Workforce Talent and the Digital Future

What kind of skills and knowledge does your company need from your people in the next five years?

This is an urgent question to answer, as the upheaval of the last year has shown us. When the way we live, work, and learn was suddenly flipped upside down in March 2020, out of necessity we needed to learn how to do things digitally.

This shift has highlighted how digital transformation truly starts with people, not technology. People decided, reimagined, and pivoted, figuring out along the way what tools and processes needed to change.

Even before the pandemic upheaval, it was clear a skills gap loomed between the tools we have and the people we need to transform the way work gets done. A recent McKinsey study on upskilling and reskilling revealed as much as 14% of the workforce might need to change occupational categories as their functions become obsolete in the face of automation and digitization. In the same study, two-thirds of executives at enterprises put “addressing skills gaps” as a top-five or top-ten priority.

This imperative to reskill, upskill, and rethink talent gaps has not gone away. In fact, it has intensified over the last year. As work races ever faster through this period of seismic change, the need to future-proof your workforce is only going to become more pressing.

Awareness of this pressure is only the first step. And, of course, no one can say what the workplace (or market) will truly look like in the next five years (if nothing else, 2020 drove home this lesson). As an HR professional, what can you do to advance closing the skills gap at your firm? Here are a few key things to ask when it comes to future-proofing your talent for the digital future.

What can be automated?

Assessing where you are starts with understanding what aspects of business processes—or even individual roles—can be automated. Automation creates efficiency and reduces the potential for human error and can help you elevate performance by giving people more time to do what only people can do: create, strategize, problem-solve, and collaborate. Ask yourself  what new tools or capabilities can I introduce that can make workflows and processes easier? Are there better, simpler, more efficient ways to accomplish the same result?

What skills are needed?

Conducting an organizational skills review will help you see which skills are present in your workforce—and which are lacking. By defining your objectives and priorities—your business strategy—you can create a list of requirements and competencies you want employees to have. This will help you see where your organization might need to go with talent development.

How will role definitions change?

We are all used to traditional job roles and defined responsibilities, but this might shift over time, especially in a fast-moving, ever-changing business environment. You might consider more fluid role definitions or even clustering roles into job families.

How will you develop talent?

Once you have conducted an organizational skills review and reconsidered role definitions, it is time to think about how you will develop the talent you need. Do you build your own talent pool through recruitment and development? Do you borrow talent through partnerships? Or do you buy talent through consultants and subcontractors at the individual or functional level? There is a place for each strategy, often within the same organization.

New, shiny, super-efficient tools are great—but only as valuable as the people driving strategy. HR has a key role to play in closing the skills gap and enabling digital transformation through people transformation. There is never been a better moment to figure out where your organization stands and how to help it advance.

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