Davos 2020: Why are reskilling efforts failing?

It's the best way to stay relevant but are leaders doing enough for employees?

Davos 2020: Why are reskilling efforts failing?

The age of automation demands constant reskilling and upskilling, but not enough is being done to keep up with the current pace of change. This was a key takeaway at a recent panel discussion at the World Economic Forum.

Moderating the panel last week, Jim Hagemann Snabe, Chairman at Siemens AG shared a simple anecdote that explained both the urgent need and challenge of it all.

A CFO and a CEO were chatting and one asked the other, “what if we reskill someone and they leave us?” To which came the reply, “what if we don’t reskill them and they stayed?”

Challenge #1: Lack of leadership buy-in
Panellist Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman at PwC agreed that leadership’s lukewarm attitude towards L&D is a big barrier for the ‘reskilling revolution’.

“What’s getting in the way is the unpreparedness or unwillingness to have leadership in this area,” Moritz said.

“The power of the ‘and’ is so important here. Unfortunately corporations and governments see this as a standalone issue that requires standalone funding, without [the ability to] actually provide ROI.”

This is why leaders remain unconvinced and think about the different aspects of its real benefits, for example improving the business bottomline or society’s overall progress, in silos, he added.

“How do you package together that doing this not only solves a skills issue narrative, and potentially a ‘technology refugee’ issue, but also a lot of other problems?” he asked.

READ MORE: Weak HR-IT collaboration hurting employees

Challenge #2: Lack of collaboration
“The second thing is people don’t necessarily know what to do or how to do it,” Moritz said.

“I think one of the reasons we [business and government leaders] are up on stage is the belief that a much more collaborative effort would [lead to] action and scale. But [the ability to] learn from one another is hugely important right now.”

Currently the conversations he’s had with government representatives and CEOs centre around getting people to leverage from one another.

He said thinking about reskilling and learning efforts as proprietary — to a country or a company — “is the worst of all answers right now”.

READ MORE: How can HR destroy the 'silo mentality'?

Solution: Build a culture of continuous learning
A better answer is to invest in building a mindset and culture of continuous learning at as early a stage as possible — in schools. The focus, he insisted, should be on cultivating the right mindset, rather than on adopting “current” skills.

“When we think about skilling, it’s around how do I actually code — [but] that’s the technical and tactical aspects,” Moritz said.

“[The focus should be] how do I adopt technologies and leverage them more [to] improve my life, my work.

“The mindset of continuous learning is really important and the number one skillset for our teachers learning how to teach and for our students learning how to learn. That’s the mindset we need to get in the curriculum today.”

READ MORE: How a learning culture will drive the workplace of the future

How to accelerate learning
So what are some measures to accelerate reskilling and learning?

Fellow panellist Peter Hummelgaard, minister at Denmark’s Ministry of Employment said it’s “definitely the will to invest” in programs and opportunities for people to actually take education seriously not only at the start, but also to be reskilled all through their careers.

He shared that in Denmark, there is a willingness to invest in reskilling opportunities. However, the greatest challenges lie in investing the money correctly and ensuring that people take up the opportunities.

To overcome them, Denmark is looking for inspiration in their past policies.

One involves reviving a job rotations program from several years ago. Under the initiative, whenever an employee wants to go for further studies, employers get subsidies for taking in a substitute worker during the duration of the education program.

Another involves a reflection on policies used during the financial and economic crisis. If another crisis returns and a large part of the workforce becomes unemployed, Hummelgaard hopes to help them by allowing the use of unemployment benefits on reskilling and education programs.

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