9 March 2020

The Future of Work

Our Operations Director, Milla Clynes, provides her insights into the future of work and how to help our people to adapt accordingly.

How do we as L&D help our people adapt to the future of work?

The Future of Work is here – I’m sure we are all hearing about it from a number of sources at this point. If you still haven’t heard about it, I’d recommend reading the excellent research report published in December 2019 by the IITD Enabling the Workforce of the Future: The Role of Learning and Development, authored by Professor David Collings and Dr John McMackin of DCU Business School on behalf of Trainers’ Learning Skillnet and the Irish Institute of Training & Development (IITD), and funded by Skillnet Ireland.

In my work I often consult with clients on their learning strategy and strategic options, and the subject of the future of work comes up a lot. There are so many exciting things happening in the world of work around Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and other technology advancements, and the possibilities are endless. As a learning professional, my mind keeps coming back to the people in the organisations rolling out these initiatives. “It will save you time as you won’t have to do non-value-added tasks anymore”, I hear managers say. “You can use your skills for more meaningful work”. Naturally, there are skills and competencies that us humans have, that robots and AI will never be able to replicate, but how do these changes affect individual people in the organisation right now?

I find that the strategy around technology implementation and its impact on the business processes and efficiencies is usually a good bit (sometimes years) ahead of the L&D strategy around how to support people with the transition. What if you are an individual, whose current role is made up of 70% of what’s now deemed to be ‘non-value-added’, transactional tasks? What will your role now look like? Chances are a lot of roles will need to develop in one or more directions, for instance become more weighted towards process management, client relationship management, stakeholder management, people management, business decision support, or perhaps business analysis. The question is, how long does it take an individual to develop a whole new skillset and experience set in order to transition smoothly into a new role? 6 months? 12 month? 24 months? And how many organisations are taking this into account as they are planning their technological changes?

I have seen some good practice in this space, with information being given to people early with the view to raise awareness of the changes coming their way, and helping them choose a career path and development plan to support that over the coming 1-2 years. However, this does not apply to every organisation. Also, not every manager in even the more prepared organisations is up to date on what’s happening and, in a position to support their team members in these conversations (or perhaps the manager is in the same boat!).

In my opinion, L&D have a crucial role in supporting the Future of Work (which is already here). We need to make sure that the L&D strategy doesn’t just support the organisation’s strategic capability needs this year, but well into the future. We need to at least attempt to envisage the changes that will be coming down the line and identifying skills and competencies that are going to be needed from people in the future. We need to enable people managers to have the right kind of development conversations with their teams and then support the implementation of resulting development plans whether through training, coaching, education, stretch and extracurricular projects or any other blended means of learning. L&D need to cultivate a growth mindset in people and a belief that they can learn and adapt their skills into a new type of role. This is a great opportunity for L&D to claim its rightful place as a strategic business partner and invaluable resource to the organisation and its people.


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