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Why Upskilling is the New Frontline in the War for Talent

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Employer Branding, Talent Attraction, Learning and Development

Keeping up with the pace of change in the workplace is challenging and an AI arms race has amped up the stakes even higher. Companies that don't appear ready to upskill employees will struggle to attract the best candidates...

With job requirements changing due to rapid advancements in tech, not to mention changing attitudes to careers, the upskilling and reskilling of employees has become a vital strategic front in the ongoing war for talent.

The trend toward continuous skills development represents a seismic shift - one that all organisations must embrace within their talent strategies. AI, automation, and other emerging technologies have accelerated the pace at which existing jobs transform and new roles emerge.

The impact of new tech and digital disruption require an agile learning culture and growth mindset from employers who wish to remain competitive. A dedication to ongoing education that enables adaptation is now a prerequisite from workers as well, so serves as a great candidate attraction asset for canny employers.

Upskilling, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), is already a significant trend in the workplace. A November 2023 study by Gallup (commissioned by Amazon) found that 48% of US workers would switch to a new job if offered skills training opportunities.

The rapid adoption of AI into everyday work practices is enabling organisations to automate various business processes, improving speed and efficiency, and allowing employees to focus on higher-value work.

There is, however, a significant gap in AI proficiency. For instance, in the oil and gas sector, AI had a 68% importance rating, but only a 9% proficiency level.
IBM’s recent report – A new Frontier for the Future of Work – says that while 74% of CEOs say their teams are appropriately skilled in generative AI, only 29% of their C-Suite agree.

A study by TechRepublic from August this year, suggests that AI is expected to be adopted by nearly 75% of surveyed companies, leading to high churn, with 50% of organisations expecting it to create job growth.

Upskilling is also seen as a powerful talent attraction and retention tool. For example, in a 2023 report by Pluralsight, some 81% of tech managers said their organisation's upskilling programs are highly effective in preparing their tech employees for new projects.

In terms of AI and related technologies,  the report also stated that 18% of tech executives identified AI/machine learning as their biggest upskilling/reskilling priority  this year.

These statistics (and there is no doubt plenty more that echo the trend) highlight the growing importance of skill enhancement -  particularly in AI and related technologies -  in the current workplace environment.

It isn’t all about AI of course. Coursera pinpoints data analysis; DevOps; UX; cybersecurity; cloud computing and old favourites such as project management and account management as among the most in-demand high income skills right now.

It is a reality has critical implications for how companies structure their employer brands and employee value propositions to attract and retain suitable talent. Organisations that fail to promote developmental opportunities for candidates are backloading a potential future skills shortfall.

Rethinking job descriptions

While specific technical qualifications were traditionally central within job descriptions, these have proven too static given the now more fluid work requirements. Forward thinking companies need a proactive attitude and should consider the skills someone will need in five years’ time.

The situation calls for increased emphasis on soft skills and transferable abilities like communication, critical thinking and change management. While technical capabilities provide a foundation, organisational agility to pick up new competencies is paramount.

Descriptions should provide clarity on why ongoing learning matters, how employees access development resources, what career pathways may follow. Demonstrating dedication to continued employability reassures those seeking long-term growth.

Prioritising learning and mobility

With rapid change the norm, the most forward-thinking organisations are making efforts to build a culture of perpetual learning.

But it must extend beyond an expectation of continual skill enhancement towards straightforward good business practice. Reskilling into new roles fosters mobility across business areas, illuminates connections between functions and nurtures cross-fertilisation of ideas and other resources.

Enabling employees to sample diverse roles expands thinking, sparks ideas, and breeds uniquely versatile talent. Rewarding internal transfers also aids retention by keeping work fresh and exciting.

Relevant, modern employer brands put this commitment to nurture talent front and centre as a differentiator. Demonstrating how employees develop over time, with support to chart new directions, is extremely compelling.

Redefining career paths

When job functions morph so frequently, what does a typical employee journey now look like? It means career progression is less linear, giving way to more fluid “career lattices” incorporating more lateral moves.

It represents a shift in mentality around skills building, with learning agility and breadth now equally as valuable as rapid advancement.

Powerful employer brand storytelling and testimonials should capture employees transitioning between previous opportunities such as tech to marketing and on to product. Showcasing diverse trajectories reassures candidates that they too will have the flexibility to reinvent themselves.

Accelerating skills insecurity heaps pressure upon organisations to continually train talent that can adapt. Employer brands that fail to prioritise talent development will struggle to appeal in the long run.

But for those that lean into preparing people for perpetual change and reimagine what a career journey can look like, there exists a massive opportunity to lead as progressive pioneers.

As technology forces more people to rethink how jobs and careers take shape, proactive learning focus could become the ultimate differentiator.

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