Digital upskilling: Modern workers are hungry for learning

But many believe their skills are obsolete and out of place in an increasingly automated world

Digital upskilling: Modern workers are hungry for learning

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic led to historic job cuts across industries, workers had long cited workplace automation as their single biggest threat to job security in the modern economy.

Two recent studies continue to echo this concern even amid the backdrop of a global health crisis.

Without undergoing “significant retraining,” one in five workers will reportedly have few to no options to shift into a new career should they be displaced by automation, a recent study from The Conference Board of Canada suggests.

There are also overlaps between the types of sectors that have been severely hit by the pandemic and those that face a high risk of unemployment as a result of automation.

Some of the industries where workers appear to be vulnerable to technological displacement are:

  • Accommodation
  • Food services
  • Retail trade
  • Manufacturing

These industries, according to the board, often don’t require workers to have higher levels of formal education, and they offer work that typically involves highly repetitive tasks.

When the pandemic hit early this year, these same sectors were also among the first to shed jobs. Market shocks – whether in the form of a public health crisis or widescale transformation such as automation – expose how fragile this segment of the labour market can be.

“The current situation we are facing with COVID-19 may act [as] a catalyst to more automation technology adoption,” said Harry Sharma, Director, Innovation and Technology at The Conference Board of Canada.

READ MORE: 6 critical skills for HR in the age of AI

Obsolete and out of place
But it isn’t just manual labourers who should keep watch.

A separate study from UiPath, a software group specialising in robotic process automation (RPA), paints a similar picture – but among office workers.

Almost half of professionals polled by UiPath worldwide are concerned they will be displaced within five years: they believe their skills are obsolete and out of place in an increasingly automated world.

And yet many of these workers say they are prepared to embrace change by reskilling or upskilling.

More than four in five workers, for instance, are hoping their employers would offer them more opportunities to acquire new skills (86%) or to enhance existing competencies (83%). They want to be trained in emerging tech such as machine learning/artificial intelligence and RPA.

READ MORE: Academy launches scholarship for workers impacted by COVID-19

The majority of respondents (88%) are also willing to stay on with a company that invests in their digital skills development, the study found.

“Now more than ever, digital skillsets are necessary. Employers need to provide their employees with new training initiatives so they can best leverage technology like automation so they’re more productive and satisfied in their careers,” said Tom Clancy, SVP UiPath Learning.

“Fifty-eight per cent of office workers believe there are more opportunities for them to automate daily, monotonous tasks at work,” he said. “Employers should offer digital training as part of career development initiatives as it is proven to enhance retention and boost business productivity.”

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