The workplace is evolving at lightning speed. Only a few years ago, artificial intelligence, automation and robots seemed like a distant dream. Now barely a day goes past without some reference to machines replacing people in the workplace.
These trends are having a domino effect, or knock-on effect as the British say, on the workplace. As jobs change, new skills are needed, and there’s a real risk employees won’t be prepared. But there’s another skills gap that employers need to urgently address: who’s going to lead and train workers to have these new abilities?
Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, released a report that revealed workers looking for a job in 2035 may want to retrain as remote-controlled vehicle operators or online chaperones. Sky News recently announced that 46 studio roles across news and sport will be scrapped and replaced with automated machines — however some 31 new jobs will be created in areas such as “automation direction.” India is following suit. Automation will add 160,000 jobs to India’s economy, according to HfS Research.
The City & Guilds Group’s recent Skills Confidence report gathered insights into how confident employees from the U.K., U.S., India and South Africa feel about future trends such as globalization, skilled labor migration and automation. It revealed that only 36 percent of all respondents believe it is important to develop technical skills for a different job role. Meanwhile, 90 percent of all respondents believe they will have the right skills and abilities to help their company succeed in five years’ time. And in the U.K. and U.S., 65 percent of respondents are not threatened by the rise of automation and artificial intelligence.
Why are people so confident that they have all the necessary skills for the future? Is it complete naivety?
With the rise of automation and artificial intelligence, people could be forgiven for thinking that it is solely technical skills we need to develop. Yes, they will be important, especially as our use of technology grows. But we must not forget that some core skills, such as leadership and management, cannot be automated.
Yet our research showed that only 37 percent of employees are aware of their organizations investing in leadership and management development programs – even though a third of employees recognized these as skills gaps in their organizations.
Leadership and management skills cannot be ignored. Leaders and managers ensure employees have the right skills to carry out their roles to a high standard. They have a duty to listen and motivate their teams. When done well, productivity and business performance improves and employee engagement increases.
On the flip side, the impact of poor leadership on an organization can be catastrophic. It lowers team morale, which affects the ability to retain staff and results in wasted talent. A strong relationship between manager and employee is also essential — as management consultant and trainer Victor Lipman stated, “people leave managers, not companies.”
The challenge is people aren’t naturally born as managers and leaders. It takes time, experience and, of course, training. Investing in people to develop these skills cannot be ignored, but sadly often is – often because the conversation around skills development tends to focus more on helping young people get into work, rather than helping existing employees develop on the job. For example, the British government has focused on cutting youth unemployment in part by encouraging businesses to establish three million apprenticeships by 2020. Young people are our future workforce, so of course they are important. But it is vital that we don’t underestimate the importance of developing other people on the job too.
By 2022, it’s predicted there will be 12.5 million job vacancies in the U.K. due to people leaving the workforce and two million new vacancies. The problem is there will be only seven million young people to fill those 14.5 million jobs. Hence, there’s a need for skills initiatives for all generations.
The bottom line is, employees must adapt to the evolving work landscape — and businesses must support them with skilled managers. And unless there is the urgency to grow in line with global trends, skills gaps will only worsen, causing people to waste time, waste money and be less productive.
Chris Jones is Chief Executive of City & Guilds, a vocational education organization in the United Kingdom.