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30 Nov 2021
by Dawn Lewis

The future of work: challenging skills and mindsets

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is rapidly evolving the way we work – but what does this mean for the future of working practices, attracting talent and how we reward people?




Insights from our Technology Change is Business Change research show that although employers have experienced enormous technological and digital organisational change – spurred on by the pandemic – there is even greater and faster change coming down the line in the coming two years.

REBA’s exclusive breakfast event, in association with Mercer Marsh Benefits, brought senior reward professionals together to draw out practical actions employers can take to embrace new developments in technology, to maximise their ability to attract the best human talent, and proactively engage with the workforce to enhance the digital wellbeing of both employees and businesses.

The skills challenge

Central to the digital transformation is skills. It is an issue that many employers are currently tackling – with a finite number of people in the workforce possessing the skills needed for businesses to grow and expand into the future. Coupled with this, is the realisation that the pace of change means that current skills are quickly becoming outdated. As one attendee put it, certain skills only have a ‘half-life’.

This ‘war for talent’ and constant technological progression is leading to greater innovation in the way that employers are aiming to attract and retain employees with the skills that they need. Progressive employers are considering how else they can source talent, such as growing their own, trying to recruit from broader geographic locations (including internationally), head hunting by going directly to individuals, and creating opportunities for lateral moves internally.

This final idea is seeing many employers move to restructure their job bands to make them broader and more agile. By making job architectures more transparent and less complicated it is hoped that career and skills pathways can be more clearly laid out, enhancing the employee value proposition (EVP) and ensuring that employers have the skills that they need for the future.

Of course, this is easier said than done. One of the key issues flagged by both those attending the breakfast and responding to our research was that it is difficult to understand what skills the business will need in the coming years, while there is also a lack of data about the type of skills employers currently have in their workforce.

The need to track and measure skills was seen to be an increasingly necessary intervention to ensure employers are building the right approach to workforce planning, and are buying skills that are fit for the future. Measuring and tracking was also seen as part of the EVP – enabling employers to demonstrate their investment in people and accordingly plan how they will reward them in the future.

Developing a learning culture where skills are cultivated and developed requires a change of mindset by employers. Rapid technological change means that simply recruiting-in the required talent may no longer be an option.

Changing reward and benefits mindsets

Mirroring the need for greater transparency within job bands is the need for one source of truth in HR. This is not new. For years reward and HR professionals have sought simpler, more transparent, relevant and personalised HR data from a single source. What has changed however is the technology. These desires are now much more tangible and attainable thanks to technology innovations, and having a single source of data opens up an array of opportunities. Not only can businesses make efficiencies, but technology can also empower HR and line managers to meet employees’ expectations and generate better internal investments from reward offerings by enabling more autonomy – ‘freedom within a framework’ – and giving more power around reward and benefits.

This change means that the EVP can play an even more significant role. Employee benefits can be harmonised across borders to create global consistency, while simultaneously offerings can be more flexible – ensuring they are locally relevant and have a more personal emphasis.

Technology is at the heart of this change. The explosion of employee mental health apps is a good example of how employers are moving to a more digital approach for their benefits. And some employers are already challenging their benefits platform providers to do more.

Moving to this approach however will require a shift in mindset. Employers need to offer a reward and benefits experience that matches employees’ consumer experience. It will require HR and reward to move from being ‘owners of policies’ to selling the benefits to employees.

As one attendee concluded: “talent for the future is about both skills and mindsets”.

The push for innovation

Many employers are only now beginning to consider the impact of environmental, social and governance issues. The recent COP26 conference set some stringent targets that will affect all businesses in the coming years. It will necessitate product innovation to reach climate change targets, and this in turn, will require skills innovation.

The challenge for reward professionals will be how to link reward and benefits to skills and talent.

For more insights on this topic download our Technology Change is Business Change research.

The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.

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