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Perspectives

Workforce development strategies in the future of work

For the future workforce, skills alone are not enough to succeed

Organizations are facing increasing pressure to solve tomorrow’s problems today, while also questioning how to equip the future workforce with the right skills to do so. An intuitive and holistic workforce development framework is key to shifting what, where, and how learning in the flow of life happens.

Workforce Development: Equipping the workforce for the future

While focusing on developing skills for the workforce is a necessity, it is not enough to address the needs of today’s workforce and market environment. The pace of change is too rapid, quickly making even typical reskilling efforts obsolete. What is needed is a workforce development approach centered on personalized learning, leadership, experiences, and growth in the flow of life that considers both the dynamic nature of jobs and the equally dynamic potential of people to reinvent themselves.

Workforce development today must be tied with business strategy and continuously evaluated with an eye on the future of work. To accomplish this, an intuitive and holistic framework with personalized opportunities for development is required. Organizations that employ workforce development strategies not only to reskill workers, but also to build worker resilience, will equip workers and thus the organization with the strategies and tools needed to adapt to a range of uncertain futures.

Equipping the workforce for the future

Prepare the future workforce, now

Workforce development helps organizations define the skills and capabilities needed for their future business strategy; identify key gaps in the current workforce; and create innovative strategies and programs to build, buy, borrow, and apply those capabilities—all with the “worker in the center.” Organizations must implement a holistic workforce development approach to meet business and workforce demands. There are four ideas core to this approach: Workers want skills and experiences that interest them, and they want to be developed any way they want, whenever they want; businesses require strategic workforce development to be better prepared for transformations of their future of work and workforce; talent functions must implement holistic workforce development strategies to meet current and future workforce demands; and organizations need end-to-end solutions for their entire workforce, allowing them to provide meaningful integrated development experiences.

Workforce development is preparing for the future of work by shifting what, where, and how the workforce is developed, centered on personalized learning, leadership, experiences, and growth in the flow of life. Deloitte’s 2020 Human Capital Trends1 explores the way an unprecedented shift in our social and economic structures is affecting workers around the world. Economies are shifting from an age of production to an age of imagination. Today, success increasingly depends on innovation, entrepreneurship, and other forms of creativity that rely not just on skills for the future workforce, but also on capabilities such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and collaboration.2 A recent survey showed that “Seventy-three percent of our survey respondents identified organizations as the entity in society primarily responsible for workforce development,” while “Fifty-nine percent said they need additional information to understand the readiness of their workforce to meet new demands.”3

Redefine the workforce: expanded and agile

In order to meet these increasing rates of change, organizations are clear that they need to prioritize learning for their workforces. But compounding the challenge even further, the shape of their workforces is also evolving to include not just on-balance-sheet employees, but also off-balance-sheet workers such as contingent workers, vendors, gig workers, and even the crowdsourcing community. Organizations need to think about how they are enabling development experiences for all members of their workforce.

Many of the shifts in workforce development are occurring organically in organizations and accelerating as a result of changes to alternative work schedules and remote work behaviors brought on by COVID-19. These include the requirement to engage virtually, incorporating increased flexibility with childcare and other domestic responsibilities, and increased focus on well-being. There is also mounting uncertainty in the workforce, with growing numbers of unemployed workers. This makes workforce development strategies important for organizations to operate as social enterprises, as they recognize that upskilling workers may mean that they eventually transition into roles outside of their organizations.

Put the worker at the center

Organizations will need to enable workers to choose their own development adventures and there are several elements of workforce development that enable this. One of the hallmarks of our service-based economy is the centrality of the consumer. Technology has allowed for increasing customization and personalization of goods, and consumers have come to expect goods and services that are customized specifically for them. This mindset has carried into the rest of our lives such that workers have the expectation that their work and workplace will be adapted to their needs. As a result, an organization’s approach to workforce development strategies must be worker centric. Workers expect to be able to choose individual paths for professional development, that is specific to their strengths, passions, and goals. Ultimately, workers want experiences that interest them, and they want to consume them any way they want, whenever they want.

In order to meet the simultaneous demands of the market and their internal workforce, organizations should consider the following five shifts when designing workforce development strategies. Organizations must move from building skills to cultivating capabilities first and skills second; from developing specific workforce skills to meet short-term needs to leveraging workers’ “passion of the explorer” to engage them in solving unseen and future problems; from focusing on formal training and traditional education to supporting learning in the flow of work; from rewarding based on work output to rewarding based on capability development and value to the business; and, finally, from preparing the workforce with an internal focus to preparing the workforce with an eye toward what benefits both the organization and society. By undergoing these changes, organizations can transform from siloed programs, short-term goals, and the organization at the center to integrated programs, long-term goals, with workers at the center4.

5 Shifts: Workforce development that puts workers in the center

1 Erica Volini et al., “2020 Global Human Capital Trends Report: The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward” Deloitte Insights, 2020.

2 Erica Volini et al., “Beyond reskilling: Investing in resilience for uncertain times,” Deloitte Insights, May 15, 2020.

3 Ibid.

4 Erica Volini et al., “Beyond reskilling: Investing in resilience for uncertain times,” Deloitte Insights, May 15, 2020.

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