Upskilling 2.0: investing in the workforce of tomorrow

Companies are increasingly turning to intelligent solutions to help their employees develop skills for the future.
Industries: Work
  • Advancing up the corporate ladder: the future
  • Unilever and Accenture deploy AI to upskill their employees
  • Amazon and PwC roll out upskilling programmes
  • Microsoft’s and JPMorgan Chase launch global skills initiative
  • Upskilling: the right way to shape the future of work

Fast-paced technological advancements are changing the business landscape. Pressured to keep up with ongoing digital disruption, more and more businesses are revising their business models. However, the job market is rapidly evolving as well. New careers emerge, while others slowly become history. Amid all these changes, however, a discrepancy has developed – while adopting all these new technologies, we haven’t really paid much attention to upskilling our current workforce. And that needs to change.

Research has shown that as much as 58 per cent of companies admit that automation hasn’t yet reached the desired goals of increased productivity. But it goes without saying that to fully benefit from automation, organisations also need to invest in upskilling their workforce. André Richier, policy officer at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, points out that automation is inevitable, but that employers should provide their staff members with opportunities to evolve professionally. “I believe that the loss of jobs owing to automation will be more limited than anticipated earlier. The bigger impact of automation will be on the very nature of jobs. In this sense, there will be hardly any area of work not impacted by automation. Therefore, organisations need to manage not just their digital transformation and the adoption of automation, but upskilling and transition of their workforce as well.” 

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Advancing up the corporate ladder: the future

According to a report by ICT consultancy Capgemini, upskilling could help businesses save $1.2 billion over three years. The report also shows that 29 per cent of employees consider their skill set either redundant or they expect it to become obsolete in the next year or two, while as much as 47 per cent of generation Y and Z are convinced that their current skill set will become redundant in the next four or five years. According to Caroline Styr at My HR Future, “Most organisations are stuck with outdated progression models, where people enter the company and work their way up the pyramid. These models don’t suit a more fluid, modern approach to career development. Much rarer are flatter, more agile progression structures where movement across teams, departments and operating divisions is normalised. However, there is an awareness that this kind of movement – known as internal mobility or talent mobility – is important.” LinkedIn’s 2020 global talent trends report lists internal recruiting as the third most important trend for the future of HR. As much as 65 per cent of talent professionals admit that their company needs to improve its internal mobility efforts. And some companies have already started employing cutting-edge solutions that enable their employees a more progressive way of advancing up the corporate ladder.

Unilever and Accenture deploy AI to upskill their employees

London-based multinational consumer goods giant Unilever is one of the companies that have abandoned the outdated progression models where people would work their way up, slowly levelling up the hierarchical pyramid of the organisation. Instead, Unilever has recognised that a flatter, more agile progression structure creates more opportunities for its employees to advance. Unilever’s proactive staff members  would rather work harder and grow with the company, than look for a better position elsewhere. Unilever has introduced the AI-based online talent marketplace FLEX Experiences, developed by Israeli-based startup InnerMobility by Gloat. Jeroen Wels, executive vice-president of HR at Unilever, explains that the implementation of this talent marketplace has led to the democratisation of the opportunities in the company by providing more transparency in terms of available projects. “[It creates] a frictionless environment so there is no middle man. There is no line manager that doesn’t see all the opportunities or a broker in the middle but instead it is happening on the platform in real time.”

The platform allows managers to post opportunities like projects, assignments, mentorships and other initiatives within the company. Using smart algorithms, the platform matches opportunities with employees’ profiles, regardless of their current position. The platform allows managers to know which steps need to be taken to make progress, at the same time enabling people within the organisation to lead the way “in ways that align with their own personal goals,” reads the website. “FLEX Experiences helps people to identify opportunities across the business, in which they can develop new skills and gain experiences in a flexible way. We believe that our people are much more than their job title. If our people thrive, we thrive as a business,” Wels highlights.

Dublin-based American-Irish multinational professional services company Accenture has developed software named ‘Jeff Buddy’, that assists employees to examine their skills and determine which training will help them upskill. The system also helps staff with insights into which areas of work are likely to be automated in the future. “I think the thing that organisations really have to start doing, quickly, is move from workforce planning to work planning and really understand what work is going to be done by machines and what work is going to be done by humans, and make sure that you are investing in your people, to understand how to work with the technology,” underlines Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s head of human resources. “And I think that’s how you’re going to future-proof your workforce.”

Amazon and PwC roll out upskilling programmes

Amazon has already positioned itself as one of the great – if not the greatest – disruptors in retail, revolutionising the way people shop. Now it’s one of the companies that focus on providing their workforce with the Career Choice programme. The programme helps its staff members acquire the necessary knowledge to advance on their career paths, either within the company or elsewhere. The company spent $60 million on their upskilling programme, paying 95 per cent of the tuition and fees for skills training. Darcie Henry, vice president of global HR for Amazon Operations, says their Career Choice programme is one way to help people value their careers more and it offers training to help employees gain a wide variety of skills. From computer support specialist to web developer or nurse, the programme offers courses across 20 career choices. “Through our continued investment in local communities in more than 40 states across the country, we have created tens of thousands of jobs in the US in the past year alone,” notes Beth Galetti, senior VP, HR. “For us, creating these opportunities is just the beginning. While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations. We think it’s important to invest in our employees and to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves.” Arran Stewart, chief visionary officer of, underlines the importance of the project, saying that those participating in the programme would “be more effective and productive, both in and outside of Amazon. It also serves as a great marketing tool for attracting new workers to Amazon, who hope that they too can benefit from the program”.

Accountancy and tax advisory giant PwC has also recognised the need to invest big money into job training for its employees over the next couple of years. “We’ve got to be a talent magnet,” says Bob Moritz, PwC’s global chairman. PwC will be investing $3 billion into its ‘New World, New Skills’ program, which provides job training for all of its 275,000 employees. Moritz reflects on a PwC study that found 30 per cent “of all jobs are at risk of being automated by the mid-2030s”, emphasising that PwC’s workforce – just like anyone else – is subject to the growing trend. “I think it’s a necessity because the world’s moving so fast. You lose competitive edge and brand if you don’t,” adding that their employees do have a say and “if you opt in, OK, we will not leave you behind. I can’t guarantee you the specific job that you have or want to have. But I can guarantee you you’re going to have employment here.”

Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase launch global skill initiative

COVID-19 has caused immense damage to the global economy, with those already in a difficult position – like underprivileged minorities, women, and those with lower incomes – being hit the hardest. To help curb the negative effects of the pandemic, Microsoft has launched a global skills initiative which aims to help 25 million people worldwide acquire digital skills by the end of 2020. “Our vision for skills extends beyond these immediate steps for job seekers. Employees will also need to skill and reskill through their careers, and we want to make it easier for employers to help. Our vision is a connected ‘system of learning’ that helps empower everyone to pursue lifelong learning,” states the company.

JPMorgan Chase, one of the oldest financial institutions in the United States, has also recognised the need to help underserved populations prepare for the future of work. “The new world of work is about skills, not necessarily degrees,” notes Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. “Unfortunately, too many people are stuck in low-skill jobs that have no future and too many businesses cannot find the skilled workers they need. We must remove the stigma of a community college and career education, look for opportunities to upskill or reskill workers, and give those who have been left behind the chance to compete for well-paying careers today and tomorrow.” The $350 million initiative will focus on developing and launching innovative training programmes. The company will also team up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) to identify and forecast future workplace skills, and leverage that knowledge to build and accelerate opportunities for upskilling and reskilling.

Upskilling: the right way to shape the future of work

Initiatives like these will not only serve as an innovative way to recognise the best talent within an organisation. Upskilling in a world of accelerated digitisation is also necessary for building the workforce of tomorrow. And it’s not only about educating your own workers, it’s about supporting staff of smaller businesses as well. As more success stories surface, we’ll see more and more similar upskilling initiatives emerge.

Industries: Work
We’re in the midst of a technological revolution and the trends, technologies, and innovations to look out for are all game-changers. They bring competitive advantages, increase the effectiveness of operations, make our daily lives more efficient, improve healthcare, and significantly change the landscape and beyond.

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