Three Important Takeaways from the Tomorrow’s Talent Forum

Business and higher education leaders met in New York to discuss workforce development challenges and the findings of a Workday and Bloomberg Next survey on the emerging skills gap and more. What are organizations doing wrong, and where can they make improvements? Read these three takeaways.

As a business leader, you’re likely thinking about your talent needs for both today and tomorrow, and how you can help everyone from new recruits to longtime employees gain the skills they need to do their best work. At the same time, as you consider how new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation can transform your business, you’re aware these tools will also deeply impact your workforce.

At Bloomberg Next’s Tomorrow’s Talent forum, business and higher education leaders came together to discuss these challenges and share ideas. We also shared the results of Workday and Bloomberg Next’s newly published study on this topic, which includes responses from 200 U.S. corporations and academic institutions.

Below are three takeaways from the day-long event:

Companies Underestimate Reskilling Needs

Becky Frankiewicz, president at ManpowerGroup North America, gave a sobering assessment of the talent landscape during a panel on getting workers ready for future changes. “We have limited supply and increasing demand, yet the shape of that demand is changing,” she said. “For example, we’re seeing a huge demand in manufacturing, but these aren’t our grandparents’ manufacturing jobs. It’s primarily technical manufacturing.”

Many companies recognize they have work to do in this area, according to the Workday and Bloomberg Next survey. More than 50 percent of corporate respondents said they plan to evolve job responsibilities to reflect future needs, and also get better at recruiting diverse talent to address the impact of new technologies on their workforces.

Yet the survey responses aren’t as strong in terms of reskilling, with just about 40 percent of companies planning to invest in reskilling current employees. This is a concern, particularly with the growing impact of AI in the workplace, said Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer at Accenture.

Accenture’s own research finds that AI will ultimately create more jobs than it eliminates, and companies are substantially increasing their investments in it. Yet among those investing in AI, Accenture finds, just a small percentage are reskilling their workforces. “That gap needs to close quickly and dramatically, or companies are not going to see any competitive advantages from those investments,” Shook cautioned.

Since companies may be underestimating the need to reskill, they should spend more time to assess their talent landscape and provide a range of learning and training opportunities, panelists advised. This is obviously a challenge: About one-half of corporate respondents in the Workday and Bloomberg Next survey said they anticipate budget constraints will limit their ability to address the impact of new technologies on the workforce.

This is going to require a new mindset, said Shook. “You have to move from workforce planning to work planning,” she said. “We need to prepare people for lifelong learning. The days of practicing in one profession your whole life—that script is gone.”

Seek Candidates with a Lifelong Learning Mindset

Another panel focused on hiring candidates of the future. Panelists emphasized the importance of choosing candidates with a lifelong learning mindset. “At Workday, we say NSL is important—never stop learning,” said Joe Korngiebel, chief technology officer at Workday. “If we find someone who fits our culture and who never stops learning, that’s the right candidate for us.”

Due to the fast pace of innovation, Korngiebel’s team has found that some of the technologies students learn in universities are outdated by the time they apply for a job. One way Workday has addressed this problem is to partner with universities so that Workday technologists can serve as guest lecturers, with a focus on teaching students how to learn—not what to learn.

Rotational programs are an important part of the learning landscape, too. “Half of our open positions are sourced internally due to internal rotation,” said Crystal Hardie Langston, chief learning officer and head of the specialty hiring program experience at Vanguard. “We have people who are investment professionals who are now working in IT.”

Similarly, Workday’s Korngiebel said he’s piloting a program with Diana McKenzie, chief information officer at Workday, to rotate people between the engineering and IT teams. “They’ve been learning a lot from each other, while also gaining empathy about each other’s roles,” he said.

Employees Value Learning Opportunities

The survey revealed that only 35 percent of corporations feel new recruits and students are well prepared with both hard and soft skills to perform at a high level in a professional environment.

Clearly, there is more room to partner with educators to address these shortcomings. Only 30 percent of corporations and 39 percent of educators say they are collaborating to help reskill and retrain employees.

One of the most interesting examples of such collaboration is Discover Financial Services’ recently announced Discover College Commitment program. The benefit, available to all employees, covers all tuition and required supplies to complete online degrees at one of three schools—the University of Florida (via UF Online), Wilmington University, and Brandman University.

“We owe it to our employees to prepare them for what the world is going to bring them for the next 5, 10, 15 years,” said Jon Kaplan, vice president of training and development at Discover Financial Services, who discussed the program during a reskilling case study panel hosted by Jaime Fall, director of The Aspen Institute’s UpSkill America.

In addition to providing employees with a great benefit, the program also gives Discover an advantage in a market where it competes with extremely large banks.

“Our competitors are massive. We will not out-muscle them, so we have to out-agile them,” said Kaplan. “How do we do that? With smarter employees.”

Discover was able to negotiate a discount on tuition rates, and many employees also qualify for education grants. The company also utilized Guild Education, which helped select the right colleges and manages the contracts, provides academic counseling, and handles tuition reimbursement processing.

“Our projections of how popular this program would be were wildly underestimated,” Kaplan said. “We thought it might scale to 1,500 applicants in three years. In the first week, 400 people had started filling out applications, and more than 800 started within the first month.”

Even better, Discover’s attrition rate dropped by 50 percent the first month the program was announced, and feedback from recruiters is that it’s helping with hiring, too.

On another panel featuring educators, it’s clear that many colleges are more willing than ever to partner with companies on tuition programs as another source of income, as they deal with drops in government funding.

“There’s estimated to be a 25 percent drop in college education funding by 2026 in the Northeast,” said Katherine Newman, senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts. “Schools will close. And this funding drop will put even more tuition burden on parents.”

Additional panels brought in educators to discuss how they’re preparing students for a changing workplace. Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, discussed the school’s master’s degree in analytics. “It gets students ready to be the translators between data scientists and business people,” she said. “This is something where we see huge demand from the market.”

“Industry is moving way faster than we could’ve dreamed,” Bajeux-Besnainou added. “It’s important for students to be lifelong learners, because the jobs some of our students will have in 10 years don’t exist today.”

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