EXCLUSIVE: Employers need to improve employee experience around digital transformation

Post Office

Employee Benefits Live 2018: Employers need to improve the employee experience around the constantly evolving digital transformation, to help mitigate career disruption for employees and avoid potential skills shortages.

In a session titled ‘Transformational change and the impact of digital on employee experience’, Martin Kirke, group HR director at the Post Office, explained how digital transformation is disrupting the world of work. This is primarily by making some jobs redundant, such as switchboard operators and car park cashiers. In turn, technology and artificial intelligence (AI) is leading to the creation of new jobs and skills; this change in skills demand, however, can lead to a gap in the skills required for jobs of the past and jobs of the future.

“We had winners and losers, and the reason why we had winners and losers comes down to not investing fast enough in the change of skills,” he said. “This is going to be very much about people’s careers being disrupted, and I think this is something that, as employers, we want to be very, very mindful of. People are going to face significant changes; we need to retrain, we need to adjust, we need to have some room for that process.”

So, how can employers overcome this potential skills gap? Kirke firstly recommended that employers use technology itself in order to aid the learning process, for example through gamification and social media. “Breaking down the idea that learning is a separate activity,” Kirke added.

Next, employers can use career coaching to help employees discover underlying skills that they may not be currently using for their job role; this can help mitigate negative attitudes around resisting change too, Kirke noted.

For employees who may not be savvy with online processes, Kirke suggested that employers tie digital developments to corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, because this can impact employee engagement; in his experience, many employees value CSR opportunities and the communities that this can create and help.

Careers are also more agile than they have ever been before, Kirke said, with life stages being more flexible and less clearly defined. Therefore, organisations should look to create subcultures in order to attract more diverse talent, while technology can help support different working modes, for example basing work more around projects. Employers also need to broaden the scope of education and training; this should not just be skills-based, but should look to incite curiosity in employees and any training should be available for the entire workforce, not just executives.

Despite the threat AI could potentially pose to jobs such as drivers, farmers and call centre employees, Kirke explained that HR has a key role to play in managing the employee experience around this digital change and transformation, especially as sought-after skills remain firmly in the camp of human staff rather than AI; this includes counselling, coaching and creativity. Therefore, soft skills training around these areas should be a focus for employers, Kirke added.

“I think what we can do is get to a place where [employers] are prepared for when the big changes do come,” Kirke concluded.