The Need for Reskilling: Preparing for AI, Automation and Digital Transformation

Reskilling can plug the gap being left behind by the digital transformation we're in. Leaders must be nimble, agile, and willing to get the training it takes to implement new technology, while ensuring essential human soft skills remain a part of the process.

Organizations have been gradually implementing AI and automation – otherwise known as digital transformation – for a number of years. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend. Yet a skills gap remains, as the trend accelerates and a sweeping automation revolution looms. Reskilling can plug that gap and it’s essential for leaders to recognize that. Leading through digital transformation is a challenge. You must become nimble, agile, and arrange for staff members at every level to get the training it takes to implement new technology, while ensuring essential human soft skills remain a part of the process.  

As a leader, you must not only focus on reskilling or upskilling every staff member, preparing them to confidently manage digital transformation of systems and processes. You must also convince them that automation is not intended to completely replace people with automated processes. The goal is to maintain a healthy balance between the sometimes imperfect but reassuring human factor and the efficiency provided by machines and their ever-increasing intelligence. 

Upskilling versus reskilling

Upskilling is the process of training for additional skills, to make current job performance more efficient, and prepare workers for advancement within their specific job sector. Upskilling has always been a recommended practice. Today it is essential to keep pace with changes in the requirements for performing nearly every type of task. 

Reskilling refers to teaching a person the skills necessary for making a career change. As certain professions are phased out, reskilling has become even more important. To avoid high unemployment rates, workers who lose jobs to digital transformation must receive training that prepares them for the new and evolving positions that emerge.

Staff members are not always able to take the initiative of acquiring the appropriate skills training on their own. That’s where leadership comes in. Leaders must encourage workers to seek training, perhaps provide it for them. Company investment in reskilling valued workers improves conditions not only for workers who avoid layoffs, but for companies that are able to boost profits. Acknowledging this, The World Economic Forum launched their Reskilling Revolution in January 2020, an initiative to provide one billion people with better education, skills, and jobs to respond to digital transformation by 2030.

Love or hate the changes, leaders must help others adjust

You say you want a revolution? Well, If that’s the case, you’re in luck. The word is popping up everywhere. The world of business is in flux. We’ve already mentioned the automation revolution. Continuing automation – specific to manufacturing and industrial practices via the implementation of modern smart technology – has come to be known as The Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s sweeping not just the United States, but the entire global community. As a leader, this is your chance to drive your team forward with confidence by helping them prepare for the revolution by reskilling and upskilling.

If you, as a leader, find revolutionary times stressful and if adapting to change isn’t your favorite thing, coaching sessions can help you learn how to adjust and prepare yourself for continued success. Change may be uncomfortable in the beginning, but once the transition to new methods is done, those who were once skeptical might discover the new way makes processes easier and more profitable.

The time to reskill is now

As far back as 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as many as 375 million workers — or 14% of the global workforce — would have to change occupations or acquire new skills by the end of the current decade because of automation and AI. But the referenced article also states that history suggests technology has created new jobs during large employment and sector shifts. So, the key to keeping people permanently employed is to make reskilling available.

Although the global pandemic has been invariably inconvenient to say the least, some of the downtime we have gained from the current flexible work environment is a great time to reskill for digital transformation. Utilizing agile learning techniques while employees are working from home is a great way to prepare for future digitization and continued flexibility at work. Some training solutions might take the forms of online content, coaching and experiential learning. Online courses like LinkedIn Learning, Degreed, and Coursera might be a great place to start. 

Preserving current assets: upskilling and reskilling veteran staff members

In the process of diversifying skill sets, don’t forget about your existing employees. Investing in the education and training of employees you already have often can be a better option than struggling to recruit the perfect, new employees. 

Veteran staff members are already familiar with your company culture. They already know how to perform their current jobs and what is expected of them. And they still possess the invaluable soft skills you hired them for – traits that are not easy to instill. Through upskilling, plenty of people can learn the ropes of digitization, but soft skills remain harder to come by. 

Preparing to lead through digital transformation

According to a recent McKinsey survey:

“. . . leaders recognize that automation and digitization will likely create significant skill gaps, but most report feeling unprepared for the challenge. . . Only 7 percent of respondents thought that their companies were fully prepared to address the skill gaps that they expected over the subsequent five years.”

Many executives in this survey cited a lack of understanding around the impact of the skills gap as a reason why their organization was not yet ready to tackle the issue. Some said they lacked the tools or knowledge to make a case for efforts to reskill their workforce. Many others mentioned their staff would not be able to execute a new strategy for addressing the skills gap. 

It’s not easy to lead an organization through digital transformation. But failing to help the department or organization with which you are trusted keep up with changing conditions, puts its success, and your own at risk. If a leader doesn’t know how to address a situation, becoming informed and improving leadership skills is essential.

Preparing to lead through digital transformation

Workers will always be needed. It’s just that their roles are changing. Providing employees with reassurance and the reskilling that is essential for empowering them to support and complement digital transformation should be an essential goal for every organization. Upskilling and reskilling are keys to keeping valued employees on staff while implementing modern and efficient business practices.

When leading through digital transformation, you must develop an outlook that’s flexible. Become nimble and agile enough to honor what worked in the past, note what’s happening today, and view the future with possibility in mind rather than rigid expectations. We recognize this work is challenging. Leadership coaching can help. Contact us at Sounding Board, Inc. to learn more.

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