Our world is facing unprecedented changes - social, economic and environmental. These changes have been both amplified and accelerated by the pandemic – driven by the increasing complexity of businesses, and the rapid pace of technological development and transformation.

This shake-up has bought about plentiful opportunities for the creation of new jobs. Notably, in 2019 alone, the push for digital transformation opened up vacancies for 19,000 tech jobs in Singapore.

The nature of these jobs and many others, however, has not remained static. Jobs today, and in the future, will require a combination of skills that were not taught as part of the education system. For example, top jobs in demand such as in data analysis, cybersecurity and digital marketing are increasingly integrating technological know-how with sense making, problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as soft skills such as adaptability, collaboration and empathy. This poses a challenge because talent with such a combination of skillsets is not only very difficult to find, but once found, it is also very costly for businesses to recruit.

This lack of talent is an existential crisis and a threat to business growth and competitiveness. To combat the issue, enterprises have taken matters into their own hands, often developing their talent capabilities in two ways, buying talent by offering high salaries for candidates with desired skillsets, and building existing talent through training to plug skills gaps.

Changing Mindsets

There is no doubt that, in the future, the world of work will be very different from what it is today. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and software automation are set to take over many job functions. To manage this change, corporate and human resource leaders will need to re-think the way they look at their workforce. In short – the workforce of any business is its greatest asset – an asset that can innovate and problem solve so as to effectively contribute to a business’ goals.

Let me further unpack this concept.

Any employer would agree that talent is key to achieving business success. Yet, with the fast pace of technological development, the shelf-life, applicability and relevance of some skills is shrinking. As a result, suddenly, there are groups in the workforce who are out-of-sync with their job due to technological change. A crisis like the pandemic brings this to the fore, amplifying the situation.

That being said, Covid-19 has been a black swan event, hard-to-predict and rare. On the other hand, job competencies can be anticipated. To do so, HR together with the Learning and Development (L&D) departments should plan their talent based on the skills that will be needed in the future. At SIM, we believe that, had there been properly designed training programmes to upskill and reskill the non-professionals, managers, executives and technicians, fewer would have been laid off during the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, retrenchments spiked with about 26,000 workers made redundant.

Training should be the primary solution to mitigate this situation. Unfortunately, training is commonly viewed as an employee perk, akin to a fully-paid vacation. Employees usually attend training courses held in a luxury hotel or sometimes in a resort overseas. Generally, the courses have little to do with their day-to-day work, which means the learnings are out-of-sync with the skills they actually need to contribute to positive business outcomes.

Related to this is the course list. To ensure the right skills are offered, L&D units that determine and approve the courses, should curate a holistic training programme.  Since business operations are integrated, and staff engage with colleagues and managers at all levels and externally with business partners, training too must be integrated. This will help to ensure that each employee has the right skills to do their job and that they are better able to integrate seamlessly with their colleagues’ work throughout the enterprise. This will result in each employee’s work being aligned with business outcomes creating greater efficiencies for businesses across industries.

Seen through this lens, talent becomes an asset just like how data, information systems and capital equipment are capital assets for enterprises.

Indeed, attitudes towards training have to change if corporates are to fully benefit from ongoing skills development programmes.

At an increasing number of business focused schools, like SIM, our aim is to train employees to meet the job requirements of today, and those of the future. For example, foremost among a company’s training priorities should be to design a training curriculum to prepare employees for the future. This starts with profiling their employees’ skills to identify the competency gaps that exist in relation to their jobs. This will allow L&D leaders to better understand skills required, making it easier to anticipate or predict an employees ability to perform at different stages of their career. Only then can the right courses can be selected for them to learn the right skills that are aligned to achieving positive business outcomes.

Towards this end, educational institutions must enhance their offerings to enterprises by working with them to customise programmes to suit their needs, and the needs of their workforce. This could be through bespoke on-campus training programmes, or through work-train-study based learning.

In summary, corporate and human resource leaders must change their model of training. To better prime the workforce for the future, they must implement holistic training programmes for employees to upskill and reskill for their professional and career advancement. Afterall, training is what will ultimately keep employees employed and businesses growing.

The mindset change has to to start now for enterprises to successfully navigate the future of work.