Digital disruption is becoming a standard feature of the modern workplace. Cornerstone OnDemand tells HRD what the future may hold for on-the-job learning as the way we work changes
With the world currently undergoing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digital disruption and automation have become increasingly common in the workplace. Understanding this, many HR professionals have concerns about where they should be placing their priorities. How can the very real needs of the present day-to-day be met while also preparing for the future?
Jeff Miller, associate vice president of learning and organisational effectiveness at Cornerstone OnDemand, sees this as a unique time for employees to take control of their own learning – and accordingly, their future in the job market of tomorrow.
“Historically, the only thing we know that is going to happen is change,” says Miller. “Yet people typically get nervous about that – they wonder whether they will have the skills and the knowledge to keep up with what’s happening.”
Certainly, concerns about the way technology and automation will change the workplace are nothing new. But the reduction of some roles will also mean new roles will be created. Reskilling and upskilling will be necessary, even for those who remain in roles that are similar in name.
With this in mind, businesses must be aware of the importance of providing pathways to this knowledge so that it can be effectively accessed by staff. These can take a variety of forms: curated audio playlists, video content, quizzes, database access – it will likely vary according to the industry. What’s crucial is that employees have access to the appropriate information to upskill themselves.
The new face of learning
The good news is that technology has also brought about greater opportunities for employees to take advantage of learning opportunities; the internet has enabled a greater democratisation of and access to learning. Workers of the future do not necessarily need to be defined by traditional notions about job history, experience, the university they attended or the degree they earned.
Cost, too, has become less of an issue. While those holding management positions have traditionally been the beneficiaries of the most training due to perceived cost and trickle-down benefits, the advent of e-learning and online content providers has made the process significantly more cost-effective. Travel and out-of-work costs are virtually negligible with models like micro-learning.
“Technically, you can go online and learn everything you need to know for, say, an MBA. Moving ahead, this will have massive significance” - Jeff Miller, associate VP of learning and org effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand
“Learning is now more of an access issue,” says Miller. “Technically, you can go online and learn everything you need to know for, say, an MBA. Moving ahead, this will have massive significance.”
Questions still remain around what this may mean in terms of qualifications, but solutions have been posited. Blockchain software could theoretically track an employee’s career, enabling formal qualifications and experience as well as more informal learning to be recorded and utilised effectively as part of a digital résumé.
Some of these changes have already begun to be established in many workplaces. ‘Training’ departments have long since shifted to become ‘learning and development’ (L&D) departments instead, and their roles have accordingly shifted with the change of name.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, if you struggled at work or they needed to find a place to put you, you’d go to the Training Department,” says Miller. “Training would be given to you, in a rote fashion – but now L&D departments are more about enabling the staff member to find the information they need in order to develop within their role.”
Indeed, it’s an approach that Cornerstone OnDemand has long been taking; the company provides a variety of modular HR solutions, including e-learning and content provision. Miller stresses that it’s also incumbent on managers to embrace this new-look learning.
“One of the challenges that managers are going to have – or may already be having – is the idea that the time people need to spend on learning is an investment in the business’s future,” says Miller. “Many managers don’t necessarily perceive informal, social learning as a value-add to getting the current job done – but in fact, it’s a critical aspect of how people are working and learning today.”
Ultimately, the businesses with a strong learning core are the businesses that will survive and thrive into the future. HR specialists have an obligation to educate their parent business and, accordingly, those HR specialists must also understand the current goals of their business, its future strategy and wider global business trends around their industry.
“Just because we’re sitting here in Australia doesn’t mean that people don’t need to know what’s happening in places like India, the United States, Canada or China,” says Miller. “Managers and staff alike need to understand how these things are connected.”
Counting the long-term cost
Business in Australia – and around the world – is heavily driven by cost optimisation. HR departments are not immune to this issue, and accordingly it can be easy to get bogged down in the hand-to-mouth reality of the daily grind, rather than looking at the larger picture and towards the future. A fundamental mindset shift is therefore required to embrace the future of work.
“We need to be asking how we can ready our business for these changes,” says Sue Turk, managing director of Cornerstone OnDemand, ANZ. “That does require a movement from thinking about optimisation all the time around cost and what do we need to do to survive the future.”
“Too much focus on cost optimisation now will leave you struggling to survive in the future if staff don’t have the skills they need” - Sue Turk, managing director, Cornerstone OnDemand, ANZ
Strategically, HR directors need to be having conversations around which skills the business is likely to need over the next five to 10 years. For many organisations, this will also mean a significant percentage shift in the employees they have now versus the employees likely to be needed. Eyebrows are likely to be raised at forthcoming board meetings, but Turk maintains that these conversations must be had with senior management in order to remain relevant in the long term.
“You can retain many of your existing staff by upskilling them,” says Turk. “But businesses are going to lose out if they don’t prepare. Too much focus on cost optimisation now will leave you struggling to survive in the future if staff don’t have the skills they need.”
Creating a learning culture
For many workplaces, this will be a ground-up proposition, creating a learning culture from scratch. This may be a considerable shift for the office, but that doesn’t mean it’s insurmountable; your best staff are likely to be highly invested in learning, even if it hasn’t previously been encouraged.
Building a learning culture starts at the top – staff will closely observe the actions of their leaders. Ensuring that your business’s top executives are ‘living’ the value of learning as opposed to simply fobbing off responsibility to subordinates is essential. Additionally, learning is often best received – and most efficient – if incorporated into the wider workflow. While sometimes necessary, taking workers out of their usual environment is rarely the most effective way to engage with them. This is where learning platforms can be particularly helpful, by creating personalised programs to aid employees in learning as part of their role. Learning becomes a natural part of their workday, rather than something they have to take time out to do. This can even extend to the device they use for this process; many learning platforms are device agnostic, allowing for maximum employee engagement.
Perhaps most importantly, wins and milestones must be celebrated. Creating a learning culture means everyone is dedicated to improving themselves and helping others do the same in the process. With this in mind, it’s time to ready your business for the future of work.