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Here’s Where the Skills Gap Begins

How employers can prepare their workers better for today and for what’s next.
By: | January 22, 2019 • 4 min read
skills gap

America is not stemming the tide of an educational and professional mismatch to innovate but innovative HR functions could certainly help.

Hiring executives might notice that Generation Z is not particularly focused on the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Recent research revealed that almost half of STEM graduates move into non-STEM fields while two-thirds of the most sought-after jobs of the future will require STEM skills, primarily in data analytics and data science.

We need these skills to manage the two most disruptive business forces of our time: globalization and convergence; and technological transformation.

Globalization and convergence put more pressure on the need for greater connectivity and mobility, more speed and efficiency, and innovative business models and strategies. These demands lead to using a new menu of workforce models and increasingly automated systems, both of which will require their own technology transformation if they are to succeed.

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Technology is both a prime disruptor and a solution to the challenges posed by the global business environment. New digital tools help people connect, produce more efficiency, enable virtual and offshore workforces, and enhance access to a wide range of new learning platforms. Yet they are not supported by enough people with the right skills. The STEM skills gap, then, poses an imminent threat to U.S. business and economic growth.

How could we prepare our people better for today and for what’s next?

Three key steps for HR to find solutions are: embracing tech innovation for the HR function, developing training that closes the skills gap of current employees and working with educators to build the curriculum needed to create day-one ready employees in this business environment.

As companies launch robotic process automation and other intelligent automation initiatives, we all must prepare for the next generation of artificial intelligence, blockchain, quantum computing and more. That need for STEM proficiency drove EY to launch a “future of work” refresh on our learning programs and use of technology. As a people-driven service, we needed a road map for a future skills journey of continuous improvement or upskilling. We focused on data access and analysis as well as the technologists who could build and repair systems, collect and interpret data and design new applications.

Many companies trying to solve the need for these capabilities face a dearth of qualified talent. In short, we all need more STEM graduates and more STEM-related training for our current employees and executives. A future-oriented curriculum might also include project management, relationship building, deep-thinking focus and negotiation. With HR taking the lead, businesses need to continue to revolutionize corporate training while also working cooperatively with educators, informing them of the real-world needs of tomorrow’s workforce.

Matching skills to people

Organizational learning today must address five generations of workers at once, each possessing different experiences with evolving technologies:

  • Students and potential future professionals still actively learning;
  • Current professionals but non-executive levels, often Gen X and millennials that have grown up in a digital world; and
  • Tenured and more seasoned executive-level professionals, most likely Boomer digital immigrants adapting to stay relevant.

Teaching employees at all phases doesn’t mean changing the curriculum, but the delivery. For example, EY’s tax practice offers a variety of systems and environments for key new courses, including Lean Six Sigma, Robotic Process Automation, Data Visualization, Excel Modeling, Coding, Critical Thinking and Mindfulness. It is vital for each HR team to define the courses they need to meet the business demands of tomorrow, and then to offer training in the formats that will assure employee participation and learning – in classrooms, workshops/session or online.

Today’s student population benefits from similar future-oriented curricula in their classrooms to hit the ground running when they enter the business world. As businesses offer academia the resources and support to teach predictive analytics, algorithms and artificial intelligence, faculty will be enabled to teach their students new in-demand skills.

Tenured and seasoned executive-level professionals need to update their knowledge to stay market-relevant. Leaders can track the course offerings most applicable to their team management and client service roles using live webcasts or the company’s version of a MOOC. In addition, sector-specific conferences and executive education courses almost always have presentations on technology, neuroscience and other relevant topics.

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Women and minorities cannot be sidelined. All of society benefits from getting everyone to the highest level of achievement. Bridging the STEM skills gap with women and underserved minorities is not only an economic necessity — it is a moral imperative.

The United Nations Development Programme goals include sustaining the humanity of our workplaces as we increasingly embrace technological solutions with specific programs designed to boost digital inclusion and bring greater diversity of talent into business. STEM collaborations with universities targeting young women and minorities help to facilitate a diverse and robust candidate pipeline. Company conferences can bring high-performing female STEM students together with the firm’s female tech leaders. Scholarships and conference sponsorships can engage first-generation college students, underrepresented minorities and military veterans.

This new era, aka the 5th Industrial Revolution, obliges HR functions to play a responsible role in developing capable professionals as its leaders and workers. We can do it with a combination of cutting-edge courses and policies that instill curiosity, critical thinking, agility and mindfulness. When you’re on a mission, as EY is, to build a better working world, your future-of-work programs will engage all people and ages with a multi-faceted program.

Carolyn Slaski is vice chair of talent for EY Americas and Martin Fiore is the Northeast region tax managing partner for Ernst & Young LLP.

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