Upskilling for the Future: Preparing Your Workforce for Rapid Technological Change

July 8, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-AI

The world is not standing still and is moving at such a pace that it can be difficult to keep up. This is true for individuals and even more so for organisations. For those able to exploit changes, it can be a positive development. However, for organisations that aren’t agile, it may be perceived as a threat.

Organisations that can embrace change and turn it into profitable opportunities may have several rationales for doing so, including a cost and benefit analysis, competitor analysis, and enhancing their competitive advantage.

AI and workforce upskilling

Up until a couple of years ago, Artificial Intelligence was seen as something done by scientists, usually involving robots. In 2024, the picture looks very different. Organisations must explore AI to avoid being left behind.

One of the biggest challenges is upskilling the workforce to engage with new technology as it emerges. A strategic approach to training employees is necessary to address this significant and recurring issue.

Addressing fears of change

Change worries people primarily due to the fear of the unknown, and in organisations, this fear can spread quickly. For most people, a related issue is some of the myths about rapid technological changes. For example:

  • Machines will replace humans, leading to job loss.
  • Everyone will be expected to be technical geniuses.
  • All roles will change to incorporate technology.

Recognising that some participants have some deep seated views, it would be helpful to share as much information as possible about the rationale and what the consequences of ‘standing still’ might mean. Technology can be a frightening prospect for employees who have never had to use it before, they will need additional support so that they can feel comfortable; and ultimately more productive.

What can organisations do to support and engage employees in technological changes?

Organisations can support and engage employees in technological changes by:

  • Setting the big picture context and explaining the consequences of inaction.
  • Highlighting potential benefits at the organisation, team, and individual levels.
  • Involving line managers in key decision-making processes.
  • Being transparent to avoid last-minute surprises.
  • Delivering appropriate training based on a needs analysis.
  • Providing opportunities for employees to apply their learning.

It is important that people begin to take ownership so that development activities are not just seen as another tick in the box with the employer.

Line managers themselves shouldn’t be forgotten as they will also have development needs. Wherever possible, taking a collaborative approach that involves all stakeholders in decision-making is recommended.

HR strategies for incorporating the ongoing changes

A learning needs assessment at whole-organisational level is essential i.e. what are the content and skills that would be relevant across the organization?  Clearly people may have different needs and even at individual level this may be different between different topic areas. It is therefore important to have a learning needs analysis  at individual level.

Data is needed to inform this analysis and this could be achieved by asking employees to complete a survey, a decision can then be made by the facilitator of how to split delivery groups so that the content and level can inform how groups are formed.

It may be appropriate to have a test/activity where employees can demonstrate existing skills and knowledge and gaps can be addressed. I would advocate for the survey to ask the participants about their confidence levels as well as competence. In some instances it may also be relevant to encourage them to get line manager feedback, this would allow an insight into self-awareness.

HR teams can support the ongoing changes by:

  • Commissioning trainers/facilitators who understand the purpose and aims.
  • Contextualising activities to aid application of knowledge and skills.
  • Recognising diverse learning styles.
  • Supporting line managers and offering individual support for employees.
  • Providing recognition and support for employees who find change difficult.
  • Ensuring a consistent and inclusive approach.
  • Setting clear expectations and briefing managers to answer FAQs.
  • Evaluating learning activities and making necessary adjustments.

Professor Fiona Robson

Head of Edinburgh Business School and Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai

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