Developing the digital workforce: The new rules of engagement

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Success in the fast-changing digital economy will increasingly hinge on talent strategies

When it comes to talent, if one thing is certain it’s that new skills will be needed as the digital economy continues to evolve at a blistering pace. Businesses are acutely aware that the skills their employees demonstrate today will need to look very different tomorrow. What’s less clear, however, is precisely what those skills will be. What we do know is that the accelerating adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) will require people to learn how to work alongside intelligent machines.

So what should organisations do to make sure that their people and the new talent they need to attract, develop and retain are able to keep pace with the needs of the digital era? The key here is adaptability and agility. Organisations need to find ways to cultivate an ‘always learning’ culture, open to new approaches, with employees who are committed to refreshing and updating their skills on an ongoing basis.

Fortunately, the desire to learn and acquire new skills is very much evident among employees. Despite one in four employers citing resistance from the workforce as a key impediment to the adoption of AI, Accenture research shows that the majority of employees are keen to acquire the skills that will enable them to participate effectively in the future digital workforce. They’re optimistic about the effects that intelligent technologies will have on their work and are willing to invest the time in developing the skills they believe they’ll need to prosper.

This willingness extends across generations. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the most eager are the Millennials and their successors Generation Z. But more than half of all Baby Boomers also say that it’s important for them to develop the skills needed to work with intelligent machines.

These findings highlight the importance of providing multi-generational talent with opportunities to continuously learn and develop. A diverse workforce – in outlook as well as demographic – is now recognised as critical to the ability to innovate and differentiate. And as such meeting the needs of all employees has never been more important.

To achieve this means focusing not just on the skills required but also how they are developed. Rather than relying on traditional training, we are starting to see organisations form new and creative partnerships across the ecosystem to offer agile, flexible and digitally-enabled ways for people to build their skills. For example, at Accenture we’ve worked with a digital coaching and skills-building platform to support the onboarding of new recruits.

These efforts to equip employees with the skills required to thrive in the digital economy also reflect a broader focus on providing an employee experience that promotes engagement and productivity. Accenture’s research reveals that engaging, meaningful work is as important to many employees as the size of their pay cheque, while the ability to work on projects that foster learning is also a priority. To meet these workforce expectations a culture that encourages innovation, experimentation and agility is vital.

Agility goes to the heart of the adaptive workforce that is becoming a prominent feature of today’s digitally-driven organisations. As work itself changes in composition we are seeing the emergence of pools of talent that organisations can tap into on demand, according to the skills required to achieve specific outcomes. While these workers are not traditional employees, organisations still need to make sure that they are offering them an attractive environment. They must bear in mind that skills development opportunities and the ability to work on projects that offer a sense of purpose can matter just as much to these talent pools as they do to traditional workers.

Overall, success in the fast-changing digital economy will increasingly hinge on talent strategies that recognise that the required skills, employee expectations and ways of working are evolving just as fast. Organisations that put in place the right approach and culture to continuously adapt, reskill and support all segments of their workforce are likely to emerge as winners. Those that do not will find the competition tougher than ever.

Payal Vasudeva is managing director of Accenture Strategy

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