Ksenia Zheltoukhova: To meet real staff needs, give them skills for the future

Ksenia-Zheltoukhova-Employee Benefits Connect

This week, Nesta is shining a spotlight on the future of work and skills, and has commissioned the UK’s first ever survey of people working in the jobs that are most at risk of being automated in the next decade. Shockingly, the results show that two in three of those employees (68%) believe it is unlikely that their current job role will be automated in the next 10 years. This highlights the problem: UK employees need to know if their jobs are at risk of automation and must be equipped with the skills they need for the future.

The world of work is changing rapidly, and it is not just the effects of automation; globalisation, population aging, urbanisation and the rise of the green economy will all have an impact on  the kinds of jobs people are doing. According to Nesta’s Future of work and skills research, one in five employees in the UK (that is six million people) are currently in occupations that are set to change radically, or even disappear, by 2030.

Even more striking, the prospects of seven in 10 employees are uncertain: their occupations may shrink or grow depending on global trends. Access to up-to-date career advice and training is crucial for these people to stay relevant in the labour market and for employers to be able to fill the jobs of the future.

Workplace learning and career development is not a new kind of benefit. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) November 2018 Reward management report found that more than two-thirds of employers provide this to all staff. If training is already part of the benefits offer, do employers really need to do more?

First, to make learning relevant to staff, organisations need to ensure that at least some of it is oriented to the skills we know will be in demand in the future, not just the ones immediately required for people’s current jobs. In addition to specialist technical skills, the in-demand skills will include judgment and decision-making, creativity, and complex problem-solving. Not all jobs are designed in a way that can incorporate development of these broad capabilities, so there are other forms of support that employers should offer, such as internal secondments and mentoring. Most critically, not all workers will know which skills they need to learn, or where to get up-to-date career advice; employers can make their value proposition stand out by investing in personalised career tools, for example.

Second, even where training is available, employees may not be able, or want, to take it up.  Nesta’s August 2019 What motivates adults to learn review shows that people in low-paid work often do not have the time, motivation or money to undertake training. Those in temporary or precarious jobs often miss out on learning, because it is only available as a benefit to permanent employees. What this adds up to is that people who are most at risk of job loss are also least likely to get the skills they need to stay employable in the future.

By understanding the specific barriers to learning faced by the workforce, employers can match the type of benefit to the need; time off work to train might be most welcomed by single parents, for example, while training allowances would be a meaningful supplement to the wage for gig workers.

There is increasingly more information about the skills people will need in the future, and ways to develop those, but it is not being used widely to actually prepare people for the future. Employers can turn these insights into an incredibly valuable offer by helping their staff adapt to the jobs of the future. Nothing tops an up-to-date skillset in an uncertain future of work.

Ksenia Zheltoukhova is director of research operations, research, analysis and policy at innovation foundation Nesta

Don’t miss Ksenia Zheltoukhova’s keynote session, ‘Empowering workers to navigate their way to the jobs of the future: How can workplaces innovate?’, at Employee Benefits Connect on 26 February.

Register now for free…