As the world of work evolves, employees are taking more ownership of their own development – and employers need to work harder at recognising their efforts, writes Chris Littlewood
At a recent City & Guilds Group debate on the future of work – discussing how work will change as the capabilities of machines encroach on the tasks and roles that have, so far, been managed by humans – there was a stark divide between those believing in a future of rewarding job roles and empowered employees, and those expecting a downgrading of skills, stripping employees of economic power. But whose version of the future is right?
The entrepreneurs on the panel – Sahar Hashemi, co-founder of Coffee Republic, and Sherry Coutu, serial entrepreneur and chair of the ScaleUp Institute – were optimistic. They argued that the jobs likely to be substituted in this technological revolution would include unrewarding, repetitive roles. People would be freed to be more entrepreneurial, more themselves, with more control over their careers.
Economist John Philpott was less confident, anticipating that new technologies would de-skill jobs. Across the global economy, he expected to see job substitution, like that of high-skilled cabbies with lower-skilled Uber drivers.
Whatever the outlook, the consensus was that ongoing skills development will be vital.
However, the real discussion is whether employees can shape and control this future by taking the initiative to upskill themselves. Are employers on the hook for their employees’ skills development? Or should individuals take control of their own destiny? It’s in both employers’ and employees’ interests to develop the skills to be productive and perform well. But what’s the best model for acquiring skills when the requirements of the workplace are changing fast?
It seems to us that there are good reasons for employees to treat development as their responsibility. As employees we can often react more nimbly than our employers, taking advantage of the increasingly diverse choice of training available to individuals and organisations.
The good news for businesses is that employees are committed to developing their skills: research from the City & Guilds Group showed just 8 per cent aren’t actively developing their skills for the future. Further data from Filtered shows huge numbers of individuals are paying for training to build the core skills they need in their careers.
So if employees are proactively developing their skills, how can they ensure their hard work is recognised and rewarded, especially if training is being undertaken independently of their organisation? Surely they deserve recognition for taking the initiative to develop themselves.
We need a system where employees can bank credit for the development they’ve made. Digital credentialing, by the evidencing of training or skills through a digital badge, for example, allows individuals’ skills to be recognised more flexibly than in a learning management system or on a CV.
In turn, managers also have a responsibility to help their staff understand which skills they need to develop. The City & Guilds Group research shows that people are overwhelmingly confident in their skills and the future. That’s no bad thing of course, but employees must recognise the trends that could impact on their work, so they can take action to ensure they remain productive, and their skills match future job requirements. For example, skills that cannot easily be automated – such as leadership or people skills – will be highly desirable if projections of automation and robotics are on the cards.
As the world of work evolves, and learning becomes more accessible and flexible, the trend for ongoing, employee-led development is likely to continue. But if we want this trend to have impact, skills development needs to be recognised and aligned not just to current business and industry needs – but to whatever the future workplace looks like. By Chris Littlewood, 18 August 2016
Chris Littlewood is head of content and science at Filtered, an online training provider
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