The digital transformation is rapidly changing the labor market and causing some anxiety. Like any paradigm shift, there are challenges, but this creates opportunities for employers too.

Companies will need to prepare for the new era by ensuring their staff are trained in the right way to help their business flourish in the digital economy.

But what should HR teams focus on to prepare for their company’s digital transformation? 

A new report from Randstad and the OECD explores the most relevant labor market trends in digital technology and offers four key takeaways, based on a decade of data across 10 countries, and using over 400 million job postings.

1.life-long learning

Learning at all stages of a career is a key pillar to ensuring companies don’t let themselves or their staff fall behind during any digital transformation. Existing staff can be retrained with tangential skills through a targeted development strategy. This is especially important in a dynamic labor market and is a mutually beneficial initiative helping both companies and staff alike.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) says upskilling is especially important during times of digital transformation and difficulties in doing so can harm a company’s economic output, reducing productivity and restricting growth. 

“As the vast majority of 2030’s workforce is already in work, upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce is necessary to meet future challenges,” says IET  Senior Policy Lead for Innovation and Skills Stephanie Baxter.

2. boosting STEM skills

STEM skills will become even more important as digitization accelerates in the global economy. Engineers, mathematicians and data scientists will be the backbone of a tech-driven society,” says Randstad CEO Sander van ’t Noordende.  

It’s no surprise then that STEM skills are in increasingly high demand. In the United States, online job postings for digital roles increased by 24% between 2018 and 2021, with a 116% increase in listings seeking data engineers. Job postings for computer scientists rose by 72%, while job postings for chief investment officers, IT directors, data scientists, and marketing specialists all rose by more than 50%.

The uptick in demand for STEM candidates needs to be addressed by policymakers and businesses, which should seek to provide guidance and incentives for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Providing clear pathways for colleagues looking to transition into these roles can also help fill these gaps.

Baxter says that “governments should prioritize investment in skills initiatives that are supported by businesses — 54% of employers think the government should provide more funding nationally for apprenticeships”.

3. the new social contract

Post-COVID, employers seeking to employ those with hard-to-get skill sets must embrace the “new social contract” with employees. 

“Happiness at work is a priority for many people in the post-pandemic age: they want their values reflected in the mission of their company and leaders,” Sander van ’t Noordende says in the latest Randstad Workmonitor report.

To get skilled staff through the doors, employers must focus on the employee experience. In a competitive talent market, alignment on values can be a key differentiator for job seekers.

4. flexibility  

There is no going back to the old ways. Flexibility from employers is an expectation from staff now, not an aspiration. Employees want flexibility on where they work, when they work and how they work. 

But only some employers are delivering on this demand, with slightly more than a quarter of employees saying that employers are offering more flexibility, according to the Workmonitor report. 

Governments and businesses will need to refine their policies to facilitate this new way of working in order to attract skilled people in high demand.

Baxter agrees, adding that both governments and businesses should be responsive to the preferences of today’s workforce. “Forty percent of employers prefer to upskill or reskill their existing employees in response to skills gaps, rather than recruiting new staff. Governments and businesses should work together to offer comprehensive and flexible opportunities for upskilling and reskilling employees.”

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It’s not humans versus machine. It is human and machine.

Sander van ’t Noordende
CEO and Chair of the Executive Board Randstad N.V.

While some concerns are centered around the loss of jobs because of AI, the reality is there will be a net increase in jobs, leading to a potential shortage of skilled labor for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Leaders must bring colleagues with them on this journey and alleviate their fears. It will be important to demonstrate that these new technologies can complement staff in their roles, rather than replace them.

Companies and policymakers that focus on upskilling existing staff, enticing new skilled workers and boosting the number of STEM graduates will be better prepared for the digital transformation. With the right strategy in place, businesses can embrace a digital age in which humans and AI work symbiotically.

Or as Randstad’s Sander van ’t Noordende puts it: “It’s not humans versus machine. It is human and machine.”

digital skills insights

download the latest  report from randstad and the OECD exploring the most relevant labor market trends in digital technology.

download the report here