Research reveals that upskilling is an answer for a looming workforce crisis: Leaders and employees are concerned about skills gaps worsening in the future
Employers and employees agree there is a need for upskilling, and both want more from their managers.
In our surveys of 432 HR professionals (manager level and above) and 1,000 U.S. workers, we found that employers and employees both recognize that work is becoming digital first and this new environment requires updated skills. Managers hold the key to successful upskilling—however, many organizations are falling short. Here are some of the key findings from our survey.
- New skills are necessary to ensure profitability: 61% of survey respondents agree that technology helps them deliver a higher quality of work output. While current employees may lack certain skills, they are still the best resource to tackle disruption and prevent a skills crisis (when the need will be too critical to solve quickly). Employees are aware of their own abilities, and they expect their employers will reskill them.
- Many employers believe they have a skills gap: Many survey respondents believe there’s a significant skills gap at their organizations; 56% of survey respondents say their organization’s skills gap is moderate to severe. Only 6% say they don’t have a skills gap at all.
- Organizations are missing the mark on taking a human-centered approach to upskilling: Before implementing any sort of enablement technology, organizations need to consider the employee journey and how a selected tool will add value; 84% of respondents say they sometimes or never redesign this journey before onboarding new technology while only 16% say they always do.
- Managers are crucial to success: Enabling managers will be key to addressing adoption, disruption, and upskilling challenges; 63% of survey respondents say their organization has not equipped its managers with upskilling resources. When managers have the proper skills training and resources, they spend less time on low-level tasks and are equipped to develop their teams.
With the war for talent in full force and the very nature of work changing, organizations are recognizing the need to upskill their workforce.
As automation grows in every part of the workplace, it becomes increasingly important to direct employees’ time toward higher-value work. Upskilling also comes at a time when emerging skill sets are scarce and the talent market is tight, making it prudent to keep people even if they don’t currently have the right skills. Indeed, it’s often cheaper to retrain current employees than find and hire new ones, as the consequences of turnover (forced or not) can be felt at the bottom line: Forrester reports that each standard deviation increase in turnover results in a 40% reduction in profit.
The attention to upskilling is happening very broadly, regardless of organizational size or industry. Amazon recently announced a major upskilling investment of more than $700 million that aims to reskill a third of its U.S. workforce over the next six years, in response to increasing workplace automation.
While not every organization can address the upskilling crisis at this scale, most have taken the initial step of introducing new employee enablement technologies. That’s because there is clear consensus on employee enablement technology’s role in upskilling: In this digital age, it is essential to free up employees’ time to work on more strategic tasks, boost output and productivity, and ultimately increase revenue through improved experiences.
We explore the attitudes and actions employers and employees have adopted regarding skills gaps and the upskilling crisis. We asked: How serious is your organization’s skills gap? What challenges prevent employee enablement technology adoption? And what makes some organizations successful while others fall flat?
Chapter 1: Organizations are taking steps to mitigate the effects of disruption
As the nature of work evolves, job roles fluctuate exist five years ago are suddenly sought after, requiring employees to develop new capabilities to meet the challenges of those positions. Amazon recognized this during a recent audit of its open roles. From 2014 to 2018, the word robotics saw a 30-fold increase in appearance in job titles, while job titles including the word technologist increased by 91%. So much work is happening in the digital space that companies not preparing for this shift in job functions risk not hiring for the right skill sets.
What’s more: As workplaces shift toward a digital-first mindset, all employees need to be more tech-savvy to perform even the most basic tasks across communication, record-keeping, training, and more. An increase in user- friendly technology—such a digital intranet or new CRM system—is meant to save employees time, but that only happens when employees have the right skills and training to adopt the tools and use them well.
70% of surveyed organizations have introduced at least one new technology to increase employee capacity in the past year.
To address the upskilling crisis, employers will need to both train employees in new areas and provide enablement technologies to boost their current productivity. Given this environment, it’s no surprise that 70% of surveyed organizations have introduced at least one new technology to increase employee capacity in the past year.
Implementing new technologies to address challenges
As work processes evolve, both the employee and customer experiences change. Tasks previously done manually are now digitized. Customer interactions are frequently done online rather than face-to-face. All of these new ways of working are part of the digital workplace.
When one of these areas is out of sync, both the employee and the customer experience suffers and organizations risk losing business and market share.
There’s an overwhelming consensus on what motivates organizational investment in employee enablement technologies: 68% say tech investments are simply “a part” of becoming a digital workplace, and 67% say employees need new efficiencies that free up their time for more valuable tasks. For 41% of respondents, increasing employee engagement is a motivating factor.
These motivations feed into the desire to improve both the employee and customer experiences, which in turn generate business value. According to respondents, the benefits they’ve experienced from recent implementations largely mirror these motivations.
Specifically, 78% of respondents say their recent technology initiative has allowed workers to be more efficient and judicious with their time. Further, 71% say the new technology has increased workplace productivity, while 53% believe the new technology has improved the employee experience.
Are employers and employees in sync?
Do employees agree with this assessment? Some do.
Many have been tasked with learning a variety of different technologies in the past year—from conventional hardware to communications tools. Of these employees, 61% agree that technology helps them deliver a higher quality of work output. Further, 56% say technology allows them to work more efficiently and frees their time for additional tasks.
However, there are challenges. Some organizations are failing their employees—particularly regarding training. Thirty-three percent of employees say they were never trained on the new technologies they’ve been tasked with using. If one in three employees isn’t getting trained, this will impede adoption and stifle business outcomes.
To gain further understanding of the challenges to wide- scale technology implementation and use, we must examine the choke points to upskilling. This starts with a strategy that doesn’t consider the human experience, employee resistance to adoption, and a lack of the right management skills.
Chapter 2: Using a human-centered approach to understand and address adoption challenges
While technology is necessary for upskilling your workforce, its benefits can only be recognized when people use it effectively. Before organizations put any new technology in place, it is imperative that they think about the end-user experience: how employees will consume the new technology, why it will enable them to do their jobs better, and what paths they can take to build the necessary skills. Applying a human-centered design approach to answering these questions is crucial to realizing ROI on upskilling efforts.
A human-centered approach cannot be an afterthought as it affects the employee experience, which has a direct impact on customer experience. When shopping for tools to drive productivity, the employee experience might not be at the forefront. But user experience is everything. For example, technology evolution has led employees to expect that their digital processes will run smoothly—and they won’t use anything that’s clunky, counterintuitive, or more time-consuming than their current process. Organizations that recognize the need for a smooth user experience and apply human-centered thinking to any new technology or process will win.
Organizations that don’t put their people at the center of an upskilling initiative run the risk of rolling out a program only to have it fail by lack of adoption. This isn’t a remote possibility. According to our survey, employee adoption is the biggest roadblock to implementing new employee enablement technologies.
Without proper manager training and employee adoption, technology is likely to go nowhere. Adoption needs to happen at all levels of the businesses—from the C-suite down to the line level. Leaders especially need to own the change, encourage adoption, and be aware of adoption challenges. Leaders who resist change (or who are unable to train their employees) risk becoming an internal roadblock to organizational transformation.
Identifying adoption solutions
Fortunately, there are strategies and approaches that can help overcome these roadblocks. Incorporating effective change management programs can mitigate a cultural resistance to change to upskilling. This includes maintaining transparency and communications to help the workforce understand what’s happening with the change and what’s expected of employees.
Change management should also be prioritized over technology implementation. Change isn’t always easy— 24% of respondents say an inability to either identify or communicate the need for new technology is a roadblock. But communication is necessary for employees to both understand the challenges the organization faces, and their role in meeting those challenges head-on.