Your workforce needs reskilling

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January 2018

Now what?

The digital age is promising exciting new ways to work and create value. However, the new skills required to thrive in this new era are in short supply, forcing companies to examine their workforce capabilities. According to PwC’s latest CEO survey, 38% of CEOs globally say they’re extremely concerned about the availability of key skills as a threat to business growth.

It’s a consequence of living in an era when employers estimate that a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will change by 2020.1 To meet the promise of this age, mid-career upskilling and transition must be a critical focus for both companies and individuals now.

Gone are the days when you can roll out one-size-fits-all training programs and expect to see results. To be effective, the experience needs to be as individualized as each worker and as dynamic as the evolving roles. And advances need to come faster, with a significant buy-in from those who will ultimately be responsible for skills: employees.

To meet the promise of this age, mid-career upskilling and transition must be a critical focus for both companies and individuals now.

1 The World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,
January 2016.

What workforce skills do we need?

Understanding what skills your organization needs—both for today and tomorrow—is the first step in this transformation. “Your organization is moved by the skills that you have,” says Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, a firm that monitors skills in the workforce in real time. “The evolution of individuals in a company ultimately translates to the evolution of a company.”

The nature of work will fundamentally change as automation and AI take hold. 

“Your organization is moved by the skills that you have. The evolution of individuals in a company ultimately translates to the evolution of a company.”

Matthew Sigelman CEO of Burning Glass Technologies

New skills will be required to maintain current roles or shift into new ones

We’ll see hybrid jobs, where workers use skills and competencies in combinations rarely exhibited today. Consider the use of AI to augment disease diagnosis. In addition to knowing how to interact with the technology, workers would need domain knowledge—what to look for in health records, knowledge of patient privacy concerns and strong communication skills to engage doctors and insurance companies.

And with the Human Resources function increasingly relying on data and predictive analytics for recruiting and performance management, HR professionals need technical competencies plus business acumen and communication skills. These hybrid roles work across domains and generally demonstrate competency in three areas:

Business and science skills—including domain specialties such as marketing, organizational design and finance, or specific focus areas across physical and social sciences. The ability to share data across domains is contributing to new discoveries and innovations.

Human or soft skills—including communication, critical thinking, adaptability, problem-solving, leadership, creativity and innovation. These become even more essential in a digital organization.

Technology skills—including a wide range of information technology skills, from basic data literacy to applying artificial intelligence to real-world problems. This area is most commonly cited as a gap for mid-career workers, as data and analytics are becoming more democratized and more useful across organizations.

To compete and thrive in this era, CEOs need individuals who have all three sets of skills. But where do you find these rare superstars? While CEOs are concerned about the availability of digital skills in their workforce, they continue to acknowledge that soft skills are also vital, and just as hard to find. Companies winning the skills battleground are those that focus on the human experience while investing in technology, and can attract people who function well in multidisciplinary teams and influence others across the organization.

While CEOs are concerned about the availability of digital skills in their workforce, they continue to acknowledge that soft skills are also vital, and just as hard to find.

What company leaders can do

Despite a growing awareness of the need for new skills, few companies have effective programs in place, but more are waking to reskilling. 42% of global CEOs we’ve surveyed say they are implementing continuous learning initiatives to a large extent.Follow the steps below to get your own upskilling initiative started.

1. Assess where you are and where you need to go

Much of your success will depend on your ability to understand the capabilities you’ll need for future success. Where do you want your organization to go? What do you need to get there?

Assess the skills and capabilities of your current workforce against the capabilities you’ll want in the future, not what you need now. The goal is to identify gaps, so you can help individuals focus on specific areas to reskill or upskill. Create a real-time system that helps monitor progress over time.

2 PwC’s 2018 Global CEO Survey, January 2018.

Explore adjacencies—jobs that may seem different but actually share similar skills, to give workers options to shift into new roles. For example, a skills assessment at a software company revealed that the less-in-demand graphic designer role actually shared many of the same skills as the critically needed digital marketer role.

2. Advance at scale

Once you have a baseline understanding of skills, promote transparency so each of your people understands where they are now against the future skills they'll need to master. Sponsor learning paths that allow for individualized learning journeys. When learning is fun and paired with coaching—lightweight, frequent check-ins—employees and their managers sustain momentum and lessen the risk that the investment in reskilling will be abandoned.

3. Integrate the new

Productivity and innovation may mean infusing new energy into your workforce. Experienced hires with diverse skills and backgrounds change the makeup of your organization, and change how work gets done. Diversity in approach is especially true in digital transformations where traditional ‘best practices’ don’t lead to needed outcomes. Ensure your talent pool is aligned with your business objectives and hire accordingly. Integrating people with new ways of thinking into your workforce can help accelerate change and promote innovation across the organization.

4. Accelerate everyone

To truly accelerate skill change in your organization, you’ll need to create new spaces and new experiences. More companies are experimenting with incubator or accelerator programs, where individuals with diverse skills and mindsets convene in multidisciplinary teams to break through siloed thinking. They apply their skills to real challenges the organization faces and create totally new solutions. This new way to serve customers, patients or end users will change the fabric of how work is done.

More companies are modernizing the work environment for everyone, providing employees with new flexible ways of working and new opportunities to practice skills their organizations value. While this can mean piloting chatbots and apps, it can also mean raising the level of human interaction in customer service.

5. Get others on your side

While you are changing from within, look outside your organization to academic institutions, governments and policy makers. Reskilling workers and preparing the workforce for the future will require help from them.

When it comes to education, consider creating partnerships with academic institutions to help revise curriculums and create opportunities for lifelong learning. Develop or expand apprenticeship or internship opportunities to build skills through real-world experience and to create a talent pipeline for future workers. 18% of CEOs globally say they expect to grow their company’s workforce through such programs.3

Develop or expand apprenticeship or internship opportunities to build skills through real-world experience and to create a talent pipeline for future workers.

When thinking about policy, be aware of issues that affect worker flexibility and engage in policy discussions. For many workers, job mobility, retraining and rotation will become a crucial way of improving their employability and earning potential. Many people feel tethered to their current job because of the pressures of debt and the need for employer benefits. Incentives aimed at encouraging mobility and development of skills will be important.

All of this work is ongoing, continually monitored and revised. As you progress, ask yourself: How is the profile of my staff changing? How are my needs changing? Find ways to reshape the opportunities for your people to apply new skills in new ways.

3 Ibid.

What you can do as an individual

Gone are the days when “education” and “work” were two separate phases in people’s lives. To succeed in the future, individuals need to adopt a continuous learning mindset and proactively engage in reskilling themselves.

Fortunately, the majority of workers appear to understand this already: a PwC survey found that 74% say they believe it’s their own responsibility to update their skills rather than relying on any employer. Here are some steps individuals can take toward reskilling.

Own your career

Much of the success of an individual’s reskilling efforts will hinge on being self-motivated. As LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman says, “embrace a start-up of you mentality”—which means adopting a more entrepreneurial approach and carving your own path through the new world of work.4

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Seek new possibilities

Understand how technology is developing and what other disruptive trends—like changing demographics, accelerating urbanization and political change—could mean for the world of work and you specifically. Follow how jobs in your field are changing and what new skills you might need.

If work is predicted to dry up in your field, learn how your skills could transfer to other occupations where jobs will grow. PwC estimates, for example, that while demand for some jobs will decrease in the next 10 years (such as repetitive manufacturing and agricultural jobs) there are also occupations that will be in higher demand, including roles in healthcare and management.5

Pay attention to how you market your skills on social networking sites and job market boards, as these are data sources for AI-based recruiting software.

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Find the gaps

We’ll still need human workers in an automated world. Whether this will involve working to develop technology, working alongside it or working in narrow, very specialist or very human types of employment, there are places automation simply can’t compete in yet. Work out where you want to be.

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Get your skills in order

The skills needed for the future are not just about data, science and technology. Human skills like creativity, leadership and empathy will be in demand. Find your niche and keep building.

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4 Hoffman and Casnocha, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, February 2012.
5 PwC’s Workforce Disruption Index, January 2018.

Contact us

Antonia M Cusumano

US Technology Industry People & Organization Leader, PwC US

Mitra Best

Principal, New Ventures and US Innovation Leader, PwC US

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