Overcoming 5 Critical Challenges for a Future-facing Workforce

Article9 min read

June 8, 2022

The world is changing faster than ever, and companies are struggling to stay ahead of the curve. Savvy organizations recognize that the answer lies in developing and leveraging their most valuable asset: their people. 

However, people’s values are shifting, and with them their relationship with the places they work. Studies have found workers are more stressed than ever, with a staggering 81 percent reporting that they feel at risk of burnout and one in five saying that working for a company whose values don’t align with their own is the cause of that feeling.1

This is one of the factors driving the ‘Great Resignation’, which has intensified competition for top talent. When you consider that in the U.S., it takes 36–42 days to fill a vacancy, costing $1,633 per hire,2 it becomes clear that employee retention is critical.

Workers are also fighting to keep pace with change. Remote work, e-commerce, and automation are all reshaping work as we know it. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the impact of these trends. McKinsey revised their estimate for the number of workers that will need to change their occupations: up to 25 percent more than previously predicted due to the accelerating effects of the pandemic.3

Professionals are also likely to work longer. Research shows that because of increased lifespans, organizations need to invest more in lifelong learning.4

It’s clear that human resource and learning and development managers face a growing range of challenges. Fortunately, there are resources available to help address these hurdles and take advantage of the opportunities they present.

Close skill gaps

As people begin to lead longer and more diverse careers, planning and managing their long-term skills development will become more important. Digital skills are now assumed, and knowledge of business processes and related concepts are considered core competencies within every worker’s skills toolkit. Analytical and critical thinking have evolved from being the exception to the necessary, while interpersonal and leadership skills are more valued than ever.5 Many companies are experiencing critical skills gaps, particularly in the retail, construction, real estate, manufacturing, education, and medical and health services industries6. In fact, a significant 87 percent of executives report skills gap challenges today or expect them within a few years.7

Student loan service Nelnet realized they had a widening skills gap as a result of the pandemic and automation, and recognized the risk it posed to businesses and employee roles. They partnered with edX for Business to help close skill gaps in critical areas like cybersecurity, information technology, finance, and compliance. The modular, stackable nature of the programs enabled employees to enroll in college-level courses with real credits and certificates while remaining flexible enough to adapt their learning as their positions evolved.

edX Open Courses and Professional Certificates can help your workforce gain essential skills today so they’re prepared for tomorrow. 

Improve hiring Initiatives

In a world of labor shortages and job-hopping, hiring talented, qualified people has become absolutely fundamental to business success. It’s not easy, though. In the U.S., 74 percent of companies underperform when it comes to hiring, and only 60 percent of new jobs created are being filled.8

Businesses are trying to attract not just talented employees, but diverse staff too: 43 percent report finding diverse candidates with appropriate qualifications is the biggest challenge to their DEI goals. 9
The spotlight is firmly on the moral imperatives and performance benefits of diversity, along with the multiplier effect it brings: 76 percent of job seekers and employees identify a diverse workforce as a key factor in judging companies and job offers.10

Despite this, some industries remain deeply untransformed, such as technology, in which African Americans comprised just 7.4 percent of the total workforce in 2014.11
 Little has changed since then among major technology companies: In 2020, Facebook reported 3.8 percent of its staff were Black, Microsoft 4.5 percent, Twitter 6 percent, and Uber 9.3 percent. Reasons for this include companies being reluctant to recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), internal referral systems that reinforce existing racial dynamics, and a lack of mentorship.12

Netflix recently set out to tackle this issue, partnering with 2U and seven HBCUs and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). The Netflix Pathways Bootcamps teach industry-relevant foundational and advanced data science, Java, and UX/UI design skills to under-represented populations, preparing them for entry-level jobs in the tech industry.

The boot camps have created not just opportunities for under-represented graduates to find employment, but also a pipeline of highly-trained and mentored future talent. 

Adding a “train-to-hire” program to your recruiting efforts is an effective way to close specific skills gaps or boost the effectiveness of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Learn more about hands-on boot camps here.

Leadership development

Living in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world has become the status quo. Effective leaders require a high level of agility, constant re-evaluation and iteration of leadership practices, and a drive to build resilience for the future.13
 Building these capabilities has become a key focus area for L&D professionals, with 53 percent listing development of leadership and management skills as their top challenge.14
 Key leadership trends for 2022 reflect the shifts in practices and values brought about – or accelerated – by COVID-19. These include:15

  • Building a culture of well-being
  • Investing in employee development
  • Addressing workplace culture inequality
  • Building technological infrastructure
  • Embracing an experimental mentality

Communications consultancy PLMR took a future-facing view of leadership development, identifying the need to plan effectively for succession, improve strategic thinking, and reward and invest in their employees.

To mesh training smoothly with work, PLMR invested in online executive education from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. PLMR enrolled its leaders in Online Oxford Programmes for professional service, women’s leadership development, digital marketing, disruptive strategy, and executive leadership. Leaders were able to apply their learnings to their everyday work challenges immediately, demonstrating applicable value for them and PLMR.

To learn more about how executive education can grow your leaders, click here. 

Workforce retention

The ‘Great Resignation’ has seen historic numbers of people quitting their jobs, with these sectors among the most affected:16

  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Trade, transportation, and utilities
  • Professional and business services
  • Education and health services
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction

Businesses are grappling with the question of how to retain staff. Providing learning and skills-based career growth opportunities to employees is one answer. Professional development opportunities are seen by employees as the top way to improve company culture,17
 with 94 percent of employees saying they would stay longer if the company invested in learning and career development benefits.18
 They’re key to attracting young talent, too — a 2021 study found that 66 percent of workers aged 18–24 ranked upskilling opportunities as the third-most important benefit in evaluating a new job, while 48 percent of workers in the U.S. would move jobs for such opportunities.19

Quick commerce and food delivery service Postmates chose edX to provide its thousands of workers access to more than 2,800 courses and certificate programs. As independent contractors, these workers could have sought alternative job opportunities when the pandemic hit. However, the learning made available through edX provided an attractive and valuable benefit, with many spending lockdowns or quarantines engaging in online programs safely at home. Courses in project management, health, entrepreneurship, Python, and business English were particularly popular.

Keep staff engaged with a range of courses on the edX Open Course Marketplace to promote a culture of learning in your organization.

Enterprise agility

Thriving in a highly dynamic world requires organizations to adapt quickly to changing technology, markets, and customer needs. Enterprise agility represents a shift away from traditional hierarchical structures and disconnected teams towards an operating model optimized across strategy, structures, processes, people, and technology.20
 As businesses re-examine their role in society, enterprise agility is becoming a necessary paradigm to respond to issues such as sustainability, the need for workplace diversity and inclusion, and corporate social responsibility. Agile enterprises are more likely to capitalize on emerging technologies and business trends to distance themselves from the competition rather than be stymied by the relentless pace of change. However, two-thirds of enterprises report that they’re unprepared for workforce disruptions caused by technology and market trends.21

Such was the case for CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate company. CBRE wanted to develop a training plan for its European senior leadership to help develop and drive an environmental, social, and corporate governance initiative. They enrolled 142 senior leaders in the Sustainable Real Estate: Creating a Better Built Environment executive education course, developed by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). CBRE has been able to see the impact the course has had in providing their leaders with the ability to apply their new knowledge back to the business operation.

edX Executive Education courses offer focused, immersive, cohort-based online learning designed to help prepare leaders to respond to the pressing issues of our time.

The transformational potential of learning

Employees and organizations are on a journey together, trying to navigate the complexities of a rapidly evolving world. Advances in technology are changing the jobs we do and how we do them, and workers need to embrace a culture of lifelong learning to stay relevant.22   The benefits for businesses are clear, with skilled workers more agile and motivated. Upskilling and reskilling have the potential to transform society at large, too, facilitating broader economic participation and inclusion for under-represented groups.

However, to unlock the true potential of continued professional development, workers need easy access to learning at every stage of their careers. edX for Business recognizes this and has brought to market the most comprehensive online talent-development product portfolio in the industry. edX for Business is uniquely equipped to craft nuanced learning and skills development solutions for today’s enterprises that will help position them to compete in today’s and tomorrow’s business environment. 

Is your workforce ready for the future of work? Contact an edX learning and development consultant to begin building learning and development solutions for your teams. 

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

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