Work of the future: How upskilling charts the course

    April 9, 2021

    New Kelly® survey reveals worker and manager attitudes toward automation, highlights growing demand for upskilling and training.

    We’re at a critical juncture in the evolution of work. We live in an age of smart machines where repetitive tasks, no matter how complex, are being increasingly automated. This has a profound impact on our workforce as certain jobs are disappearing, new jobs are being created, the demand for new skills is increasing, and the talent gap is widening.

    A recent Kelly Professional & Industrial survey revealed major discrepancies between how employers and workers perceive the impact of automation. It highlighted a growing demand for upskilling opportunities and identified solutions to mitigate the current talent crisis.

    Five Key Findings

    1. Workers underestimate the impact of automation.

    As U.S. manufacturing prepares for a post-pandemic economy, the Kelly survey shows stark differences between how workers and employers perceive the impact of automation:

    • 7 in 10 managers say advancements in robots, machine learning and digital processes will reduce the number of workers needed within the next five years.
    • Yet, only 3 in 10 workers realize this threat is looming, with 70% saying they are unconcerned about the impact of automation.

    Work of the Future Take-Away: As repetitive tasks are being automated, today’s workers need to be reskilled to thrive alongside new technologies. Without introducing such initiatives, the talent acquisition problems employers face today will only continue to grow.

    2. Upskilling is critical to attracting and retaining qualified talent.

    Not only is there a critical need to upskill today’s workforce, there’s strong demand for it among job seekers, the Kelly survey revealed:

    • 8 in 10 workers say they look at training and career pathing opportunities when considering their next job.
    • 57% of workers say they need more education and training to access higher paying jobs.
    • 73% of workers say they will take up employers on upskilling opportunities if offered.

    Work of the Future Take-Away: Today’s job seekers expect personalized work experiences, including on-the-job training. While most workers don’t realize automation is threatening current roles, they do want to pursue upskilling opportunities.

    3. More transparent and accessible approaches to credentials and certifications are needed.

    The Kelly survey showed managers believe training leads to better service, productivity and overall quality of work, yet workers don’t understand what skills employers demand or how to obtain them:

    • 8 in 10 managers say workers need more education, credentials, certificates or training to access higher-level jobs.
    • Nearly half (47%) of workers say they don’t understand what skills matter most to employers and more than half (52%) say they are uncertain what skills would give them a boost in the job market.
    • 1 in 4 workers say they don’t know where to acquire new skills and more than half (51%) are worried about how to pay for it.

    Work of the Future Take-Away: The most successful companies clearly define the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need. They look at candidates through a skills lens and provide pathways for workers to obtain training, credentials and certifications.

    4. Older managers should broaden their automation doomsday thinking.

    The Kelly survey reveals big age gaps in how managers think about the work of the future, with those over 45 viewing automation as a destroyer of jobs in the years ahead:

    • 8 in 10 managers between 45-54 years old say automation will destroy jobs in the next five years.
    • More than 3 in 4 (76%) of managers between 35-44 say the same.
    • While only 56% of managers between 25-34 view automation as a destroyer of jobs near term.

    Work of the Future Take-Away: Fears of automation destroying jobs are overblown. But as more repetitive tasks are done by smart machines, companies must upskill workers for the more complex work to come.

    5. Female managers are more inclined to support investments in upskilling and training.

    Properly skilled part-time and contingent workers are essential to helping employers maintain the right talent mix. Yet, the Kelly survey shows not all managers are on board with investments in upskilling:

    • 8 in 10 managers believe contingent workers need more training to access higher paying jobs, but only 1 in 3 will offer training.
    • 44% of female managers said they will offer training to contingent workers whereas only 23% of male managers answered the same.
    • 71% of female managers said they will offer training to part-time workers whereas only 41% of male managers answered the same.

    Work of the Future Take-Away: Employers must create training and upskilling for all positions to avoid falling behind and losing talent to competitors investing time and resources to prepare employees for the work of the future.

    Summary: A Shift to Human Work

    The most critical workforce question is not if smart machines will impact the world of work, but how workers can thrive alongside new technologies. The reality is that repetitive tasks are being automated and that certain jobs are disappearing. But new jobs are emerging in their place – jobs that require new skillsets and new approaches to training and upskilling. Today’s businesses must recognize this trend and evolve with it, or risk losing the talent battle for good.

    About the Survey

    Kelly, in partnership with Stamats Communications, surveyed 205 C-suite and director-level managers at U.S.-based companies with 500 or more employees, as well as 447 professional and industrial workers on assignment for Kelly across the United States. Data was collected in November and December of 2020.
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