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Is Your Company’s Future Inclusive?

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Eva Sage-Gavin
HR Leadership columnist Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent & organization consulting practice and as a technology Board Director. She can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

It’s rare that I have a conversation with a CHRO in this digitally fueled era that doesn’t somewhere, somehow involve questions like these: How do I get people and machines to work together? How do I create and sustain a hybrid workforce that is productive and healthy? How do I create jobs that are engaging?

These leaders realize the importance of championing an inclusive future now–one in which our people remain employable in jobs that challenge them in the most positive ways. This is a complex issue, with lots of varied opinions.

The good news is, there are solutions. On this issue, there is so much promise, but we need to move now. We need to prepare our workforces for the future of work versus remaining in a present that is anything but static. As we move further into a digital future, workers are performing interactive and collaborative tasks more frequently, and repetitive ones less often.  Recent research shows that uniquely human skills are coming to the competitive fore; for almost every single role, a combination of complex reasoning, creativity, socio-emotional intelligence and sensory-perception skills are increasingly relevant.

It might surprise you that new research shows us–in a digital age— that “empathy and support” roles currently comprise the largest share of employment in the U.S. and will require a major increase in workers over the next decade.

I see leadership teams and boards facing this change head-on now to position their workforces wisely for the future. They are emphasizing several areas of action:

Experiential Learning

The Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning conducted a review of research on the known outcomes of experiential learning–and its findings provide good news for executives focused on preparing their workforces for the future. The very skills that are growing in demand (complex reasoning, critical thinking, creativity and socio-emotional intelligence) are the ones best acquired through experiential-learning techniques. Organizations from the Swiss government to Walmart are using apprenticeship programs to help students and new employees transition to new work. Hands-on and immersive, these efforts emphasize learning by doing versus classroom theory.

And it’s not just happening in skilled-trade or lower-level jobs, which is a common misconception. High-performing firms are three times more likely to use experiential learning for frontline and executive-level leaders than other positions.

A Focus on the Individual

Most of us recognize the value of a broad variety of skills across our workforces. But leading companies are placing greater emphasis on broadening the variety of skills within each worker. Take marketers, for instance. Traditionally considered “creative” roles, marketers now need analytical skills to interpret customer data of all types–from social media to channel preferences. And data scientists, while ostensibly “numbers” roles, are called upon more often to communicate their findings in easily digestible stories as “sense-makers.”

Empowerment of the Most Vulnerable

According to research from Accenture, workers in less complex roles are seven times more likely to be in a job that could be automated. A Pew Research Center study found that only six of 10 workers with secondary schooling or less identified themselves as lifelong learners.

We can all attest to the fact that inclusivity does not happen in a vacuum. It requires public/private partnerships–schools, governments and businesses working together to move the needle. Sometimes this happens globally, but sometimes, it’s micro-change–and that can be equally as effective. For example, economists in Northern Kentucky predict the region will have more than 7,000 jobs to fill in the near future–in an area that struggles with high-school and college-graduation rates. Toyota donated 22 acres for the Ignite Institute at a local innovation center, in partnership with Boone County Schools. Opening for the 2019-2020 school year, the tuition-free institute–for students in grades 9-12–will emphasize collaborative project-based learning in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, with real industry-case methodology. The school district will own and operate the institute, which will also focus on soft skills with hands-on, problem-solving, teamwork and non-traditional approaches to learning.

That sounds like a very targeted solution, on a micro-level, to the global-workforce inclusivity issue we are all facing.

A few years ago at the World Economic Forum, Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, said: “Any kind of job is going to have a digital component. It doesn’t mean everyone’s got to be a computer scientist.” He went on to say leaders must invest in learning not just for students, but for employees who risk displacement mid-career.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m having a lot of really exciting conversations with C-suite leaders about how to make that happen. An inclusive future is within reach. But it takes focused action now. Our workforces deserve no less.