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Can technology help tackle the global skills shortage?

15 Sep 2021

With both automation and Covid-19 causing skills gaps, Hays’ Jacky Carter explores the ways technology may be able to help bridge the divide.

Long before Covid-19 hit, the global skills emergency had been gathering pace. Back in January 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted more than 1bn people – that’s one-third of the world’s workforce – would need to reskill by 2030. Worryingly, its more recent Future of Jobs Report 2020, published in October 2020, revealed many skills gaps will continue to widen due to the pandemic, with 40pc of employees requiring some form of reskilling.

As automation threatens to “do half of all work tasks by 2025”, a new breed of specialised jobs and skills will be increasingly in demand. Many of these expert roles will be in technology. AI and machine learning, cloud computing, cybersecurity, blockchain, AR, VR and full-stack development, for example, are all predicted to boom in the years ahead.

Aside from technical skills, leaders will also need to focus on building soft skills into their workforces, such as creativity, resilience and critical thinking. These innately human skills are key to the successful completion of tasks that can’t be done by automation or advancing AI. As well as these skills, the need to manage cultural and behavioural change effectively and at scale has also become a critical capability as we evolve our workforces to cope with the new world of work.

To effectively address these growing technical and non-technical skills gaps in the long term, leaders must support and enable their people to develop a growth mindset. This mindset empowers employees to incorporate learning into their day-to-day work and start to see all obstacles as a chance to learn and improve.

But in reality, this is easier said than done. Recent studies reveal that while many employees are willing to learn to boost their future employability, few feel they are given the time or opportunity to do so. In fact, most knowledge workers are only able to carve out five minutes of formal learning every day. This lack of consistent learning comes at a cost to organisations as increased innovation, enhanced productivity and accelerated digital transformation are often lost, while skills gaps continue to widen.

So how can tech help overcome this hurdle?

Use the right tech tools to facilitate ‘learning by osmosis’

The idiom ‘every day’s a school day’ holds true within the world of work where workers don’t just learn in a formal, classroom environment (online or otherwise). They also learn during their day-to-day interactions in the office – they learn by osmosis. They learn subconsciously through everyday experiences.

In fact, according to the 70-20-10 model of learning, 70pc of workers learn from experience gained on the job, 20pc learn from work relationships, including coaching and mentoring, and as little as 10pc learn from formal courses.

The WEF’s Future of Jobs 2020 report also states that 94pc of business leaders now expect employees to learn on the job as opposed to formal training. In other words, it’s not enough to provide a few online courses. Leaders must encourage social learning or learning by osmosis, which presents even more challenges in an increasingly remote world of work. But this is where technology can help.

IoT-enabled tools are an established solution where connected devices continue to reshape both professional environments and educational settings. Tools like Google Classroom, Facebook Workplace, Focusmate and PukkaTeam are essentially providing virtual co-working spaces to facilitate effective collaboration and brainstorming sessions, for example. They are a great way to mimic day-to-day learning experiences.

VR, or ‘v-learning’, is another tool which is growing in popularity in this space. It can create virtual learning environments that allow delivery of training and development programmes in a more immersive way, helping people learn from their interactions with their classmates.

PwC study on the use of VR in soft skills training found that learners trained in VR were 275pc more confident to act on what they learned after training, which was a 40pc improvement over similar classroom training and a 35pc improvement over e-learning methods.

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Provide accessible online training

The way we educate our children has been transformed by the pandemic. Globally, at the height of the crisis, 1.2bn children were out of the classroom, and were taught remotely via e-learning technologies. Learning from this time powered by technology provides the unique opportunity for workplace learning to undergo an equally transformative process.

In order to tackle some of the challenges that come with building a growth mindset, namely the need for employees to self-motivate and really own their own learning, we need to rethink the way we enable them to learn.

Above all else, learning in the new era of work needs to be accessible. Mobile learning and micro-learning technologies are useful tools here as they bring the classroom into our everyday lives, wherever we are, helping people to learn on the go and find time to access educational resources.

Micro-learning delivers short bursts of content for people to study at their convenience. This is a particularly useful method to help employees with little time (or short attention spans) access educational resources in a quick and easy manner. There are many different micro-learning formats – videos, infographics, simulations and podcasts are all digestible formats, for example.

There are also plenty of edtech solutions out there. Riff from Esme Learning, for example, is a cloud-based video and text chat platform, whereby a personal digital coach guides individuals through assessments in real time. How FM is another option, targeting blue-collar workers and the deskless workforce with multilingual online training and educational resources.

Hays has also launched a free online training portal designed to help employers and teams grow the skills they need to function effectively and flourish in the face of the pandemic. I expect many similar online resources to be available in the coming months, whereby your internal IT teams and external edtech providers will enable your remote learning initiatives.

Use automation to personalise your online tools

Not only is making learning accessible crucial to building a growth mindset culture, so is making it personalised. AI and automation can help accelerate personalised educational initiatives, which are tailored to the needs and interests of the individual employee. Many of these programmes use gamification to match the pace of learning to the individual or pit colleagues against each other to strike up a little healthy competition and boost engagement.

Machine learning algorithms can predict learning outcomes for the individual, allowing you to provide specific educational content based on a person’s specific goals and past performance. This approach enhances the user experience, providing people with the right resources at the right time, helping to boost engagement and results.

Quizlet, for example, is an online studying tool that lets users create digital quizzes and flashcards to aid learning. It leverages its machine learning to discover how students can learn more effectively by prioritising terms that people are most likely to forget.

AI can also provide a more responsive learning environment, whereby marks and feedback are given in near-real time. Cognii provides an AI-powered virtual learning assistant, which uses machine learning to individualise learning and expedite the feedback process.

Virtual assistants are another option to help you direct learners and help them access the right resources. Edtech company Edmentum built a virtual assistant to help teachers master its new education platforms, quickly. The company also uses automation to customise its online curriculums to meet the different educational requirements for each US state that it operates in.

Learning both about and from technology

CIOs and IT teams are in an increasingly business-critical position. Technology is now responsible for providing organisations and their employees with the accessible and personalised educational tools they need to help protect them against disruption, develop the right skills and ultimately build a growth mindset that sustains throughout the new era of work and beyond.

In addition, in many markets around the world, the demand for people with not just the right combination of skills, but also the right appetite for learning is climbing dramatically.

So, we’d absolutely recommend creating a culture of learning, enabling access to relevant content and incentivising your teams to use it. Not doing so will make you less attractive as an employer to in-demand individuals who value what we believe are truly future-proofing qualities: the desire to learn and adaptability.

By Jacky Carter

Jacky Carter is the group digital engagement director at Hays. A version of this article originally appeared on the Hays Technology blog.

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