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Rethinking career growth in a fast-changing world

Oli Meager - Degreed

Amongst the uncertainty of the past two years, one thing has become clear: the expectations of ‘good’ work have changed. Before, most people would’ve been happy with a steady job that afforded them the lifestyles they wanted. You would likely join an employer and remain there for decades, climbing the career ladder. 

This no longer rings true, as a myriad of career options have become available to workers in recent years and the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a rethink of what people want from their employers. Over half (58%) of workers state that the pandemic has caused them to rethink their work/life balance. 

Knowledge and skills leaving your workforce

Of course, there is the Great Resignation that’s causing employees to leave their employers in droves. Nearly a third of UK workers are considering a job move in 2022. Older workers are also taking early retirement, leading to a ‘brain drain’ in many industries where their decades of experience are not easily replaced. Then there’s the jobs mismatch — there aren’t enough workers with the right skills, and in the right locations, for available roles. 

People are also leaving the permanent workforce entirely to start their own businesses or begin working for the gig economy.  Over 4 million UK workers now work for gig economy platforms at least once a week. More than tripling in the past five years. This has huge consequences for employers. It’s time to rethink the traditional make-up of the workforce and the HR and talent management processes that surround it. 

Hybrid becomes commonplace

A hybrid workforce will become the norm. As Sandip Patel, managing director of IBM India and South Asia explains, “…There will be structural shifts as part of a hybrid workforce that blends in-person employees with virtual. It’s a fight for skills and talent that will drive the business and talent models… and gig workers will certainly assume a strong place in the future workforce.”

That requires a rethink of everything from talent acquisition and management, to upskilling and culture. 

Building the best teams

The best teams will not always consist of permanent employees. Indeed, to get work done, you won’t always need to hire for a permanent role. Instead, work can be split into tasks and projects and allocated to the best person for it. This approach allows for an employee to work on stretch assignments and tasks in other departments, for a gig worker to work temporarily on a project, for automation to do some tasks, for retired and semi-retired alumni to return for a short time, and more. 

The benefits of hybrid

This is the kind of flexibility that today’s workers are demanding from their employers. More than half of workers want to work more flexibly. It also allows people to focus on the areas of work that interest them, and that align with their skills. People are increasingly seeking out opportunities to work on things that they are naturally gifted at with 58% of workers stating that it’s important to them. 

A hybrid approach also enables greater organisational agility and performance. Costs can be optimised, as gig talent can be brought on-board during periods of high demand without ongoing talent costs when that demand later falls. Skills are also more utilised, as people get to work on the tasks and projects that line up most with their current abilities. 

Upskilling your extended enterprise

To make the most of this approach, consistent upskilling will be needed — of everyone within the enterprise. Training employees is commonplace, particularly for compliance and to help them become better in their current roles. However, keeping those in the extended enterprise (such as contractors and alumni) updated with the latest company news, product knowledge and skill needs, will also be valuable. It means that when demand increases and a temporary worker needs to be onboarded for a project, the process will be a lot faster as they already have a certain skill and knowledge level. 

Of course, offering such upskilling opportunities will help to strengthen your organisation’s reputation as an employer of choice. If people see that they can grow their skills by working with you, they’ll either remain for longer (as a permanent employee) or prioritise your projects (as a temporary worker). 

Adding opportunities to the work day

Another avenue to explore is providing experiential learning that enables permanent workers to explore their career interests and build new skills more quickly. This may help to retain them as part of your workforce for longer, as they can explore their passions through projects in other departments and teams. 

Offering experiential learning opportunities will also help employees stretch their skills and apply theoretical knowledge in a real-world context. Stretch assignments, temporary deployments, volunteering, and peer teaching provide chances to practice learning in a physically and psychologically safe environment (providing peace-of-mind for learners and employers). This can help to upskill someone quickly, getting their business-ready in a shorter timeframe than solely theory-based learning. 

Different data needed

Shifting to a hybrid approach will require different data and insights than what you typically collect through a HCM (human capital management) system or ATS (applicant tracking system). They can provide some initial data on someone’s skills when they first work for your organisation, but for the data to be useful to you long-term, you need to continuously collect data on each successful project completed, learning being done, and manager or peer feedback. This is particularly important for organisations using temporary talent as a contractor may work on many different projects and for several different departments or clients, so their skills and experience will always be evolving. 

Collecting data on all the different ways people are working and building their skills will help you match them to the best projects and tasks for them. Additionally, asking them to reflect on their careers and work on a monthly, or at least quarterly basis, will ensure you can provide them with work that aligns with their career goals and interests.

New opportunities

There has been a huge shift globally in everything we do and work is a major part of this. It’s little surprise that people are rethinking their relationships with their careers as our whole lives were upended in a matter of months. Instead of seeing this as a disruption to your organisation, look at it as a chance to change things for the better. By building work and career opportunities that better meet the needs of your people and create a more agile, high-performing workforce. 

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