Today’s workforce is unable to regularly refresh the knowledge and skill levels needed to capitalise on new challenges and opportunities, writes Kirtan Sita, Sales Managing Director for Accenture Technology, Africa. This situation threatens to worsen over time unless organisations embrace new digital technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence that can proactively offer the workforce an entirely new, future-oriented learning experience.

Using artificial intelligence to capitalise on the exploding amount of available data, for example, can provide personalised, role-based and competency-based learning and performance support in near-real-time, at scale across the organisation – something that Accenture calls “new skilling”. The implications are revolutionary: a workforce that can adapt readily to anything thrown it’s way. You can’t after all, have an agile business without an agile workforce.

Our research shows that if South Africa can double the pace at which its workforce acquires skills relevant for human-machine collaboration, it can reduce the number of jobs at risk from 20% (3.5 million jobs) in 2025 to just 14% (2.5 million jobs). But for such an intervention to be effective, we must start now.

Business leaders know that thriving in the digital age requires them to take on the disruptive forces changing their industry with speed, confidence, and bold new bets. Nothing less than a similarly bold approach to new skilling will prepare the workforce to support an organisation’s need for continuous innovation and growth.

This is a far cry from much of traditional enterprise learning that tends to focus on monitoring, compliance and activity tracking. Enhancements are incremental in nature and constrained by existing approaches. By contrast, new skilling programmes are driven by innovation – aligned with dynamic business objectives and designed to improve business performance.

Zero-based mindset

By adopting a zero-based mindset, leading companies can take a clean-sheet approach to redesigning the learning organisation with clear objectives in mind – for example, reducing time to implementation and improving speed to competency. Resources can be shifted from initiatives that aren’t contributing to desired business outcomes to ones that will.

Human beings have an amazing capacity to learn new skills and adapt to new environments. This is true not only in early life, but throughout our lives. As the nature of work evolves – i.e., becoming more digital and human, cooperative and collaborative, knowledge and task-based, flexible and fluid – employees will need to adapt their mix of skills and knowledge to embrace new challenges and stay relevant. Organisations will also need to create learning environments that enable employees to adapt.

Leaders need to accelerate reskilling people, pivot the workforce to areas that create new forms of value and strengthen the talent pipeline from its source. The good news is that these actions will enable leaders to build a workforce that is highly engaged with digital and to reshape their organisations and society at large in a way that drives real business value – labour productivity, talent acquisition, and retention, as well as innovation and creativity. To achieve this, leaders need to be responsive, responsible and response-abled.

The clock is ticking…

The bad news is that the clock is ticking and the time to act is now. Companies need to increase the speed at which they reskill their workforce. They would need to prioritise skills for development, reskill at the top of the house, keep building on what they have, change the mindset to “learning as a way of life”, use digital to learn digital, and tap into boomers for a knowledge boost. This will position the organisation and its people to win in this newest revolution.

Industry players are however asking many questions such as: Will there be enough skills and jobs to fill our time? Will working for money be replaced by working for meaning? In the future, will jobs be fewer and work weeks shorter, and will jobs be shared? The answers are already apparent. We will need news skills now to be able to compete in the future. We will not only do things differently, we will do different things.

New industries will emerge. But the future trajectory of countries will, by and large, be determined by how they ensure economic access for all to build a consumer class with the purchasing power to spend on the goods and services that businesses produce with the aid of machines.

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