capital trends over the last few years.
So, coming back to your question then in terms of the challenges around it, and I think already mentioned, this learning is just the opportunity is everywhere, given course content, internal stuff, external stuff, networks of learning from other people around you, specialists or people who have got certain knowledge around a certain skill capability or something else that you could learn from. So that whole notion of training/learning is changing. The definition is getting a lot broader. And organisations that do well are offering those kinds of experiences, not least in multiple different types of channels, but much more in terms of volume as well too.
So, the channels they’re offering are much more volumous, and the volume of stuff is getting bigger and bigger, which gives rise to another challenge around how you, as an individual, can make your own personal choice. So, adhering to that before the whole situation the whole area gets too noisy for someone to navigate their way through. So, one of the challenges is how you navigate your way through that and find out that you're getting the right personalised situation for yourself. Because long gone are the days where you joined a trade, learnt your trade, got more senior in that area and became a leader because of your learnt trade. It's possible for people to be jumping around lots of different jobs over a period of time, and therefore adding their skills and capability over a long part of their career.
And this is one of the reasons why I think that one of the key things is around learning agility. The ability to recognise where you are deficient and want to pivot to something new, either for interest, or due to changes in your job or anything else like that. On a personal level, it’s going to be something which is going to make some individual stand out from others in the future.
DH: So if we were trying to embed this learning through the employee life cycle, how would we go about that?
AK: So if you're thinking about right from the beginning, when you're starting to attract people, how can you start to help people learn about the company before they even join? So, for example, some organisations use VR to simulate a day in the life in the organisation. So, you're already embedding learning right from the beginning. Then when you're thinking about onboarding, a lot of organisations, the key learning that they give to their people is compliance training and safety training. But actually, what are the other key skills and that you want your people to learn, and how can you start to embed that into your onboarding process?
And then if you're thinking about development going forward, it's really important to look at the learning analytics behind it. So, what are the training courses and the online learning and the other types of learning that are available in the organisation? What's working, what's not working? What do your employees prefer? And what actually has the greatest impact on employee performance? So, you can really get a picture of what to continue and maybe dial up, and that kind of learning is less impactful?
And then when you're thinking about that incentive piece, so how do you start to ensure that employees get recognised and rewarded for their learning? So, there are some examples of organisations who've actually changed their reward structure, so that their bonus reflects performance, but their base pay is based on the market relevant skills that they've developed in the last year.
There's also something so you're incentivising the individual, but actually, how do you incentivise the manager to release their employees and step away from day to day jobs? And also, how do you train line managers to have those fundamental conversations and guide people to the learning that's most important to them?
And then when you're thinking about actually retention, we talked about internal mobility, but how can you enable people to move around the organisation and learn on the job so that they don't necessarily have to leave the organisation to develop further?
JE: There's some great examples there. I think there's a couple of others at the organisational level that you could pick out. I mean, without naming any individual institutions, there are some that have recognised the need to reskill vast swathes of their workforce, and even gone so far as to pay individuals who've been chosen because they've got the capability and the aptitude potentially, and the interest to retrain and get accredited and certified in a new role, and therefore take up a new position. And your great example there about them paying them in a different way, based on a market rate, actually creates a new currency for the way that pay and reward is done based on skills in a true way. And that could be a new way of looking at things in terms of reward and recognition, linked to development in the future. And I'm sure that that that might become something that becomes more common.
There are other organisations who are actually now badging and certifying skill sets and so on, much like you would be when… When I was in the clubs and had my arm full of proficiency badges. A similar kind of concept. A silly example to make the point, but that kind of concept coming up, which is either internal accreditation or even an external one, so that people can be seen to be badged in the right way and accredited to do various different things.
AK: The other thing I would say just around the key blockers is particularly around those frontline staff roles, where the employees are dealing with customers on the shop floor or in a warehouse. Those roles are oftentimes the ones that are most likely to completely transform, due to automation or other factors. But these are also the people that are the least likely to benefit from reskilling. And part of that is that organisations think it's too costly to take people off the shop floor or off the warehouse floor to reskill them. So, there's a need to be a little bit more innovative and think differently about how you can start to reskill those people, that doesn't necessarily disrupt their day to day jobs.
DH: I was recently listening to Jeremy Bailenson, who is a pioneer within VR, and he was talking about some work that they have done on the shop floor training using VR. And actually, some of the stats that they have got is that three hours of classroom training through a VR headset can be condensed into 15 minutes. And you don't need the floor space because that they're doing all the customer facing roles. And the retention is the same. So, retention of the training is the same, or if not better. So, are we seeing any other technology enabled approaches to developing skills and capabilities?
AK: One thing that we've noticed with our clients is, in terms of internal mobility, and I know we mentioned that earlier as being important to build those transferable skills in an organisation, some organisations are now using technology that creates AI enabled talent marketplaces, which basically allows anyone in the organisation to put up work, and then AI matches to work to people who have the skills and capabilities, but also the ambitions to do that kind of work. That really opens up work across the organisation and enables people to move around more freely. But also, it enables them to build skills in line with their development needs and desires, at relatively low costs the organisation, because you're not taking people out and doing classroom learning. You're enabling people to spend some time on developmental projects for 20% of their time, for instance. So that's one of the interesting trends that we've seen with some of our clients.
JE: That's a great example. I think that in itself and giving the opportunity to look at new environments and different situations is in itself a learning opportunity. It's not a piece of eLearning. It's not a face to face class, but it is developing someone giving them exposure to a new experience, which is not necessarily just education. So, this whole notion of a much more broader definition of skilling or reskilling is really important when it comes to it.
There are lots and lots of new technologies that are able to make learning very, very specific to an individual, that can learn the systems themselves. Ironically, they can learn about the individual, the more they use them to understand what type of channel they like, what type of topics they're interested in, what their job role might necessarily be needing or seeing in the outside world, connecting them to people internally that are maybe thought leaders in that particular space or even externally as well, too. So, technology can actually help in that way, in a very traditional sense.
And this is actually forcing a lot of organisations to really rethink what they're doing around their learning technology ecosystem. And alongside the great example that you just gave around internal mobility and networks in that particular way, using AI as an underlying area. I think the great panacea is if you can do all of those things, and then meld all of this other data that's available, HR data, performance data, and really start being able to predict where those skills gaps actually are or could be in the future, and then predetermine how you're going to try and close some of those skills gaps. That's the great opportunity for organisations.
DH: I've seen a number of articles in the press about who is responsible for learning as this debate going on about is it the responsibility of the employee? Is it the responsibility of employers, especially if employers wholesale are implementing automation across many industries? Or where does government fit into it? And I just wondered what your take was on that.
JE: I have a take on it. Obviously, I'm slightly biased in terms of my profession. But I think generally speaking, it's the responsibility of everyone. I think those people that, as my example earlier on in terms of learning a trade, it's probably not going to be relevant in the future. But I think if my children who are growing up, who knows what they're going to do? But I think what they are going to need to do is to be able to learn and learn agility so they can change and pivot and then relearn and go where their interests are. That level of personalisation, I think, is what's needed.
I think organisations, to our examples earlier on, are now needing to do things in a much more individual fashion. You can't just roll out swathes of training that is very consistent, because things do need to be very different. And it's been in the press in the last few weeks, where we are in the current political cycle around training and government's responsibility and investment and everything else there. That's certainly something that's going to be pushed through. You mentioned apprenticeships in the US. Well, you look what's happened in the apprenticeship market here in the UK over the last decade or so.
AK: I think I mentioned it earlier around that disconnect between employees and organisations in terms of the skills that employees think they need to learn. But I think there's also a disconnect in terms of who employees think is responsible for the learning. And in one of our recent surveys, we found that employees think it's the responsibility of their organisations to reskill them. So there needs to be more of a two-way communication around, actually, we're in this together. I'm investing in you, but you also need to give the time and invest yourself in recycling.
JE: I think it's a good example. It's interesting that research has said that. There are good examples of organisations in multiple sectors who have realised that this is something which is really important, not least because it helps with their reskilling problem, and organisations have all sorts of reskilling problems we talked about, given all the various different forces there. But it also helps engagement and there is a direct correlation between engagement and training and learning and everything else and interest for people to remain in their jobs. And as we've said, it's cheaper to retrain or reskill people as opposed to again find experienced hires, with the same level of capability in the open marketplace.
AK: A lot of the time, organisations are worried about communicating what skills are required or the future direction of the organisation because it's so unknown and it's the future and it's hard to define. But there's a need to be more open around the uncertainties to work more collaboratively with the employees to say, this is where we think the organisation is going. This is the skills that we think will be important in future, but that might change, rather than not communicating because of lack of clarity.
JE: I think we'll see a lot more organisations be a lot more choice full about how they define work and the workforce and the workplace they need in the future. And this, I think, will then drive a difference in terms of learning strategy, learning culture required in the organisation, the reskilling that's required, and could drive a fairly significant change in terms of the way that organisations do these things.
DH: Do we see the opportunity to take this back almost back to source and about how we actually educate the next generation of workers as they're coming through school and university? Is there a potential change to the curriculum?
JE: I think you're onto something. How we are skilling our future generations is clearly going to be important. I think there's lots of, I can't talk to specific piece of research but just generally feeling is that maybe graduates and people coming out of university are not necessarily having got the skills that organisations are now needing or wanting, and therefore that kind of early training becomes really, really important. So, I think there's definitely something there. How the governments in the world are going to adapt to that opportunity, who only knows? But certainly, there’ll be something to work on.
AK: So some organisations are actually starting to partner with schools and universities to create more bespoke curriculums that will meet the needs of the skills that they need within their organisations. Because as you mentioned, Jonathan, some school leavers and university students, when they come into the workplace, organisations are finding that they don't necessarily have the skills that they need. So, we'll see how that goes and how those examples move forward.
JE: I'm also seeing a trend in terms of organisations through the learning and leadership and skilling challenges and therefore strategies, creating a lot more academic partnerships than they have done in the past, and connections with academia and other partners in their ecosystem, to enable them to either jointly develop things in a different way, to start that pipeline of skilling earlier. And, of course, to do things in a way that’s slightly off their balance sheet as well, as we talked about at the beginning.