Much of the debate on the fourth industrial revolution has revolved around the threat posed by new technologies such as AI and robotics to jobs and the human way of life. It’s a debate that has often contained more hyperbole than fact, and perhaps Manpower are not the first group you would think of to try and add some sense to the debate, but that’s what they’ve tried to do with a recent paper published to coincide with the World Economic Forum shindig in Davos.
Lest we forget, Manpower were arguably the forerunners of the gig economy that is so hot today, with the company driving the temporary labor market since their foundation back in 1948. Whilst some will no doubt argue that they are therefore the devil incarnate and have spent decades eroding the hard fought for rights and privileges that the ‘future of work’ seems to be largely without, they do nonetheless have a reasonably good position to oversee how the labor market is responding to the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.
They reveal that yes, employers are investing heavily in automated technology, but that they also appear to be investing heavily in human talent too. The report says that whilst 87% of the companies Manpower asked were planning to invest in new technologies, they were also planning to increase or maintain their headcount. In the U.K., this figure was a whopping 95%.
Working with machines
The data was compiled from a survey of some 19,000 employers across 44 countries, with each quizzed on the impact automation would have on job growth, the areas where they foresee the strongest job growth, and the various strategies they’re deploying to ensure they have the skills required to thrive in the future.
Far from the rhetoric of machines taking jobs, just 9% of employers believed that is likely to happen, with the number falling from previous years. Indeed, the companies that are investing the most in autonomous technologies were also those who were creating the most jobs. The rationale is clear – investing in new technology helps companies to grow, which in turn results in more jobs being created.
In another pleasing development, companies seem to be growing their investment in training and development of staff. The report reveals that with talent shortages at a 12-year high, more companies are looking to develop their workforce rather than recruit from outside. Indeed, the report projects that 84% of employers will be upskilling their workforce by 2020.
“We have to re-examine how we approach learning. At ManpowerGroup, we’re reskilling people to transition for jobs in high-growth industries including cyber security, advanced manufacturing and autonomous driving. By focusing on upskilling people with practical steps at scale, people and organisations alike can embrace rather than fight against the machines,” Manpower say.
Skills in demand
So if companies are investing heavily in training, what skills are they looking to develop? Perhaps unsurprisingly, IT skills remain high on the list, with the manufacturing and production sectors most likely to see growth in jobs. The report also suggests that job growth will appear in frontline and customer-facing, engineering and management roles. All of these will require distinctly human skills, such as communication, negotiation and leadership.
Indeed, even in technical disciplines such as IT, the demand for soft skills is significant, with most employers rating this as a vital capability for their IT teams to possess.
These in-demand soft skills are proving difficult to develop however, with around 40% of employers reporting difficulties in training these skills, especially in areas such as analytical thinking and communication.
“Candidates who can demonstrate higher cognitive skills, creativity and the ability to process complex information, together with adaptability and likeability, can expect greater success throughout their careers,” the authors say. “By 2030, demand for human skills – social and emotional soft skills – will grow across all industries by 26% in the U.S. and by 22% in Europe.”
Building learning organizations
The report suggests that by 2022, over half of all employees will require significant reskilling in order to survive the changes in the workplace. Indeed, some 35% of this retraining is likely to be significant and require over six months of training, with a further 19% requiring a year or more. In other words, every employee has to integrate learning as part of their normal life, and every employer has to provide the support required to enable that.
It’s important to stress however that whilst more organizations are looking to develop their own talent, there remains strong demand for talent from the marketplace. This is likely to see a significant wage premium offered to those with the most sought-after skills.
In addition, a growing number of organizations are exploring the gig economy and similar platforms to bring in talent on a per-project basis. At the moment however, there remains a distinct gap between employer and worker in terms of willingness to engage in such an approach, with just 32% of organizations currently using contingent labor, versus 87% of workers who would be up for working this way.
The report reveals however that there is a distinct lack of understanding among employers today about the skills they have within their workforce. Just 48% of employees said that they had undergone any kind of skills assessment, which makes it difficult to accurately plan to fill whatever gaps might exist.
MOOC platform Coursera are attempting to overcome this challenge with the release of a Skills Benchmarking tool that they believe will help managers measure not only the skills they have in their workforce, but how those skills compare with peers in their industry. It will provide managers with access to a full dataset on the competencies within their business, and by comparing them with others, help to identify where gaps are.
The new benchmarking tool is built on top of the skills graph provided by Coursera to map the skills honed by the courses available on the platform. The graph also maps these skills to career, companies and industries that require them.
The benchmarking tool then utilizes machine learning algorithms that have been trained using learning and assessment performance data from the Coursera ‘student body’ to construct an aggregate view of the core capabilities of any employer, together with how they compare to their peers.
“As advancing technologies continue to change the way businesses operate, organizations need to assess and benchmark their talent continuously in order to compete,” Coursera say. “We’re thrilled to equip businesses across industries with top quality learning content to drive deep reskilling, and organizations can now leverage actionable data to improve their strategic workforce transformation agenda.”
In the rapidly changing world we live in, the need to change is undeniable, and this kind of benchmarking is a good first step in doing so. Time will tell how many organizations grab the nettle and take advantage of the tools increasingly available to them to drive the change they so desperately need.