Continuous Learning Will Empower the CEOs of the Future

New technologies entering the workplace are fuelling a radical shift in the skills businesses value from their employees. Traditional “hard skills”, that require number crunching or analysis are increasingly being automated, having a significant impact on job functions.

Here John Baker, President and CEO of D2L, talks CEO Today through the importance of developing skills and continuous learning.

A 2017 World Economic Forum Education and Skills report suggested that the half-life of hard skills is on the decline, currently clocking in at around five years. In other words, some skills gained in the first year of college or university may be obsolete by the time you graduate. This has not been lost on business leaders, and a 2017 McKinsey Global Institute survey reported that 62% of business leaders appreciate that more than a quarter of their workforce will need to be retrained.

We are, in many professions, already seeing this shift. In accountancy, for instance, robotic process automation has lifted much of the mathematical burden from accountants, transforming their role to become more akin to a business advisor than a number cruncher.

With so much potential volatility in the skills that various industries will need moving forward, a premium is being placed on soft skills. These distinctly human skills, which include adaptability, communication, creative and critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and decision making, are not easily emulated by technology, and so promise a greater shelf life than the traditionally more sought after hard skills. The adaptable mindset found within those with strong soft skills also makes them easier to retrain, an additionally attractive quality as technology pushes job roles in uncertain directions.

The soft skills gap

However, finding candidates with strong soft skills is proving particularly difficult for employers. A recent LinkedIn survey of hiring managers indicated that they are struggling to find candidates with the right soft skills for 59% of open roles.

There are two key reasons for this. Firstly, the traditional academic models’ focus has primarily been on hard skills. For higher education students, durable soft skills development has commonly played a subordinate role to more job-specific knowledge.

Secondly, one of the of the biggest challenges with soft skills development is the difficulty in both teaching and assessing them. Soft skills training is one of continuous coaching, mentoring, and feedback to understand, apply and master – skills not generally developed when attending traditional lectures or just watching videos.

There is an expectation that higher education will catch-up with the shifting needs of the job market, but companies need to play a role in building the right partnerships, communicating their needs, and furnishing their workforce with the requisite soft skills. As it currently stands, most businesses are ill-equipped to do so. A survey from ATD Research and the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that fewer than a third (31%) of companies have a well-developed learning culture. On average, employees are provided only 24 minutes of workplace training each week.

Moving to a continuous development model

If businesses wish to create a workforce that is flexible enough to transform at the same pace as the job market dictates, employers must provide their employees with high-quality and engaging training and development opportunities, which are agile and flexible enough to meet global skills trends. As this becomes more commonplace amongst companies, those that lag behind will inevitably become less attractive to potential candidates, only widening these organisations’ skills issues.

A key facet of this shift will be the appropriate implementation of learning technologies. To combat the effects of the soft skills gap employers will need to train workforces, and digital training programmes, which can impact employees around the world and at any time, will play a key role. Relatively low cost per capita, and easily tailored as needs change, they will form the bedrock of promoting a lifelong learning culture within large enterprises in particular.

Digital technologies don’t solely benefit training at scale, however. Through the use of data analytics, more personalised skills-development programmes, can be implemented to create adaptive training pathways.

As technology changes the very nature of job roles, shifting skills needs will be increasingly commonplace. A learning and development culture that recognises this, and is flexible enough to accommodate these developments, will be an essential part of workforces of the future.

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