ATD Blog

Skills (and Lifelong Learning) Are Vital to Recovery in 2021

Our work and personal lives experienced tremendous changes during the past year. But with change comes the opportunity to evolve—to start anew, reset the status quo, and become equipped to deal with a new world.

A New World Equals New Skills
The world as we knew it pre-2020 is gone. Too much has happened for our society, businesses, and governments to return to the way they were before. Instead, they need to adapt, which requires new skills. Take, for example, the drastic acceleration of digital transformation. It’s been accelerated by five years due to the pandemic and global lockdown. Fifty-eight percent of workforces report skill transformations have occurred since the onset of the pandemic.

Businesses and individuals are ill-equipped to deal with further disruption in 2021. Opportunities will pass by due to a lack of people with the right skills. We’ll have to grapple with new roles, new ways of working, new industries—not to mention the increasing prevalence of automation, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies. In the long-term, businesses also must consider how they will use technology as a competitive advantage and the skills they must develop now to achieve this. Indeed, as many as 375 million workers (14 percent of the global workforce) will need new skills by 2030 due to emerging technology. This need hasn’t disappeared because of the pandemic but actually accelerated.

Bad Timing
This critical need to upskill couldn’t have come at a worse time for many businesses as budgets are being slashed in order for them to survive. Half of global workers say that their organizations have cut learning investment in the wake of the pandemic. And that’s a short-sighted approach that will affect productivity, retention, and recovery.

How can this be done when resources are tight? The urgency to upskill has not abated; indeed, it’s become more acute. This means HR and learning leaders must become savvier in equipping their people with the right skills and opportunities, in more cost-effective ways.

Understanding Skills
The skills needed by a business at any one time evolve continuously. They can be influenced by role, industry, country, and each business’s unique needs.
The top 10 skills needed in 2021 (globally and across all industries) are ranked as:

Advanced IT and programming
Leadership and management
Communication and negotiation
Entrepreneurship and initiative-taking
Project management
Advanced data analysis and mathematics
Critical thinking and decision making
Adaptability and continuous learning
Technology design and engineering

Break this down by country, for example, and you’ll find that Germany emphasizes social skills like leadership and negotiation, and Australia ranks leadership, entrepreneurship, communication, and continuous learning within its top five.

Similar trends are found by sector. Healthcare, in particular, stands out for managing people, which is unsurprising given the teamwork involved in tackling COVID-19. Cognitive skills such as creativity and critical thinking also underpin the life-and-death decisions healthcare professionals make every day.

Seeing the Details
Leaders must get into the granular detail of what skills a team needs for different projects to be able to fulfil a business strategy and for futureproofing. This depth of insight will prove invaluable because it pinpoints where to focus upskilling efforts and how to prioritize budgets. This kind of data is likely already at your fingertips in the form of skills data in learning platforms, HR systems, and recruitment systems.

Using Skills Data
There is a difference, however, between being available and being accessible. Many HR and learning platforms store data in disparate systems and formats. Some groundwork will have to be done to ready data for analysis.

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