• COVID-19 has further exacerbated societal inequities, and widened skill gaps.
  • Cross-sector commitments and learning agility can help bridge the gap.
  • Now is the time to bridge the skills gap among the current workforce and also future talent.

Even before the pandemic, it was thought 1 billion jobs would be transformed by technology in the next decade, fuelled by growth in areas such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing and big data.

Then COVID-19's impact on education, work and the acceleration of technology adoption led to seismic ramifications and the scale of the challenge changed.

As industries transform their traditional business models in the wake of technology advances, it’s estimated that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025.

Education systems, too, need support to catch up; young people need real-world context and workers require the skills for emerging jobs.

In sum, we urgently need a renaissance on skills. But there’s a short window to ensure the workforce is equipped with the skills needed for the rapidly evolving workplace and twenty-first century jobs. And it’s closing fast.

The question is arising: what can key stakeholders – including governments, businesses and society – do to accelerate the skills renaissance?

Indeed, governments around the world are striving to address the skills emergency, and companies, too, are acting on their critical role in upskilling their workforces and the communities in which they operate.

As the world pivots to a new beginning, skills are the new currency

—Balaji Ganapathy

But as the skills gap grows, developing innovative solutions calls for holistic thinking and collective action.

To convene public and private stakeholders and drive collective action, the World Economic Forum and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) explored the global skills landscape between 2016 and 2019.

This novel project – Closing the Skills Gap 2020 developed a Business Commitment Framework. It identifies the need for skilling in four key areas: basic education; higher education; technical and vocational training; and adult learning.

The project explored the reskilling and upskilling efforts of global businesses including BT Group, EY, Google and many more, in a bid to glean insights.

To transform skilling across this entire spectrum, the framework adopts a lifecycle approach, supporting the idea that learning agility is necessary for people to remain resilient to shifting market trends. It requires a commitment to lifelong learning from all parties.

Image: Tata Consultancy Service

No one-size-fits-all model: various findings

Implementing this framework is challenging, not least due to the wide-ranging definitions of reskilling and upskilling, which can encompass everything from basic digital literacy to employability skills.

There’s also no ‘one-size-fits-all’ training method. Closing the Skills Gap 2020 found that companies have adopted a range of approaches, from apprenticeships to digital learning platforms and experiential ‘on-the-job’ learning.

One theme recurred time and again during our dialogues: commitment from and collaboration among multiple stakeholders. This really is critical for success.

In addition, the report finds that successful upskilling takes place only if the business fully commits to the long-term learning and development of its workforce. It’s imperative that programs are woven into the learning culture of the company and embedded within its growth strategy and objectives.

At the same time, training KPIs must ensure that skilling has a long-term impact on employees’ ability to contribute to their professional aspirations and the company’s goals. (To date, most reskilling programmes are still focused on measuring the immediate reaction of the learner and the skills acquired.)

Finally, to support lifelong learning, it’s necessary to track how people are putting their newly acquired skills into practice and observe its impact on both their role and the wider organisation.

Why jobs of the future must be on the agenda, too

All this isn’t just about reskilling and upskilling the current workforce; there’s a learning gap among the next generation to address, too.

Reports show, for example, that not enough children in the UK are learning digital skills in school. In the US, most primary schools lack a computing curriculum, which is foundational for students to be innovators in an increasingly digital economy.

Programmes such as TCS’ goIT and Ignite My Future in School are designed to address these issues. Ignite My Future has so far engaged more than 15,500 teachers and nearly 900,000 students by incorporating computational thinking into every core subject, while goIT has empowered more than 80,000 students with digital innovation skills to solve real-world problems.

There are many noteworthy examples from around the globe. But they are still only a drop in the ocean.

Closing the Skills Gap 2020 was a collaborative effort that laid bare the importance of everyone from governments, business and civil society coming together to support proven solutions to close the skills gap.

The business commitments to reskill and upskill 17 million people by 2020 created proof points and paved the way for the Reskilling Revolution’s aspiration to provide one billion people with better education, skills, and jobs by 2030.

As the world pivots to a new beginning, skills are the new currency and purposeful action can empower people to create a sustainable future for all.