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Upskilling for the Unknown Future with Amrit Sandhar

‘The Engagement Coach’, Amrit Sandhar discusses the clear need for upskilling, but is business ready for the uncertain world we have ahead of us?

In a tight labour market, many SMEs and start-ups are competing with organisations that can pay far more for the talents they need, causing them to struggle to attract and retain the skills critical to their growth. Many smaller organisations have no option but to upskill their existing workforce looking for ways to plug their skills gap, but they’re not alone.

According to The World Economic Forum, more than 1 billion people will need upskilling by 2030, and a recent McKinsey report identified that 94 percent of today’s UK workforce lack the skills they would need in 2030 to ‘perform their jobs well’. As the world of work embraces new technologies and AI, it’s easy to see how many of the roles being undertaken today may not exist tomorrow. Employees will need to be reskilled for jobs for a future that is still evolving. The challenge for many start-ups and SMEs is identifying those skills to give them the competitive edge.

One critical advantage many start-ups and SMEs had over larger organisations in the past was their agility and flexibility in both mindset and ability to react, compared to those large corporates who had their rigid three to five-year strategic plans. But as the world has changed, so too has the approach of many corporations, taking on a more emergent strategic direction. But rather than making them agile and flexible however, the absence of these longer-term strategic plans has left many large organisations struggling to understand the skills they need in the future, compared to the skills they have currently. This has them caught up in plugging the skills gap for today, without having robust plans in place for the future talent required across their business. Add to this the challenge many large organisations face in supporting their employees to adapt to change after having ingrained ways of working, and you can see the advantage many start-ups and SMEs have, despite not being able to compete with the current skills shortage.

There is no way of knowing exactly what skills will be required in the near future, so how can start-ups and SMEs be prepared for the unknown? A recent article by KPMG urged SMEs to focus on meta skills, ‘broad capabilities that aid the development of other skills’. When considering upskilling, many organisations immediately think of the technical skills needed for today or tomorrow. But there are critical skills without which we cannot develop other skills. Take for example a growth mindset – we know how important this is for creativity, innovation and resilience. Yet many organisations don’t often think about developing growth mindsets  or, for example, developing critical thinking as a skill.

So, what are those broad capabilities which will aid the development of other skills? Whilst the KPMG article identifies skills such as ‘effective collaboration, making the right judgement calls, and supporting colleagues’, there are other skills which we may not initially think of. A critical part of learning is making mistakes – making errors. It is these errors that help our brains create patterns of how we need to improve – this very process helps with neuroplasticity, which then helps us to be better at adapting to change. Therefore, the more we try, the better we get. Teaching the skill of learning from errors, and embracing them as essential to improve our performance, requires a departure from the way we currently react to them.

Another skill is managing in a remote world. To ensure we maximise the ability to attract the best talent from a wider geographical area, we need to open ourselves up to virtual working – trusting and managing teams in a remote environment. Managing remote relationships requires the ability to manage our own emotions, as well as having the ability to let go of a ‘command and control’ approach to best support remote teams.  Another area of focus should be on embracing change. Human beings are creatures of habit, as habits help conserve essential brain energy when we are in routine and unthreatening environments. However, these very habits also bring about challenges when we are faced with change or uncertainty. Learning the emotional impact of change and uncertainty, and understanding ways of overcoming those ingrained habits, will be essential skills required for the future. Equipping employees with the ability to learn these skills through formats such as micro-learning or short bite-sized learning videos for example, can help with these skills.

Employees want to work with organisations that support their development. Organisations often focus on the technical skills without considering the foundational skills required for developing those additional skills. As the labour market continues to tighten, start-ups and SMEs will need to consider the essential skills that will give them the competitive edge, from which additional skills can be developed, allowing for sustainable growth.

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