the technology genie is out of the bottle, are you prepared for upskilling?

As digital transformation reshapes industries, workers believe upskilling is the way to stay relevant

A future in which a robot kicks you out of a job won’t likely to happen soon...if you are among the majority of workers who say they are investing in upskilling for their future. According to the Q4 Randstad Workmonitor survey, which gauges the outlook of more than 13,600 working adults in 34 countries, technology is seen as a force that creates opportunity, but most also acknowledge they need a different set of skills to avoid becoming irrelevant in the increasingly digital world.

Even in the most analog industries, workers are coming to the realization that having sufficient digital skills is a key to staying employable in a rapidly evolving economy. After all, so many sectors ranging from retail to professional services, life sciences and even farming have transformed as a result. Workers across all industries have been forced to adapt or truly risk losing their job. And they seem to know that because 80% surveyed say they want to acquire more skills.

Whether they need more training is not in dispute. Who will be leading this effort, however, remains up for debate as no majority of those questioned indicated how the upskilling is done. Among those who say employers are stepping up, only 11% indicated companies are providing much of it; 32% say just a little. A near majority (43%) are engaged in some light development on their own, but only 16% say they are doing so actively.

This will surely become a more critical question for the world of work. With many employers struggling to find talent, should they be investing more in their current workforce or look to hire their way out of the dilemma? If current market estimates are any indicators, companies may want to step up their learning and development budgets. According to Training Industry magazine, global spending on training in the past two years has slowed significantly since reaching double-digit in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, growth was only 1% and .8% respectively, despite the rise in talent scarcity.

So should businesses make more investments in their existing workforce or look externally to meet its resource requirements? Part of the challenge with developing skills is determining what exactly will be needed to support future business needs. Various predictions have indicated that many jobs in demand down the road don’t exist today.

For instance, a few years ago skills such as cryptocurrency mining or commercial drone pilots were hardly jobs you’d find posted on Monster or other boards. But with the proliferation of Bitcoin and other currencies, a growing number of specialists have made this a real occupation. Similarly, the advancement of drone technology – once the domain or the military – has now enabled businesses to transform operations. In agriculture, emergency management, infrastructure inspection and many other applications, the use of drones appears, well, ready to take off.

These and other “futuristic” jobs have been rolling out with the advancement of technology in blossoming industries, but even in mature sectors, the need for new skills is rising. For instance, in healthcare, telemedicine utilization is increasing as many understaffed care facilities turn to this tech-enabled practice. In manufacturing, repetitive tasks will be taken over by machines, but the people who used to do them can protect their relevance by learning technical and critical skills, according to Deloitte. Construction is also facing a new digital frontier and demands for new skills, according to CITB, a U.K. advisory body.

These types of evolution are indeed having an impact on workers, too. With 47% of those surveyed by Randstad feeling pressured to enhance their digital skills, many understand the burden of learning and development can’t fall on employers alone. However, this sentiment isn’t universal as workers in different countries disagree on their upskilling responsibilities in the digital age. Workers in India, for example, overwhelmingly (85%) are undertaking some of this training themselves, but just one-third (36%) are doing so in Japan. This disparity may be related to the fact that Japanese unemployment is nearly nonexistent while India’s booming population is concerned about their employability.

So how should employers and employees better prepare for the changes ahead? Technology can indeed bring opportunities to those ready to embrace and leverage the future, but this only happens with adequate investment in critical skills. Companies can begin by identifying growth segments and accurately forecasting the resource needed to service those markets. Having a clear vision of how their organization will transform is something that human capital leaders need to adequately conduct workforce planning and develop an effective training strategy.

For workers, the key concept is continuous learning. Because industries are transforming so rapidly, skill sets are becoming irrelevant more quickly. The threat of technology and automation is real – for those unwilling to move forward. However, for those who adapt, not only will they survive but the opportunities are there to thrive and leap ahead.

As economists have described, the technology genie is out of the bottle. Whether you view it as a good or bad one will be strictly based on how prepared you are.