Key challenges and opportunities for organisations

Proactive and strategic management of today’s workforce is about having the right people in the right places, at the right time – and at the right cost – to achieve an organisation’s objectives. It is about the choices that senior leaders need to make and what the workforce and technology implications of those may be. Today this task has been made more urgent – and more complex – by the flow-on effects of a global pandemic and technological acceleration, including automation. While there’s been much media speculation about the impact of automation on the workforce over the last five years, this has often been misleading or overstated. As a result, some 59 per cent of workers fear that automation is putting people’s jobs at risk. Automation does not equate to vast swathes of the population becoming redundant. What it does mean is augmentation of our jobs, or in some cases, a transition to new jobs which require reskilling and upskilling.

This requires a shift from the idea of automation as a disruptor to a business as usual (BAU) approach to re-skilling and upskilling. Upskilling for the digital world has become a priority for society, organisations and governments. Each and every person deserves to have the awareness, understanding and capability to adapt to technological change and business must play a key role – both to sustain competitiveness but also to ensure we are not to exclude entire elements of society from the workplace.

The key is to systematically – and in a sophisticated and deliberate way – enable your organisation to build strategic workforce planning into normal business planning and strategy processes. This means continually looking beyond the five-year horizon and considering the workforce implications of every operating model, strategy or technology choice made. When undertaking workforce planning, CHRO’s should be asking about: the data-backed insights that provide a view of workforce composition and performance; the workforce risks and where the organisation is investing to get the greatest return; and the practical interventions for closing the gap between workforce supply and demand, over multiple time horizons and scenarios.

The key challenges and opportunities for organisations

It’s been called the ‘future of work’ – but it can’t be deferred. Too many organisations have taken a ‘wait and see approach’ on workforce planning, hoping to learn from the leaders and be fast followers. Yet with the impact of automation, AI and data, the change curve for those on this journey is exponential. Organisations risk becoming small dots in the rearview mirror of their competitors unless they act now. Making long-term workforce planning an organisational priority and finding a better balance between near and long-term planning and strategy. Many organisations today give the responsibility for strategic workforce planning to the HR function and focus too much on near term issues of affordability and capacity. There is a lot of wheel- spinning around this debate and more beyond-the-horizon focus is needed. CHRO’s need to help their organisations lift that debate up a level, ensure that the business has accountability for workforce decisions, and give due consideration to the capabilities that are needed to deliver now and into the future, as well as how that will change and evolve along with our work.

Moving beyond the once-a-year strategy retreat. The acceleration of change and the convergence of technologies, along with the impact of a global pandemic, means boards and management teams need to be regularly considering how these rapidly changing dynamics might impact their organisations. Even when the future is known, scenario planning is a key activity that leaders should undertake intermittently. This helps organisations understand and anticipate alternative paths, drawing out alternative future states and the workforce implications. Enabling the skills transition. The workforces of a majority of organisations are not prepared for what’s coming three, five or ten years out. Once organisations have assessed their needs and determined a strategy, organisations face the challenge of delivering on this transition in capabilities, which may include a significant upskilling or reskilling program.

Case study

Zurich’s reskilling programme that’s saving jobs and business costs

Organisations can be much more strategic in using data to solve organisational challenges. Data from industries all over the world shows a very simple business case for reskilling as a key part of a holistic workforce strategy: It is cheaper to retrain and redeploy than to shed workers. In November 2020, Zurich announced a mission to retrain 3,000 UK employees to prepare them for future roles, showcasing how to undertake retraining at scale. The company has invested almost £1 million ($1.8 million AUD) into reskilling initiatives in 2020 alone, which will look to cover two-thirds of its workforce over the next five years and future proof roles against redundancy. The retraining program was designed after workforce analysis conducted alongside Faethm’s AI analytics platform identified 270 robotics, data science and cybersecurity roles that could go unfilled by 2024 if employees aren’t prepared for the future of work. It’s predicted that the long-term upskilling of home-grown talent in areas such as robotics, automation and innovation could also save the business £1 million) in recruitment and redundancy costs alone.

What questions do CHRO’s need to be asking?

  1. Do we have the right capabilities and skills in our organisations to deliver on our strategy for the future? If not, do we have an upskilling/reskilling plan in place?
  2. Has our organisation made workforce planning and strategy part of BAU planning and strategy processes, with dedicated teams working on this topic?
  3. Do we have the requisite workforce planning capability and maturity to drive this?
  4. Do we understand the macro drivers and labour market trends that may support or inhibit realisation of our workforce strategy?
  5. Are we limiting ourselves to annual or bi-annual strategy days, or are we structuring more opportunities to explore the changing dynamics that are affecting our business?
  6. Are we continually looking to – and beyond – the horizon by at least five years?
  7. Have we conducted scenario planning exercises to explore the potential impact of changes that may occur in the future and how we would respond to them? Are we using data to make decisions about whether to retrain and redeploy employees whose roles have changed or been made redundant?
  8. As an organisation, have we determined what our investment and commitment to enable workforce transition is?