One silver-lining result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the accelerated adoption of digital technologies across industries, including education. Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, pronounced in April that, amid the pandemic, they had “seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” Nadella’s observation quickly became the norm. In June, Accenture declared that they saw “three years of digital and culture transformation in three months.” The next month, Bain noted that “Digital roadmaps once measured in years accelerated rapidly in days.”
As the adoption of digital technologies has been accelerating, something else is occurring. On the path to digital maturity, companies are discovering that digital skills, while important, are not their most significant challenge. There are much broader capability issues to deal with—and these types of skills require something more than online learning. The challenges we face today are related to not only digital and technical skills but Human Capabilities including high cognitive, social, and emotional skills. Our next-generation workforce reinforces this point. In a recent study, we learned that younger workers are less interested in technical skills than expected. They want to learn skills that offer flexible pathways, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, social influence, and communication.
Human Capabilities for the Next Era of Innovation Enlargement
2025 Skills Outlook, World Economic Forum Enlargement
Reskilling Programs, Mckinsey & Co., 2020 Enlargement
In October, the World Economic Forum released its outstanding bi-annual Jobs Report. This year’s global study’s key data point is that 50 percent of the workforce will require significant upskilling or reskilling by 2025. Without new skills, they will more likely be displaced by intelligent technologies and automation. That’s around 80 million people in the United States.
To begin addressing that challenge, many employers have turned to digital learning solutions such as LMS and LXP platforms. (The average large employer has 23 LMS platforms in their enterprise.) That reliance on learning from digital content creates a significant gap in the upskilling and reskilling movement.
If executed well, digital training solutions can expand our knowledge by developing fundamental awareness, so we are more knowledgeable in a particular area. But companies can’t build capacity based solely on increased knowledge.
That’s why industries have turned towards building skills. Skills represent an ability to demonstrate competency by applying knowledge in a targeted context—some view building skills as the ideal scenario for digital and technical competencies.
But collections of skills fall short in today’s environment and require us to strive for building capabilities throughout our organization—capabilities are skills that can be leveraged in multiple contexts. We live in the age of VUCA—volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. What times like these call for is agility and adaptability across the organization.
Skills don’t scale as well as capabilities do. In uncertain times, we need to construct organizations that can apply knowledge and skills in multiple contexts. That capacity makes it exponentially easier for organizations to be adaptive as today’s environment and correlating strategies dictate. Capabilities allow us to be more agile as we build organizational capacity. When it comes to building Human Capabilities, we are highly unlikely to develop those by a digital-only approach. It requires more immersive, more social, and more experiential learning.
Today, just 8 percent of companies look to higher education when they think about developing new capabilities for their incumbent workforce. And that is a considerable oversight in a crowded corporate training landscape. Nobody helps people learn at scale as well as higher education does. Further, no corporate training program stacks up very well to higher education when it comes to creating rich learning experiences that genuinely lead to developing a valuable set of capabilities that can be used across multiple industries and business environments.
Higher education must factor into the equation beyond the traditional front-loaded approach to one focused on building a talent pipeline for our next-generation workforce. To position themselves as a training provider of choice, colleges must demonstrate to local employers that they have the ingenuity, capacity, and flexibility to serve as trusted partners in the upskilling and reskilling of their current labor force. For more information, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.