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Are you and your workforce ready for the future?

Why reskilling and new ways of working are key in the age of digital disruption

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Business is transforming: Small changes in everything from how food is made and delivered, to how financial transactions are conducted, to how products are made, operated, and sold result in fundamental changes to how we live and work.

Artificial intelligence and other technologies are poised for a monumental impact: AI alone has garnered more than $5 billion in VC investments over the last two years, according to a PwC report. And nearly two-thirds of consumers surveyed believe that AI will help solve complex problems in the modern world, like clean energy, cancer and disease research, and global education. But the effect of these disruptions, like AI and automation, is generally measured in number of jobs lost or changed. Often overlooked is what these changes mean to the workforce of today and tomorrow.

“There's a lot of conversation about robotics and AI right now,” Tom Puthiyamadam, Digital Services Global Leader of PwC, said. “But I think we have to climb the hill that's right in front of us — changing the organizational capabilities so that people can respond to the technology that's now available to them.”

To mitigate the impact of automation on the workforce, companies can equip workers with new skills and find new ways to work together. Here’s how to take full advantage of upskilling for better results.

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Upskill your talent to reach your business potential

The truth of the job market today is that more and more employees are required to have a base level of digital skills. Everyone from financial managers to nurses to tool makers have seen an increased need for digital skills in their work. A recent Brookings study examined the digital levels of jobs today, categorizing them as high, medium, or low. Jobs requiring high digital skills jumped from 4.8 percent of employment to 23 percent between 2002 and 2016; jobs requiring medium digital skills rose from 39.5 percent to 47.5 percent.

But there’s a crucial disconnect that’s hindering companies from fully embracing digital shifts: education. In PwC's Global Digital IQ Survey; nearly two-thirds of companies (65 percent) say their employees have the skills required for the evolving digital economy. But when asked to look at barriers to digital initiatives: 63 percent say lack of properly skilled teams is an existing or emerging barrier for their company. In fact, lack of properly skilled teams, was right behind outdated technology (64 percent) when cited as a top barrier to digital.

In the coming years, organizations will have to increasingly focus on teaching both unskilled team members and new talent how to work together. Upskilling has never been so important to keep up with changing jobs and technologies.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers: documentary shot photographed at the offices of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, , . August 16, 2017. PwC

Businesses are doing their best to help talent navigate this new world. According to the Association for Talent Development, a trade group, American organizations spent an average of $1,252 per employee on training and development initiatives in 2015, totaling more than $350 billion for the year. These programs vary from online programs, like Autodesk’s partnership with Linkedin Learning, or new tech tools like AR and VR (UPS now uses VR in its training centers). There’s also apprenticeships, such as the CVS pilot program which retains and promotes team members to higher-paying jobs. In 2017, CVS had more than 4,700 employees join the apprenticeship program. "The widening skills gap in the U.S. is a significant business concern, and companies large and small are seeing this workplace strategy that combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction as a viable solution to build a pipeline of future skilled talent," said Lisa Bisaccia, EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer for CVS Health in a statement.

Some companies, like AT&T, have made upskilling a priority and have made huge gains. In 2013, the Brookings study notes, the company realized that 100,000 of its 240,000-person workforce were in jobs that would be outdated in 10 years. In anticipation of those changing job descriptions, AT&T not only invested $30 million in tuition assistance for incumbent employees, but also created a task force dedicated to personal development. Their Work Force 2020 (WF2020) job program created a self-serving platform for employees to evaluate their skill set, assess nationwide hiring trends, and sign up for retraining programs.

But these tools can’t achieve the full potential of upskilling alone. It takes a combination of leadership and management style, as well as physical spaces, to encourage employees to learn and grow. Company leadership should energize its workforce to progress, think in new ways, and explore new opportunities that will impact their business and personal selves.

And employees need the space to be inspired, both as individuals and as a team. In Microsoft’s recent redesign, certain buildings in the Microsoft headquarters are office-free: Instead, you’ll find “neighborhoods” with shared team rooms inside for employees to work in. “Even the vice president sits in a neighborhood,” said one business manager about the new space.

The trend towards open-plan workspaces with “flex” workstations and coworking spaces is not without business insight: Some studies say that working in shared, collaborative spaces makes employees happier and more productive. All organizations must adopt this new type of workspace to give their people a foundation to upskill and grow.

Create a new way of working, inspired by a startup mentality to bring people together.

Training talent for the future and building a stronger workforce, in many cases, requires traditional businesses to think and act more like a nimble startup. Longtime team members and new hires all need to work together using methods and toolsets inspired by the startup world. According to Puthiyamadam, companies today must “reskill the workforce, inject new talent, and give them all a new way of working. If you do those three things you can create an organization that’s even better than a startup.”

For example, data and analytics are a key skill that employees at all career levels can collaborate and learn from each other. According to recent PwC research, there will most likely be a talent pipeline shortage of employees skilled in data science and analytics by 2021. Because data will impact a wide range of industries — everything from financial services to retail to healthcare — finding ways to share knowledge organization-wide will be paramount. This means everything from training talent in labeling data for machine learning, analyzing data in traditional roles, and teaching non-analyst talent traditional “quant” skills such as coding, using analytic dashboards, and extrapolating trends and inferences from data sets.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers: documentary shot photographed at the offices of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, , . August 16, 2017. PwC

Beyond specific skill sets, the key is teaching both unskilled team members and new talent how to work together in new ways. At PwC, these challenges have helped inspire the BXT philosophy — which solves challenges at the intersection of business, experience, and technology. By breaking down internal silos inside organizations and uniting fragmented viewpoints, all team members are focused on a single purpose and solution — something that isn’t possible when viewed through only one lens.

So how will companies pivot to equip their workforce with skills needed in the future? It takes proactive planning and putting a passionate team in place to lead the effort. Upskilling is no longer the daunting task it used to be for large organizations. It’s now the focused effort to get the process, talent and environment in place — because the digital future will wait for no one.

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