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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

The shrinking global workforce: Preparing employees

In a world where qualified workers are hard to find, new-skill development will be key.

The shrinking global workforce: Preparing employees
[Gorodenkoff/Adobe Stock]

Previously, I wrote about businesses that are responding to a shrinking workforce by implementing automation and data analytics technologies. As a follow-up, I’d like to expand on that topic, with a focus on employee retention and skill development.

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It’s no secret that, for years, poor employee retention has been linked to lower productivity, increased recruitment and training costs, more frequent missteps, deteriorating customer experiences, and loss of revenue. Those issues are likely to worsen as employees become harder to find. But there are steps that can be taken to minimize the impact, and it starts with education.

EMPLOYEE EDUCATION STRENGTHENS THE ORGANIZATION

In the future, rather than searching externally for new talent, I believe we’ll need to focus on repurposing our current staff to fill critical gaps. We’ll need to encourage employees to move around the organization, filling essential roles and providing value where needed. That has benefits: Existing employees are already familiar with the environment and company culture, and they’ve already forged personal relationships within the organization. They hit the ground running.

Ensuring these employees have the right skill sets at the time they’re needed is the key. Organizations that continuously promote education create a more widely skilled, flexible workforce that can better respond to changing market conditions. As requirements evolve, these employees can step into new roles and accept new responsibilities, minimizing disruption to the business.

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Moreover, cultivating new skill sets allows employees to achieve new, personal milestones and to feel good about themselves. This can help build loyalty, boost morale, and enhance engagement—all of which contribute to employee retention.

START WITH BASIC INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

People entering the job market today have grown up with technology—surfing the web, gaming, and communicating via social media. As a result, they’re the most technologically savvy to have ever entered the workforce. On the other hand, I find that they sometimes lack the interpersonal skills of the generations that preceded them. That creates a challenge.

For two decades, digital technologies have been an important component of marketing programs designed to drive new business. But in the Covid-19 era, where events, trade shows, and user conferences have proven challenging, businesses have been forced to rely far more on these digital technologies, which has led to oversaturation. As we slowly make our way back into the office, I believe we’ll see the pendulum swing back toward personal relationships and face-to-face communication acting as central business drivers.

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Therefore, we must cultivate interpersonal skills in our employees. And our employees must be willing and able to effectively communicate and connect with other team members, departments, organizations, leads, customers, and so on. While teaching such skills can be challenging, the result will be an organization that communicates and collaborates more effectively.

PUT A FOCUS ON DATA ANALYTICS

Over the last several years, companies have leveraged data to boost sales and streamline operations. In marketing departments, data is now universally used to illustrate the return on investment of campaigns, events, and other activities. Moving forward, enhanced data mining can help us respond to labor shortages by illustrating how and where to focus increasingly scarce human resources.

This will require data analytics experts who can synthesize, evaluate, and understand data—and be able to devise a plan that reverses, amplifies, or accelerates the trends it uncovers. Business leaders should continue to embrace data analytics across all disciplines and offer employee education programs to maximize their value.

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Some leaders may be hesitant due to the potential for increased scrutiny, but data metrics can be used to ensure the best possible use of budgets and head count, and to set benchmarks to measure future programs. Linking measurable business value to specific business activities can lead to the understanding of how an employee’s work directly impacts the organization. That can help to create a sense of purpose and, again, drive engagement.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NEW SKILLS AND AUTOMATION

Many people fear their jobs will be replaced by automation. But it’s estimated that less than 5% of all occupations can be entirely automated. While automation and analytics tools won’t replace people, they will enhance and augment the duties they perform, resulting in greater efficiencies and productivity. And even the jobs that can be replaced likely won’t result in pink slips. Workers may pivot into new or expanded roles.

For example, many companies are leveraging automation to identify, diagnose, and fix problems, minimizing the time technicians are required in the field. But rather than eliminate jobs, organizations are urging technicians to use the time saved to sell upgrades and add-on services while performing on-site maintenance and repair. It’s a win-win. Companies are boosting sales at no additional cost while field techs get to leverage their skills and expertise in new, career-enhancing ways.

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It comes down to this: Where there are challenges, there are opportunities. It’s simply a matter of organizations and employees taking advantage of the situation by embracing education and skill enhancement. If properly planned and executed in a timely manner, personnel shortages can be addressed long before the situation becomes critical.


Liz Carter is the SVP of Marketing at ServiceMax with experience in high tech, cloud, SaaS, and communications.  

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