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Your workforce is more willing to upskill than you think

Wilhelm Crous - Friday, August 16, 2019

Prof Lynda Gratton recently commented that “In the new world of work, we may not know for sure which jobs will be destroyed and what will be created, but one thing is clear: Everyone, whatever their age, will at some point have to spend time either re-skilling (learning new skills for a new position) or upskilling (learning current tasks more deeply)” (Gratton, 2019). And yet, there’s still a considerable gap between managers and their employees about their willingness to adapt to the changing world of work… 

Harvard Business School and BCG recently surveyed thousands of business leaders and workers around the world (Brazil, China, India, Japan, Germany, France, UK and US) and identified several perception gaps regarding the future of work (Fuller, Raman, Wallenstein, & de Chalendar, 2019). The study found three notable differences in the way the two groups think about the future of work:

1. Workers seem to recognise more clearly than leaders do that their organisations are contending with multiple forces of disruption, each of which will affect how companies work differently. For instance, workers focused on the growing importance of the gig economy and they ranked “freelancing and labour sharing platforms” as the third most significant out of the 17 forces shaping the future of work. Business leaders however ranked that force as the least significant!

2. Workers seem to be more adaptable and optimistic about the future than their leaders recognise. When asked why they had a positive outlook, workers most commonly cited two responses: The prospect of better wages and the prospect of more interesting and meaningful jobs. “In every country workers described themselves as more willing to prepare for the workplace of the future than managers believed them to be. Yet when asked what’s holding workers back, managers chose answers that blamed employees, rather than themselves. Their most common response was that workers feared significant change. The idea that workers might lack the support they needed from employers was only their fifth-most-popular response” (Palmer, 2019).

3. Workers are seeking more support and guidance to prepare themselves for the future employment than management is providing. This has been confirmed in another study done by Degreed and Harvard in which they found that only 40% of workers agreed that their managers help them to understand what skills they need to acquire for their careers. About 22% of workers said their managers don’t encourage or enable learning at all, and just 17% said their managers help create a plan or set goals for developing skills.

What can employers do to help?

Employers and L&D departments can work towards the following:
  • Don’t just set up training programmes – create a learning culture. Involve employers in the process of change, rather than merely informing them that change is coming.

  • Look beyond the “spot market” for talent. Instead of recruiting specialised and digital skills in the market – make a tremendous commitment to reskill and develop existing employees. A good example is AT&T’s workforce 2020 transformation programme. After a conducting  skills audit of its quarter of a million employees against the skills required in the future, it concluded that 100,000 employees’ jobs will disappear. AT&T then embarked on an ambitious $1-billion initiative to develop an internal pipeline. Over a very short period the employees have taken nearly 3-million online courses designed to help them acquire skills for new jobs. Such a commitment sounds very costly, but not when compared to the costs related to retrenchment, recruitment and placement costs! Also, think about what such a commitment will do for employee engagement.

  • Collaborate to deepen the talent pool. Fuller and his colleagues are of the opinion companies will have to fundamentally change their outlook and work together to ensure that the talent pool is consistently refreshed and updated. That will mean teaming up with other companies in the same industry or region to identify relevant skills, invest in developing curricula, and provide on-the-job training. It will also require closer cooperation with tertiary institutions (Fuller, Raman, Wallenstein, & de Chalendar, 2019).
Don’t miss Nicola Doherty Head of Academic, Government and Venture Markets EMEA at LinkedIn, who’ll be speaking at our upcoming Learning & Development Conference on: The rise and responsibility of talent development in the new labour market. LinkedIn recently surveyed approximately 4,000 professionals globally on LinkedIn with the goal of providing a holistic view of modern workplace learning. In this talk, she’ll cover some of the LinkedIn relevant survey results and provide practical advice for L&D professionals.

In addition, Abey Kgotle, Executive Director of HR at Mercedes Benz will be addressing the skills gap: Reskilling, upskilling and multi-skilling – how do L&D respond and accelerate in the age of automation; and Sameera Mohamed, Head of Talent and Learning at Microsoft SA will unpack how Microsoft overhauled its approach to a growth mindset culture.

With 200+ delegates, 40+ speakers, interactive workshops and 3 days of unrivalled knowledge-sharing, the Learning & Development Conference is undoubtedly THE most comprehensive learning conference in Africa for senior L&D professionals.  To view the complete line-up of speaker – click here or alternatively, contact Debbie Atwell at or +27 11 706 6009 | +27 83 651 1664.


Fuller, J. B., Raman, M., Wallenstein, J. K., & de Chalendar, A. (2019, May-June). Your Workforce Is More Adaptable Than You Think. Harvard Business Review, pp. 118-126.
Gratton, L. (2019, July 8). New Frontiers in Re-Skilling and Upskilling.
Palmer, K. (2019, August 1). The New Role for Managers in Workplace Learning.





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