Talking to a group of young apprentices and graduates in our Mercer UK Academy, I had a dawning realisation: I’ve become an adult who says things like “when I started my first job…” and then tells a story about the low-tech we had when I started my career in 2004. It feels like a long time ago, but even looking back 5 years, the pace of change is incredible.
It’s become a cliché that technology is changing the world of work, but it’s not as if the world has become techier. Instead, it’s the softer skills that I see evolving the most, and it’s the area where I see the most potential for continued change. Companies and fiduciaries no longer encounter “single-issue” problems, but are facing broad issues. For example, how can employers deal with the challenges (and opportunities) created by an aging workforce. This demands problem-solving skills and the ability to connect the dots across health, financial considerations and career development issues. While technology can provide some of the answers, individuals will need creativity, adaptability and team work skills to really develop a coherent strategy to address the aging workforce.
Being a school geek, I love the challenge of having to update my skill set. I was the girl who loved new textbooks, pens and folders to start on a new topic. We all now face the challenge of identifying our gaps and making a plan to close them, but that doesn’t mean launching into a long study programme or going away for a week on a training course. It can be as simple as seeking a mentor, reading a book or watching some on-line tutorials.
This variety of options allows us to personalize training to each student. For instance, if you sit me in a room with 30 other people for a full day and tell me I’m being “given training”, my brain just shuts down. But if you offer me bite-sized lessons at a time that suits me, I’m much more likely to engage and learn.
I’m also fortunate enough to work at a firm where life-long learning opportunities are offered as standard, and that goes beyond hard skills for my role. In the last year, I’ve used online learning to try app design and improve my leadership skills, but I’ve also signed up for reverse mentoring. By working with a junior colleague who has young children, I get to better understand the experiences of working parents (I am proudly child-free!).
To me, this points to the huge role employers can play in delivering a range of development and training opportunities, including on-demand online courses, mentoring programmes, secondment opportunities and role rotations for on-the-job training.
A focus on skills training isn’t just the “nice thing for employers to do.” It makes good business sense. After all, the skills inside an organisation today are not necessarily the ones they will need in the future. We can all think back to retailers we grew up with that no longer exist, or former technology giants that now operate as minnows relative to the big tech companies. We may not know which organisations will still be around in 10 years, but it is clear that if employers want their business to be adaptable, they will need to help their people to develop that adaptability with a broad range of competencies.
Research has consistently shown the high value employees place on career development opportunities. The traditional financial compensation package may be what catches the eye and attracts top talent, but you will only keep great people by allowing them to learn, grow and develop the skills needed in the modern economy.
Finally, for those thinking, “but I have all the qualifications that I’ll need for life,” consider what a senior industry colleague once told me. “It is comforting to think that the knowledge which enabled us to qualify … does suffice to overcome the challenges we face. Unfortunately, that thought can lead some of us to complacency, and, subsequently, to stop investing in ourselves. I do not have a crystal ball, but I am certain that unless we keep developing ourselves professionally, we will suffer the ignominy of relegation.”
So tell me, what are you going to learn this year?