Future Skilling: Future Proofing the Workforce

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How to accelerate the acquisition of new skills to match the pace of change. The study, co-created by the Adecco Group and The Boston Consulting Group, explores what the future of skills acquisition looks like for today’s workers and companies.
February 13, 2019


Future Proofing the Workforce

With rapid changes—both technological and in the organization of work—this new study finds that workers are extremely concerned about the profound impact of technological changes in their jobs (and whether they will even have a job in the future), with two-thirds of respondents seeing their job changing significantly at least every five years because of technological advances. Based on responses from approximately 4,700 workers and in-depth interviews with companies and institutions, this study provides a window into the preparations being made in the workplace to meet the future world of work. It offers new insights into the view of workers on how they should acquire new skills to meet changes brought about by the advent of new technologies. It also examines the role of companies and public institutions in building new workforce skills.

The survey shows that while workers are generally optimistic about their ability to acquire new skills, the results reveal a lack of systematic evaluation of the potential gaps between workers’ current skills and those they will need in future. It also reveals a disconnect between employees’ willingness to acquire new skills (some 62% of employees consider themselves as primarily responsible for acquiring these) and the degree to which they will take the initiative (59% expect their employer to develop the training opportunities). Workers see the main obstacles to acquiring new skills as the lack of time and the cost of training.

Meanwhile, interviews with executives reveal that most companies grasp the importance of giving their workers opportunities to acquire new skills. Yet they are still not investing sufficiently and developing long term horizons when it comes to skills’ development. The challenge is one of incentives: companies may be paying to reskill employees who, as a result of changes later on, may not continue working for them. Moreover, it is challenging for companies to take decisions in the face of an uncertain future. Yet while it may be hard to predict what skills will be needed in the years ahead, companies cannot afford to make decisions only when the trends are clear. Those that fail to plan and invest now may find this negatively affects their business down the road.

What is needed is a shift in mindset. Companies and workers need to see the acquisition of skills as a means of future-proofing—whether that is their business or their employment prospects. They need to adopt a more flexible approach, making plans to reskill but setting a path that can be adapted to changing circumstances. Public institutions can help by for example establishing individual learning accounts, enabling workers to access training as and when they need it, continuously throughout their careers. In the future world of work, skills acquisition will no longer be a process with an ending. Companies will need to reassess constantly the capabilities of their workforce while workers will need to regularly upgrade their skills to meet advances in technology, new ways of working and changes in the demands of the labour market.