The way we prepare our employees for the jobs of the future is stuck in the past. Let’s think about the typical playbook:
- You keep things business as usual until, one day, you discover you don’t have people with the right skills.
- You make adjustments. As some people leave, you write new job descriptions and try to hire people with the skills that the business suddenly demands.
- You find yourself competing for the same pool of candidates with specific skills because other companies came to the same realization that you did.
That model can get the job done, as painful as it is, but that’s not likely to last. The U.S. population is aging, birth rates and immigration are decreasing and older Americans are retiring in larger numbers.
As these demographic shifts ripple through the labor market, it’s clear that the workforce and the economy will both feel their impact at the same time that technology is rapidly remaking the set of skills that organizations will need to keep from falling behind.
In my role as the chief people and purpose officer at Guild, a company that helps millions of Americans gain skills and access career mobility, I have the privilege of not only thinking about this kind of workforce planning for Guild’s employees but also with our partner companies that are making investments to develop their internal talent and help their millions of employees advance.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned that can help you reorient your approach to building a resilient and equitable workforce in the face of ongoing changes:
- Upskill today for tomorrow: Strong people teams partner with managers to help employees succeed in the jobs they’re doing today, which has worked OK. But looking forward, we also need to prepare people for a quickly changing environment that is requiring new and different skills. It’s no secret to your employees; 74 percent of workers Guild polled in 2022 said they would be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to leave their jobs if offered additional education or career opportunities elsewhere to prepare for their future. Let’s all take a closer look at how our company, our industry and the skills required for sustainable work are changing.
- Design your tools and systems around skills and capabilities: Most HR tools and systems we currently use were built for the Industrial Revolution. Rather than accepting the operational models and learning systems of the past, first think about what your business actually needs and what you’re trying to achieve. For many companies, using a more skills-based learning model can help create greater agility for and across your workforce.
- Rebuild roles that are aligned to the work to be done: Effectively implementing organizational changes also requires rethinking how we describe the role and the scope of the work — words matter! At Guild, we now have a head of outcomes rather than a head of performance management because we’re focused on the problem to be solved, not the way to apply oppressive tools and systems of the past. We also have a leader who’s specifically charged with preparing people for tomorrow’s jobs so employees will be set up to grow and advance. Which roles do you need to rethink and rebuild for a new and better future of HR?
- Bring a clear head to AI: Commenters often predict that AI will produce either a glut of new jobs or the end of humanity. I suspect we’ll land somewhere in the middle, so I encourage HR leaders to approach AI with the curiosity and experimentation of a scientist. By thoughtfully applying a learner’s mindset, it’s likely we’ll be able to spot opportunities to help our organizations keep growing. At the same time, we’re bound to find ways to make employees’ work more efficient, more focused on their skills and strengths, better aligned with their desired growth paths and rooted in more resilient and sustainable jobs for the future.
- Prioritize the learning years before the earning years: Adaptability is going to be increasingly prized as the labor market evolves. That’s why I counsel people who are earlier in their careers to try different things and take the time to pick up a range of skills and capabilities. Not only will a strong emphasis on learning in the early years increase the likelihood that someone finds work that’s aligned with their values and skills, but it will also set them up to be resilient and flexible in their “earning years” as conditions change.
The people function is more central to these broad and strategic workforce shifts than any other part of an organization. Just as we’ve seen since the onset of the pandemic, HR leaders shouldn’t be surprised by the increased attention that will continue from their peers on the leadership team.