The Future of Work: Navigating the Reskilling Revolution in the Age of Automation and AI
In 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecasted that within the next 15 to 20 years, emerging automation technologies could potentially eliminate 14% of global jobs and significantly alter 32% of them. These staggering figures, which affect over a billion people worldwide, did not even factor in the rapid rise of generative AI.
The Changing Landscape of Skills Demand
Technological advancements are swiftly altering the skills that are in demand. Increasingly, technology is taking over not just repetitive and manual tasks but also complex, knowledge-based work such as research, coding, and writing—areas once thought to be immune to technological disruption. The average lifespan of skills is now less than five years, and even shorter in some tech sectors. Many professionals will find that AI and other emerging technologies have transformed their roles, effectively placing them in entirely new fields.
Investing in Workforce Development
To adapt to these changes, numerous organisations are heavily investing in the upskilling of their employees, allocating as much as 1.5% of revenue to learning and development programmes. Increasingly, these initiatives aim to both upskill workers and reskill them for new roles and responsibilities.
The Imperative of Reskilling
The necessity for a reskilling revolution is clear. So, what steps must organisations take to facilitate it? After conducting interviews with leaders from nearly 40 global organisations that are investing in large-scale reskilling initiatives, we identified five key success factors for thriving in this rapidly changing landscape.
1. Reskilling as a Strategic Priority
In times of upheaval, when many jobs are at risk, reskilling has often been used as a cushion against layoffs and as a means of fulfilling social responsibility goals. However, the leaders we spoke to have evolved beyond this limited perspective, viewing reskilling as a strategic necessity. This shift is driven by significant changes in the labour market, including an ageing workforce, the emergence of new roles, and the increasing need for employees to develop organisation-specific skills.
2. Leadership and Management’s Role in Reskilling
Traditionally, reskilling has been the domain of the HR department. While HR leaders must certainly be committed to reskilling efforts, the entire organisation needs to understand the strategic importance of these investments for them to succeed. In the organisations we studied, reskilling initiatives are often spearheaded by senior leaders, including CEOs and COOs, who articulate the link between reskilling and organisational strategy.
3. Reskilling as a Change Management Initiative
Reskilling is more than just training; it’s a complex change management initiative. It requires a multi-faceted approach that includes understanding supply and demand, recruiting and evaluating employees, training middle managers, on-the-job learning, and matching reskilled employees with new roles.
4. Employee Willingness to Reskill
One of the biggest challenges organisations face is convincing employees to reskill. However, two-thirds of workers are aware of the impending disruptions in their fields and are willing to reskill to stay competitive. Companies that treat their employees respectfully and clearly communicate the benefits of reskilling will find it easier to engage their workforce in these initiatives.
5. Collaboration is Key
Reskilling is not a challenge that organisations should tackle alone. Partnerships with governments, universities, and NGOs can provide valuable support. Collaborative efforts may prove more effective in addressing the reskilling challenge than isolated organisational initiatives.
While many organisations recognise the importance of reskilling, they often lack a systematic approach to measuring and scaling these programmes. In today’s fast-paced environment, new learning methodologies that are systematic, rigorous, experimental, and sustainable must be developed. Only then will the reskilling revolution truly gain momentum.