A Skills Led Recovery for a new digital world

Leo Whyte is a principal consultant for BT Global, who has spent most of his career in Technology, Media & Telecoms.  Leo shares his thoughts on how the pandemic has accelerated the changes that both organisations and individuals need to embrace to succeed.

For all the uncertainty since the coronavirus struck, one thing is undeniable; success, if not survival, in the challenging economic landscape has been shaped by digitisation.  From remote schooling to digital shop fronts, the temporary digital solutions that have been set up in the wake of the pandemic are likely to be long lasting.  Digital transformation has accelerated in months rather than years, driven by record levels of investment in digital initiatives.  And who can blame businesses and organisation, if customers are now accustomed to digital interactions overnight, thanks to the pandemic.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is well and truly here, and it will be characterised by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the digital and physical worlds.  Employees will have to embrace a future career that is agile and flexible with rapid technological advancement.  The shock to the business world from the pandemic may have provided a glimpse into the future.  Mass redundancies and the displacement of workers highlight the need for individuals to identify what skills they have and how they can be applied in a different way. 

Henley Business School Careers Service recently ran a research project to look at what a Skills Led Recovery would mean, set against the backdrop of a pandemic and a post-Brexit economy in the UK.  From a personal perspective, it made me reflect on the future of work, and I came to the conclusion that the post-COVID world requires a skills led rebound where individuals need a new and different mindset.  This presents immense opportunities but also challenges in terms of individuals needing to embrace a different mindset of continual change and lifelong learning.  I can relate to this having worked across a number of different organisations and roles in my twenty five plus year career.  From engineering, to project management, to consulting and industry development, I have had to unlearn and learn new skills and insights.  So in this new world, what would be my advice to current and future workers striving for meaningful and purpose-driven careers?

The only constant will be change

In a digital world where technology stretches across international borders, companies and organisations now have a much bigger pool to attract skilled workers.  Workers no longer need to live in the vicinity of cities, but they have the ability to work remotely or in a hybrid fashion, upending the norm that has stood since the industrial revolution.  However, individuals, organisations, educators and governments will be competing in a more globalised market despite the recent nationalism, so making lifelong investments in the skills development will be critical.  But these skills won’t be just be technical skills or qualifications.  With increasing levels of automation, the focus should be on the differentiating soft or human skills which cannot be automated.  Examples of these are self-management, communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, all of which are valuable with a globally dispersed workforce.  These are the type of skills you can’t master by attending a training course or taking an e-learning module.  These are skills that are best learnt by doing, or rather through experiential learning, which are shown to promote deeper learning.  One of the recent models that supports this is the 70:20:10 model which is a popular model for learning, which states that 70% of learning happens through experience, 20% is from colleagues and friends and the final 10% from formal training experiences.  I currently work for BT Global and work with colleagues from across the world on consulting projects for our clients.  Each and every client project presents an opportunity for me and my colleagues to learn new knowledge and test out our ideas. 

Squiggly careers

Long gone are the jobs for life and the traditional career ladder that are both reconciled to a pre-historic era, instead it has been replaced by career agility and flexibility, which are here to stay. Careers will be squiggly and require individuals to have the ability to learn and unlearn alongside rapid technological change.  And while you are navigating and enjoying your squiggly career, ensure you invest in finding a coach or mentor as he/she will be vital to helping you navigate an increasingly VUCA world.  A mentor is someone you trust and can build rapport with who can share experiences and advice.

Lifelong Personal Development

Individuals need to look think beyond their current role or job and take more ownership with a lifelong learning mindset.  Lifelong learning itself is a skillset that must be learned and practised, just like the knowledge and core competencies of a profession.  I undertook a Henley MBA mid-career when some would say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.  But I would say that this comment demonstrates an outdated pre-pandemic mindset.  If we all live longer and have longer careers, it seems crazy that we would expect the education in our formative years to be sufficient in a changing world over a 40-year plus career.  The Henley MBA enabled me to unlearn old habits and embrace the latest insights & research in an ever changing, constantly transforming business marketplace.  And it’s not just me that gets this, the UK’s Prime Minister has renewed his commitment to lifelong learning through the Lifetime Skills Guarantee which underlies the importance of continual learning as a way of making people and industries resilient to change. 

So I believe we are at the very start of a skills led recovery as the world rebounds from the pandemic.  Rapid recovery is needed so it’s vital that the skills of displaced workers can quickly be put to use in new areas of development.  This requires a willingness in hiring managers to recognise the transferability of workers.  Individuals, organistions, governments and educators need to be motivated to develop and acquire a growth mindset if they seek to capitalise on the opportunities of a post-brexit and post-pandemic world.  It’s going to be an exciting ride, so make sure you have the right mindset to capitalise from it.  If you love learning, you are going to enjoy it.