The Skills Movement: Building a Sustainable and Equitable Future for Global Workers

Global events in 2020 have accelerated the need for new workforce skills. Leaders from Telstra and Mastercard share six strategies to maximize opportunities in a skills-based economy fueled by automation and AI.

Ghadeer Redler January 06, 2021
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Throughout modern history, we’ve defined people’s careers by job titles. However, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are deconstructing the framework of the global workforce into a more fluid, agile, and skills-based economy. The eruption of the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this change and created an urgent need for business leaders to ensure a more sustainable and equitable future for global workers and economies.

During our global digital event, Conversations for a Changing World, we sat down with two experts on this topic: Alexandra Badenoch, group executive for transformation, communication, and people at Telstra; and Parag Mehta, executive director and senior vice president of the Center for Inclusive Growth at Mastercard. They shared six steps their organizations are taking to adopt a skills-based mindset that’s strategically supported by automation.

Develop Targeted Training Programs

Badenoch emphasized that training is a critical piece of the skills puzzle, especially given that the increasing adoption of automation and AI are eliminating some jobs and creating new ones. “As employers, we're going to need a really clear way to support and drive the continuous learning of staff because most jobs will soon change by 50%—and they will continue to change,” said Badenoch. “People will need training every two or three years through very targeted learning programs lasting six to eight weeks. They’ll need to upskill on technology and softer skills that machines aren’t good at like empathy, innovation, and, particularly, collaboration.”

Partner With Universities, Colleges, and Vocational Schools

Finding people with the right mix of skills to fill new types of roles will also involve changes to the global education system. “We have to think of new ways to train our workforces for the skills they will need,” said Mehta. “To help with that, we're partnering with vocational schools, colleges, and universities—including those with historically Black populations. That way, we can make sure we're co-creating curricula that creates a pipeline of talent to feed into our companies for years to come.”

Digitize Skills Mapping

Understanding the skills of individuals, mapping them to opportunities, and creating needed training at scale requires automation and AI. “Uncovering transferable skills and creating targeted reskilling efforts require us to think on a continuum instead of in silos,” Mehta explained. “First we want to map the skills of individuals and identify which jobs might be the best match for them. Then we provide them with training and skilling opportunities so they can get those jobs. This is where digital technology—which has created some problems—can also be part of the solution.”

Drive the Adoption of a Global Skills Dictionary

Organizations and individuals miss employment opportunities just because they describe skills using different terms. “Many of us wrongly assume that certain titles denote certain skills,” said Badenoch. “To better help people map their careers, we need a common dictionary of skills that everyone shares. That way, you and I can have the exact same understanding of what a skill is, including proficiency levels.”

Build an Agile Workforce

Effective adoption of agile methodologies transcends the IT department. “If you truly want to become an agile organization, you must rewire your whole business, from how you define your strategy to how you plan your work,” Badenoch said. “We now allocate people and money on a quarterly basis and drive cross-functionality across all teams. So agile is not just the domain of our engineers. It's now used by all our teams including marketing and HR. Shifting our culture in this way has really helped us scale. And by taking three to four layers out of our organization, it's flatter, leaner, and faster.”

Create People-Centric Solutions

As new jobs emerge and existing jobs disappear, organizations can help to ensure that global populations share opportunities for wealth, information, skills, and training. “We’re talking about the future of workers, not work,” Mehta said. “Tech can be an enabler of solutions, but at the end of the day, our solutions need to be people-centric. We need to ask ourselves every step of the way, ‘How do we build economies that grow equitably and sustainably, where the benefits of prosperity are accrued by all? Who’s benefiting and who’s being left behind? Who are the decision-makers at the table, and who needs to be added to that table?’”

By thoughtfully shaping how we define a skills-based economy—and the roles of people and automation—we can improve organizations’ agility in meeting emerging requirements and create more equitable opportunities for workers at the same time.

To learn more, watch the full session from Conversations for a Changing World.

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