Peter is the CIPD’s Chief Executive. He writes and speaks widely on the development of HR, the future of work, and the key issues of leadership, culture and organisation, people and skills. Peter is a Fellow of the CIPD, a Fellow of AHRI (the Australian HR Institute) and the Academy of Social Sciences. He’s also a Companion of the Institute of Leadership and Management, the Chartered Management Institute, and the British Academy of Management. He is a visiting Professor at the University of Lancaster and sits on the Advisory Board for the University of Bath Management School. He holds honorary doctorates from Bath University and Kingston University.
Here are the excerpts of the interview with Peter.
What's the current skills scenario like and how do you view the skills shifts that are happening across the workplace globally?
It is clear that with the changes happening in the nature of work, organizations and workforces, driven by the rapid developments in technology, AI and robotics is creating increasing challenges in accessing and developing the new skills needed. Most organizations now report increasing difficulty in finding technology, engineering, data science and analytics skills, but there are also many other more traditional skills that often show up as shortages. Construction and trade skills, health and social care workers, and even truck drivers are all examples of sectors where increasing demand is not being met by skills supply.
In most economies around the world, governments have been investing more in education and in particular encouraging more young people to take on higher education and degrees. Whilst this is raising the educational qualifications and standards across the next generation of workforces, there appear to be growing mismatches with actual job needs and demands. Many jobs may now be classified as requiring a degree when historically they did not, but also the nature of job skills themselves are not always well aligned to the supply of skills across the different areas of education.
Many of these challenges require a much broader understanding of current and future supply and demand of skills. Industrial strategies that recognize longer term sector growth and provide insight on areas of critical skill demands that can then be matched back in to the education sector and shifts made in education as well as careers advice and guidance. Education also needs to broaden to encourage vocational educational routes, apprenticeships and internships and the many different forms of education and training, and businesses need to understand the value of people who come from through these different routes.
The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re-skilling and upskilling. So, how can organizations upskill their workforce at this scale?
There is little doubt that organizations everywhere will have to become better at upskilling and re-skilling their workforces as jobs change faster. Some say that the average half-life of skills may be as little as 5 years, and particularly for more technology related or technical skills, this will almost certainly be true. We have to reinvent learning, moving from traditional didactic teaching approaches to fully embrace digital learning. Specific jobs skills or knowledge can increasingly be integrated or ‘embedded’ in to the job itself – augmented reality techniques for example that show maintenance engineers how to fix equipment as they carry out the job. Whilst these new ways of learning are effective, for all learning we need to better design our learning from a deeper understanding of how people learn, the different modes or channels through which they learn, and to be able to asses learning outcomes. Disciplines like neuroscience and behavioral science, analytics, as well as the new roles involved in learning design in a digital environment are all important. In a world that is changing fast, the premium on people and organizations will be our ability to adapt and learn. Learning therefore needs to be seen as a strategic capability for any organisation.
With Millennials set to comprise a significant proportion of the global workforce by 2020, how can organizations chart out a strategy to facilitate skilling and re-skilling for them? Is the strategy going to be different for the rest of the pack?
I’m not sure that learning for Millennials will be different from others, but as the latest generational group to enter the workforce, they will certainly see more need and opportunity to upskill and re-skill, to take on different jobs and roles and even careers during their working lives – what many have termed as the shift from jobs for life to a life of jobs. As a generation, they have been more exposed to technology from a young age and expect to access knowledge and learning in many different ways, not least online and digitally. But the principles of good learning and the many different ways in which it can be provided apply to all, even where we may have to train some older workers more in how to make best use of digital knowledge and learning.
The principles of good learning and the many different ways in which it can be provided apply to all, even where we may have to train some older workers more in how to make best use of digital knowledge and learning
CEOs report that the availability of key skills is one of the biggest business threats to their organization's growth. What would be implications of skills gaps in terms of business?
From many surveys, most businesses everywhere are experiencing growing challenges in accessing and retaining all the skills they need. Skill gaps can hold organizations back, so we are seeing a growing recognition in business leaders that better understanding of skills and capabilities and changes in the future is an essential part of any business strategy. There are many ways in which organizations can access skills, from traditional full-time employment models to the many different forms of flexible working, contracting and contingent workforces, and freelancers or ‘gig’ workers. We need to consider all these options, as well as opening up our recruitment to diverse groups of all kinds and working to create truly inclusive workplaces where everyone whatever their background can thrive. Strategic workforce planning is therefore a vital capability for HR to develop and to be able to work on with the business.
CIPD have been championing better work and working lives with professional standards for HR and people development. How is CIPD gearing up to drive a positive change in the world of work especially in terms of skilling?
The CIPD is working on all these aspects of our changing world of work, the changing workforces we employ, and the changing workplaces and organizations that are emerging. We are researching and promoting understanding of digital and blended learning, helping to understand the new skills and roles within L&D and how we can develop and certify those capabilities. We are working on agendas to define the common or core skills we all need so that we have a more common taxonomy to help people and organizations – skills like teamwork and collaboration, communication, empathy, critical thinking, learning and resilience. We are also engaging widely with education and government to help influence the wider policy thinking on education for the future and how we can create better links between business and education.
Skill gaps can hold organizations back, so we are seeing a growing recognition in business leaders that better understanding of skills and capabilities and changes in the future is an essential part of any business strategy
Can you throw some light on the skilling scenario in APAC countries and how are they gearing up to face the greater skilling conundrum?
Across the APAC region, we can see education is receiving a lot of attention and investment. Over recent history, as economies have developed, education alongside healthcare become the key indicators of progress. More young people receive good education and stay in education longer, and that is a vital part of fueling future economic growth and raising living standards and support. South Korea and Singapore are great examples in how their economies have been amongst the fastest growing over the last 50 years, but built from huge investments in education and upskilling its workforce. But education is only part of the story, and it is equally important that organizations invest in the upskilling of their workforces. In this regard, there is a very wide range of what organizations invest and the extent of their capabilities in L&D across the APAC region. Global multi-nationals, benefitting from size and scale tend to lead everywhere, but local and regional businesses can fall behind because they are not sufficiently focused on learning and development. Not only is this capability important in addressing skills gaps in the workplace, but also in attracting and retaining skilled staff who expect to be invested in and developed. There is still a lot of workforce training that is delivered in a very traditional face-to-face form, and organizations need to accelerate in how they embrace digital and online learning. We are seeing a lot of interest in the region on building these capabilities, but generally businesses in the region are behind where their competitors are in the West.
What is your advice for CHROs and people managers who face challenges to skill and re-skill their employees including cost and other bottlenecks?
The most important thing for CHROs to develop are their strategic workforce plans and strategies. We need to be able to look ahead, to anticipate skills and capability needs which may be rapidly changing as organizations and the nature of jobs change. We then have to be able to think broadly in how and where we recruit skills from, whether we should be targeting different and diverse talent sources differently, whether we need to locate in different towns or cities to access local talent pools, whether we have to source contractor and freelance talent, or whether we should partner or outsource with others who have the skills we need as a core part of their business. Alongside this, we have to be realistic about our own employee value propositions, how attractive we are to the talent we need, what else we need to do to retain and engage people, and how we develop our organizational capabilities in training and learning. It is also important we make the business case for workforce development and learning, with better data and insight on the value it drives, the measurable outcomes and business benefits. Without this, investment in training will continue to be subject to the cost pressures that come and go in every business, and will be seen as a discretionary cost instead of a strategic investment.