Reskilling, upskilling and the future of work

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The following is adapted from a Future of Work interview series between Lolita Taub, Catalyte’s chief of staff, and Noorjit Sidhu, future of work investor at Plug & Play. The answers have been edited for space and clarity. You can read the unabridged posts on Medium.

Noorjit Sidhu: AT&T, Amazon, JPMorgan and Accenture all recently committed to retraining their employees. In what scenarios do you think it makes sense to internally retrain/upskill, versus hire new talent into the company?

Lolita Taub: AT&T, Amazon, JPMorgan and Accenture are all investing in upskilling to make sure they produce the tech talent they need (and will need) to keep their companies resilient and profitable.

In all scenarios — where enterprise companies want to stay competitive, address growing tech talent needs (when the supply is low and demand is growing) and want to avoid billions in costs associated with turnover, layoffs and hiring — it makes sense for companies to invest in internal reskilling employee initiatives. In the short-term, while companies figure out how to reskill effectively and sustainably, there will be a need for external hiring. That is, until that’s not an option.

NS: Do you predict that the majority of enterprises will launch internal tech reskilling initiatives in the next three years?

LT: It’s clear that enterprises accept that there is a talent and skill gap. But it’s unclear how many enterprises will launch reskilling initiatives in the next three years.

According to Willis Towers Watson, 90% of enterprises expect digital disruption but only 44% are adequately preparing or have the right talent for it. Unfortunately, most enterprises seem to be stuck in old-school behaviors and prefer to contract or hire new employees, rather than reskill the ones they have.

I predict that enterprises will initially continue to hire externally, then start outsourcing individual and team talent based on projects and specific skill sets, while simultaneously beginning a light upskilling of their talent (e.g., MOOCs and bootcamps). The most forward-thinking companies will upskill their workers through sustainable platforms that are able to identify high-potential talent, to train them and get them up and running quickly.

NS: It’s great that skills are becoming more fluid in how they’re valued and where they’re developed. But we still have employers looking at traditional qualifications (e.g., college degrees) as evidence of specific skills. What are your thoughts on the topic?

LT: If an individual (regardless of degrees or pedigree) can get the job done in any professional field, my opinion is that no employer four-year degree requirement should present barriers for that individual to be hired and put to work. Today, that’s just not the case. It irks me because it’s a waste that’s produced by the old-school meritocracy philosophy.

We’re leaving great talent on the table when we sorely need it. The number of job openings (7.5 million) in the U.S. now far exceeds the number of unemployed (6 million). The silver lining is the most forward-thinking companies are catching on and doing something about it. Google, Apple, IBM, Bank of America, Lowe’s, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Costco, among others, no longer require employees to have a college degree. That’s the way of the future of work.

I predict that people analytics and big data will be prioritized and that pre-hire testing and assessments will become a new normal. We’re already starting to see a trend in talent data analytics. A study from Northeastern University found that, while only 17% of employers consider their current process of setting qualifications for jobs to be “rigorous and data-driven,” 41% of employers are starting to use data analytics in their recruiting efforts.

NS: Which stakeholders do you think will benefit most from skilling initiatives? Enterprises? Specific demographics of individuals (e.g. age groups)? Specific skill types (e.g. manufacturing roles)?

LT: In an era of lifetime learning and robot-proofing talent, everyone benefits from skilling initiatives. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report, machines are expected to displace 75 million jobs by 2020 and create 133 million new jobs. To prepare for the future of work and stay competitive, companies and talent alike will need to skill, reskill and upskill.

I believe that enterprises will have an edge on executing skilling initiatives because they have the money to do it. And I also see skilling initiatives benefiting those with the most access to it (e.g., blue-collar workers). White-collar workers and marginalized groups of lower social-economic standing may benefit less due to the lack of access to apprenticeships, skilling programming, MOOCs, short courses, bootcamps, professional certificates, etc.

Forward-looking, there is an opportunity to uplevel the skilling initiative benefits to enterprises. If they address degree inflation and start hiring previously overlooked individuals and skill, reskill and upskill them, employers will enjoy an increase in retention, more efficient recruiting and increased diversity. That translates to bigger savings and bottom-lines.

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