If 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet, how do we prepare ourselves and our workforces for this coming change? Sending everyone back to school for a 3 or 4 year degree course isn’t going to cut it. Neither is ignoring the problem and hoping for the best.
Putting the onus on the individual to reskill themselves also isn’t an option because people will gravitate towards learning what they enjoy or where they see opportunities today, rather than what companies and societies will need in the future. Without active intervention and investment from companies and governments to address this looming problem, the skills gap will only widen, and the chasm in society between those in high skilled and highly valued roles and those in unemployment or underemployment will also increase, leading to further fracturing of communities and additional pressure on the government benefits system.
So, what is the answer? Lifelong Learning has become a bit of a world-weary phrase that implies the drudge of corporate training and the tedium of self-directed education. But with a bit of a rebrand, it is the approach we need. We must move away from the idea that we do a single shot of education in the first quarter of our lives, to an expectation of constantly developing new skills on-the-job, between jobs and around jobs, and an expectation that this learning lifestyle will be encouraged and supported by the companies we work for. It needs to be a partnership approach: companies pay for training and get skilled workers; individuals invest their time and gain skills and progression.
People learn best when what they are learning is directly relevant to their job or the roles they aspire to, when there is a social element, either through learning from other people or learning with other people, and when they are motivated by what the skill-development will give them in terms of opportunities and outcomes. Learning needs to be applied too — it is the application in the real world of the knowledge and skills that creates embedded learning, and that demonstrates the value of the learning, creating further motivation to learn more.
Effectively everyone will need to become an apprentice all the time, constantly learning while working and continuously developing their skills as they move vertically and horizontally in their careers. By investing in their teams’ training and ongoing education, companies will find they build more motivated, loyal and productive workforces.
You don’t need to invest lots of money or buy whizzy e-learning systems to invest in employee upskilling and reskilling. The most important thing companies can do is build a learning culture, where taking time to learn is valued and where teaching others is seen as a requirement of management. Allowing people the time to take business-aligned courses or undertake apprenticeships is another way to easily invest in ongoing education. As your business grows, you can start to create bespoke training programmes and academies that specifically address the skills gaps you are seeing. Horizontal transfers within the business will encourage skill-development and cross-business collaboration while boosting the retention of your most valued team members.
Investment in training will also enable you to attract the best talent to your teams. In Deloitte’s survey of millennials, 8 in 10 millennial employees stated that they consider on-the job-learning and continuous employer-led training as vital instruments that help them perform better. Making learning part of your company culture and workstyle is a win-win.
And it’s not just the responsibility of companies to drive this change. Government interventions are necessary in order to accelerate the shift away from valuing an academic credential over the types of skills developed in the workplace and the skills we will all need for the roles of the future, whether they be critical evaluation, digital and technical skills, data interpretation or creative thinking. Government initiatives such as the introduction of the UK Apprenticeship Levy are part of the answer to encourage companies to invest in skills development and support national productivity growth. Countries with a strong focus on education, training and vocational skill development, such as Germany, generally have higher levels of productivity.
For individuals, the plethora of learning resources, both free and paid-for, is enormous. Whatever you want to learn, you can find on a YouTube channel or a curated platform like Masterclass or Coursera. It is not accessing the learning opportunities that is difficult: it’s building a learning lifestyle. Building time into your day, every day or every week, to invest in your personal growth is hard in our ever busier lives. This is where company support can make the difference. Rather than learning being something you are expected to squeeze into evenings or weekends, a learning lifestyle should be part of your work life. The benefits are obvious for everyone.
The world is changing rapidly and curveballs like the Coronavirus pandemic are only accelerating the changes in how people work, and the kinds of roles that will be needed in the future. We can’t sit around waiting to see what the jobs of 2030 will look like; we need to start laying the groundwork now to ensure our teams are prepared to continuously learn and reskill, and that our companies are set up to support these changes.
Sophie is the Cofounder of WhiteHat, a tech company building an outstanding alternative to university via apprenticeships.