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Reskilling the workforce for a lifetime of learning

WORK LIFE
By World Economic Forum | August 21st 2021
People who continue to improve their skills over their working lives also widen their opportunities. [Courtesy: iStockphoto]

It is widely accepted that reskilling the current workforce is a critical imperative.

As technology develops and industry shifts towards sustainability, millions of jobs are likely to be displaced; businesses and economies will need skilled labour to fulfil the millions of new roles that will be created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

There is little doubt about the scale, urgency and global nature of the challenge. But it also presents us with an opportunity to create long-term, sustainable, equitable and inclusive growth.

This shift needs to be propelled by lifelong learning. It must be underpinned by new measures of human endeavour that go beyond GDP to capture productivity, creativity and mental health. This may be ambitious, but it is no more outlandish an idea than driverless cars or commercial space travel.

We can learn something important from the companies creating these products and services: they have a bold vision and prioritise testing and learning, design thinking and continuous improvement.

Such pioneers and other high-performing companies realise that digital transformation is not a project that will ever be complete. Rather, it is a new mindset of continuous improvement and re-invention of products and services. This in turn requires a workforce that is open to learning and developing.

For many, the prospect of making a mental shift towards lifelong learning will feel daunting. The term ‘reskilling’ can carry negative connotations, as President Joe Biden found out when he suggested that coal miners could transition to jobs of the future by learning to code.

It needs to be framed as an opportunity: people who continue to improve their skills over their working lives also widen their opportunities. They can move closer to doing work they love, and this could have a profound impact on global wellbeing and productivity.

A change on this scale will require a personalised approach. In the 20th century, services from broadcast TV to formal education tended to treat audiences or learners as large amorphous segments. In the 21st century, we need personalised services that give people access to the right education and training to suit their individual needs and context.

Employers should be the catalysts and accelerators of this shift. Many leading companies are already investing billions of dollars in training for their workforces. Many are deploying their resources to make a broader impact beyond their immediate and future workforces.

This opens up a major opportunity for education and learning providers. Accenture estimates that the learning and education market – broadly comprising four segments of content development, teaching and learning experiences, testing and certification, and outcome-related services – is a $7 trillion (Sh763 trillion) market that will grow to $8.9 trillion (Sh970 trillion) by 2025.

Digital formats are expected to grow from between nine to 12 per cent annually. This is unsurprising as just three per cent of the education and learning expenditure is digital, in contrast with well over 30 per cent in sectors such as entertainment and content.

The Covid-19 pandemic showed how incredibly adaptable our educators and learners can be. Supported by technology, millions of heroic teachers and service providers rose to the challenge from Google Classrooms and Zoom to Coursera courses and Byju’s learning programmes.

We need to extrapolate and learn from these successes – for all learners at all stages of life.

1. Target a seamless user experience: It starts with keeping the learner at the centre and creating a seamless experience - whether it is online, offline or, as is more likely to be, blended. The experience covers all touchpoints of interaction with the learner - from marketing, brand and channels through to the actual product, payments and customer service - whether provided independently by one organisation or in partnership with others.

2. Strengthen foundational capabilities: To consistently deliver this integrated experience in turn requires a set of foundational capabilities that include technology, data, talent and insights on value being created - for the learner, the business and all key stakeholders.

3. Deliver and improve experience, capabilities and value: Working in sync, these capabilities help make the overall learning experience interactive, fun, immersive and personalised. This drives not just the adoption and usage of learner-centric products and services, but also expand their reach and efficacy, at viable economics. 

The economic and social opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution rely upon closer integration and partnership between employers and education providers, supported by the government and civil society. Work should no longer be the destination once education is “finished” – rather, it should be a continuation of a process of lifelong learning.

In turn, the education system should be designed to introduce students to a lifetime of learning. By providing their learning products and services to schools across the world, employers can increase the return on the investment it will take to reskill the workforce.

This could be funded in a similar way to today’s apprentice programmes that provide qualifications and earning simultaneously, but with vastly more reach and inclusivity.

As a result, formal educators will continue to expand their reach well beyond classrooms, lecture halls and geographic borders; and employers will increasingly attract and nurture the very best talent from a global pool, including from marginalised communities.

By working collaboratively in instilling a desire for lifelong learning early in life, we will make a significant contribution towards a more sustainable, inclusive, equitable growth and improved well-being on a global scale.

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