• 30 Jul 2020
  • SBS-ED
  • 6Min

How to upskill your team to meet the needs of a tech-led transition

How to upskill your team to meet the needs of a tech-led transition


How do employers upskill employees to meet the talent requirements of 4IR?

  • Partner with the public sector
  • Instil hard technological skills aligned with AI and ML
  • Invest in building human skills like active learning and creativity through sustained learning opportunities
  • Define future business strategies and align talent management accordingly
  • Have strong succession planning in place to groom emerging leaders for key roles

“Having a youthful continent is a huge opportunity, but a huge threat as well, if we do not get that population to start really working,” cautioned Albert Zeufack, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa, at the recent World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF Africa). Africa’s lack of critical technological and leadership skills emerged as a key theme, with the Africa Skills Initiative – focused on innovative solves to improve youth prospects – prompting debate around how to better continental skills development.

As reported by City Press, education and labour policy reforms were also touched on, all in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). Africa is generally seen to have the largest youth population in the world, but there’s a disconnect from a skills perspective. There’s a shortage of the skills CEOs need to up their organisations’ efficiency, meet growth targets and revise their long-term strategies. Addressing this requires sustained partnerships between the private and public sectors. It also puts the onus on corporates to invest in talent management to reskill and upskill their teams.

What does 4IR mean for job creation?

In McKinsey’s The future of work in South Africa report there are encouraging insights that suggests that if we can harness the power of digitisation to improve efficiencies and productivity, we could create millions of high-quality jobs in the country. The impact of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and advanced robotics will transform how we work, and McKinsey believes accelerated adoption could triple SA’s productivity growth and result in over a million new jobs by 2030. It predicts 1.6 million new jobs could be created for women. And the rise of tech-enabled jobs could result in demand for another 1.7 million graduates.

The opportunity is there, but it’s dependent on the current and emerging workforce being adequately prepared for a digital world that includes artificial intelligence and machine learning. Taking advantage of our demographic dividend depends on young people being appropriately educated – as mentioned by our own Professor Roux in a previous article on the Africa of 2050. It also depends on people having continuous opportunities to learn, grow and refresh their skills once working.

WEF’s Future of Jobs report (2018), found an astonishing 54% of employees will need significant reskilling by 2022 – 10% of these individuals will need skills training of more than a year. Innovation, analytical thinking and active learning were cited as critical skills, with “proficiency in new technologies” being one part of “a bigger skills equation that also focuses on ‘human skills’” – like initiative, persuasion, creativity, and complex problem solving. Resilience, flexibility, social influence and emotional intelligence were also stated.

Dion Shango, PwC Africa’s Chief Executive, suggested to City Press that CEOs have an unprecedented opportunity to make a real difference to communities through upskilling their teams. Governments must also enable this through incentives and enabling environments. He used Africa’s arable land as an example; 60% of the world’s unused arable land is here, yet we import most of our food – within this lies immense opportunity. But we need the will to act on this.

That’s all very well, but how does it translate in practice for employers? What do HR and leadership teams need to do to foster mass reskilling initiatives that can’t be once-off, but rather, sustained in the long-term? 

What next?

In its report, McKinsey predicted that in total, SA could create 4.5 million new jobs (through tech, strategic policies and improved productivity), but, against this, 3.3 million jobs could be displaced by technologies by 2030. Automation will increase demand for higher skills jobs, which will catalyse more demand for graduates – but less for those without matric. We must improve SA’s graduate conversion rate. And corporates need to be involved in this to ensure they have steady succession pipelines of talented young people with the skills they need.

How can you upskill your employees?

McKinsey outlined a three-part strategy for businesses to start the skills transformation process:

1. Define future strategy: Most organisations will need to redefine their overarching strategies with tech-transformation as a business imperative. Innovation needs to be top of mind; this must go beyond improving organisational efficiencies.

2. Define future skills: Defined future strategies will help firms strategically plan their workforces to be more “data-backed and business-led.”  Businesses need to consider what skills they’ll need in the future and actively start upskilling or recruiting for these – it’s about proactive succession planning to fill pivotal roles down-the-line. Reskilling and upskilling a team at scale must be a focus; companies need to offer ongoing learning opportunities, with measurable return-on-investment. This can’t just be for digital skills – it needs to be for soft skills as well.

3. Define the future world of work: Employees need to be involved every step of the way. It’s vital a team is aware of impending changes, understands expectations and has insights into how a business plans to evolve its ways of working. Today, employees are seeking flexibility, meaning and growth. HR and leadership teams need to respond to this through greater engagement with teams, analytics to glean insights into what drives people, and more agility to give people room to innovate.

The world of work is changing, fast. Its likely people will train in increasingly specialised skills on an ongoing basis.

How to develop future leaders:

The WEF’s Future of Jobs report stated that leadership, emotional intelligence and service orientation will see “an outsized increase in demand” compared to their current prominence. For South Africa, it identified ‘Managing Directors and Chief Executives’ and ‘General and Operations Managers’ as emerging job roles.

The lesson for HR and leadership teams? Now is the time to start mentoring and grooming talented young future leaders for pivotal leadership roles. Again, this comes down to strong succession planning, and continuous growth and learning opportunities so leadership skills are learnt.

USB-ED specialises in this with different levels of Management Development Programmes that focus on self-awareness and the importance of intra- and inter-personal relationships. Find out more via USB-ED.co.za.

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