Building the workforce of the future means using tech to enable continual learning – Pristine School of Management

Building the workforce of the future means using tech to enable continual learning

A recent report has found that reforming the education system in England could unlock £125bn a year for the economy. This is not a surprise. While the last two years have accelerated almost every trend in business, skills have often changed over the years. For example, a hundred years ago, workers needed strong manual skills; two decades ago, the dot.com era brought in the need for computer skills. Now, research from Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work and Oxford Economics shows that two-fifths of business leaders chose ‘innovation’ as their most sought-after skill, ahead of decision-making (39%), and leadership skills (35%).

If we are to equip the youth of today with the skills necessary to meet these requirements, we must look at how we not just educate them at school but then encourage continual learning throughout their careers.

Creating flexibility and adaptability

The Covid-19 pandemic caused huge disruption to many industries, leading large numbers of people to take the opportunity to leave old jobs in search of greener pastures. Inherent in this is adaptability which is crucial if we are to create a more resilient workforce and, most importantly, this should be reflected in how we educate our children today.

The mindset that we must only learn one skill set for one career has long been outdated but must be abandoned by employers in particular to develop and maintain a viable workforce. Business leaders must encourage the idea of agile learning –  continuously developing new skills and unlearning old ways of doing business in favor of newer, more effective approaches. By doing this, they can help both individuals and businesses become more resilient.

This means a shift in how we all approach education for not only young people but also current employees, with a renewed aim of maintaining the process of learning from our school days all through our careers.

We can do this by creating modular programs which provide people with the flexibility to learn new skills when they need them or upskill themselves when they want to. By doing this, we are not only revamping traditional models of learning but widening accessibility for those employees who cannot always be physically present in a meeting room to learn new skills or develop their careers.

As the future of work brings more business flexibility, we must ensure that this same flexibility follows through into education and training so that the mindset is encouraged and continued from the earliest age.

Using the latest technological tools

Digital technologies are the conduit through which continuous learning can be unleashed. Historically, employers leaned heavily on what we call a ‘push’ model of workplace training, whereby employees listened to lectures in a boardroom or classroom, then returned to work. The “success” of this teaching method was determined by attendance confirmation. However, it became notorious for its low levels of retention among employees.

What we have seen more recently, as students and workers were forced into remote environments during lockdowns, is many institutions have to make their content available online. This was out of necessity but has since meant that students living in isolated locations, who might not otherwise have access to the same level of education infrastructure as populated cities, can now benefit from the same content and tuition. This in turn can open up whole new areas of learning, where people access resources when they want to, rather than being constrained by static education systems.

As such, employers who are serious about innovating their L&D programs should consider adopting a holistic approach to training, one that prioritizes collaborative learning via digital channels, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. However, we must now also ensure that this opportunity is available to everyone – the technology and opportunity is there but will require ongoing proactivity to ensure maximum benefit is felt.

For example, Cognizant has committed more than £440,000 last year to initiatives that support underserved and underrepresented groups in the UK with their digital skills training. The Cognizant Foundation works with Code First Girls, which provides online coding lessons to women; Social Mobility Foundation, which helps guide young people with mentor sessions and workshops with industry leaders; and The Prince’s Trust, which runs dedicated courses for people looking to enter Digital Marketing, all of which help to narrow the digital skills gap. By building on these initiatives and ensuring that learnings from the pandemic become permanent, we can help a whole new generation of students get the skills and mindset they need to succeed in the world of work.

Building the right atmosphere

Creating this new way of learning will also require businesses and government to work together in a way that does not leave young people blindsided when they enter the working world for the first time. Ensuring people leave university or school with the right foundational skills of creativity and adaptability will then mean continuous learning becomes easier throughout their careers and lives.

This is where businesses come in. For example, if we can provide online training resources and encourage employees to set time aside to use them, it will help us attract talent, and also retain employees who know they can upskill or reskill as needed as the business changes. This is an area I am proud to say Cognizant has received recognition in recently, having been identified as a Top Employer in Ireland and other countries, and being specifically called out for our talent development.

The needs of business leaders have shifted over the last few years. They are increasingly looking for innovative employees who have a broad set of skills that can help them confront multiple tasks while at work.

Businesses need to encourage a mindset of always looking to learn new skills among their young talent. By using technology, we can make this process easier, allowing people to learn what they want and need, and to do so when it suits them. This in turn will provide young workers with the dynamic skills they need to become productive members of the workforce of the future.