Tuesday 21 February 2017 10:31 am

Survive the age of robots with lifetime soft skills learning

Never has the attention of global leaders and business titans been more focused on the importance of employee training as a facilitator for positive change.

Theresa May’s industrial strategy encouraged employers to “explore ambitious new approaches to encouraging lifelong learning”, aiming to boost the amount of time and resources dedicated to career development and advancement.

As workplace automation and artificial intelligence start to shape global agendas, the need for lifelong learning has never been more pressing. Education and employee training must keep pace with technological change or risk creating skill gaps and inequality.

So, how can businesses prepare for workforce automation and ensure they reap the benefits?

Future-proof skills

Technological advancement and the positive influence of automation are already changing accounting and finance departments, enabling teams to adopt more valuable and fulfilling business partnering roles.

Despite the positive progression, this has not come without its challenges. Insights from our Finance 2020: Closer Than You Think report highlight that accounting and finance professionals need to retrain and learn new approaches, particularly when it comes to soft skills. To support this, businesses must focus on assessing the skills that will be needed in the future and ensure training and development programmes are in place to meet impending needs.

Soft skills such as leadership, effective communication, innovation, collaboration and resilience are often transferable and give employees an edge in adapting to new changes and technological developments. If companies put training programmes in place, focusing on these soft skills, they will be able to plug potential skill gaps and provide employees with the tools needed to succeed and grow long term.

Plan for redeployment

Automation has the potential to change business processes and operating models. The result will see machines complemented by human involvement, and vice versa. As soon as this is understood and embraced, businesses and society will reap the benefits of innovation. Organisations must establish which processes can be automated, and which continue to require human interaction, and to what degree. Once established, employees can then be re-deployed accordingly and embrace higher value activities that further their development and benefit the business.

Remove the mystery

While the automation of many business processes is possible, the reality of this innovation is that it brings opportunity. Education is needed to ensure employees understand how processes will be automated and what it means for them. By enabling employees, at all levels, to acquire new skills and develop a culture of innovation, organisations can focus discussions on redeployment and re-skilling, rather than replacement. Combining the digital transformation of the workplace with the automation of certain tasks will liberate people from mundane tasks, and allow them to concentrate on higher value and more interesting work.

As soon as businesses realise that technology complements talent and waves of innovation make way for fresh opportunities, the global workforce will thrive. For employers and professionals alike, a positive approach to workplace automation that combines education and experimentation will allow employees to see automation in action and reduce misconceptions and concerns. The employees of today who embrace the concept of lifelong learning will be the employees of tomorrow.

Phil Sheridan is senior managing director at Robert Half UK.