From education to employment

Steering self-directed learning to best equip employees for the future of work

James McLeod

In the world of work, skills are the number one currency. For as long as humans have worked, and whatever industry they may have worked in, success has always been predicated on having the ability to continuously learn and develop skills. For some, it’s all about adding strings to your bow and diversifying your portfolio of skills, whilst others find success through honing their knowledge and specialising in certain areas to become experts within their field. Whatever the approach, the value of skills is certainly not lost on employees, and the pandemic has shown this to be truer than ever.

In an attempt to broaden their skillsets, retain employability and keep up with the rapidly evolving needs of modern businesses, many employees have turned to self-directed learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This increased appetite for learning and development amongst workers is a positive trend, as a greater skilled workforce is something that employers should encourage and nurture, particularly due to the benefits it can have on quality of work and productivity.

However, it’s important not to forget that the skills employees are encouraged to learn must be relevant and timely in order to make their learning worthwhile. With demand for skills evolving faster than ever amid accelerated digitisation and technological development, it is essential that employers encourage employees to develop skills most likely to be in-demand in future. By doing so, they can ensure that their workforce continues to be agile, employable members of society and help prevent mass scale unemployment and skills shortages in the future.

Making the most of employee attitude

All good working relationships depend on both parties fulfilling their end of the bargain. For employees, one of the main expectations is that they provide an appetite and a willingness to learn and develop to become better at their role. This trend towards increased self-directed learning shows that employees are doing so in abundance – so what responsibilities do employers have to ensure they uphold their end?

Businesses should recognise this appetite shown from employees and supplement it with committed investment into their learning and development. A willingness to learn new skills is a useful trait, however it is only as useful as the skills being learned, meaning that guidance by businesses is important for employees to make the most of their learning. By using the right resources available to them, employers can help direct employee learning in a way that ensures employees are equipped to face the future demands of the workplace.

Creating a path through data

It’s important for both employees and businesses that a clear path to the future of work is established. The demand for skills is ever-changing, and as technology develops and the requirements of the workplace evolve, employees need to be taught the skills necessary to remain valuable. In order to do so, businesses must invest in the right resources to help map out a plan for employees.

Using data analytics can help businesses identify the skills likely to be in-demand in the future, meaning they can create a clearer path for employee learning and development that prioritises these skills. Listening to the data and re-training those whose roles are likely to be at risk in coming years can help to create ‘job corridors’, establishing a route to new roles that are augmented by technology rather than replaced by it.  Not only could this help to prevent huge structural unemployment issues, it can also save businesses from the costly and time consuming process of recruiting new staff compared to retraining their existing employees.  

Understanding future demand

Recent reports such as Faethm’s UK workforce forecast show that up to 1.4 million full-time roles could be automated this year – equal to 5% of the workforce. Whilst these numbers may be alarming, there is an opportunity for businesses to teach their employees how to deal with these changes and ensure that they retain employability as the workplace evolves.

Take an example of someone working in the accountancy industry, a field that has a comparatively high potential for the automation of tasks. If someone in that industry expresses to their employer that they’d like to develop their skills or career further, businesses should take the opportunity to educate them on the learning paths that will equip them to deal with future demand. There are a range of digital, cyber security or analytic skills for example, that accountants can learn quickly that can open up opportunities to transition into technology roles in the near future. 

Learning skills is the backbone of any successful career, and the fact that employees have recognised this in droves and are making a concerted effort to widen their own skillset is one of the few positives to be taken from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is up to businesses to ensure that employee self-directed learning is guided in the right direction – using the resources available can ensure that not only are employees learning the right skills, they’re learning how to prepare for the future.

By James McLeod, VP EMEA, Faethm AI

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