Reskilling for the future: why and how
By Sara Soleja, Capability Building Sub-Council, GPCA Youth Council
The world is seeing an era of exponential change. Self-driving cars, sophisticated robotics, genetic editing, and mobile supercomputing are converging to create a new reality where technological innovations play a crucial role in everything we do. These are affecting global economies and industries and are even challenging what it means to be human (1). Professor Klaus Schwab best coined this as the ‘forth industrial revolution’ where new technologies are fusing the physical, digital and biological world, completely challenging old business models and systems and providing new opportunities (2).
To address this rapid change and what it means for the next generation of young professionals, the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) established the region’s first Youth Council comprised of young industry leaders from GPCA member companies based in the GCC. As the Capability Building Sub-Council, we set out to research what are some of the capabilities needed in the future; what are some of the current skill gaps in the industry; and how can petrochemical and chemical companies upskill and reskill their employees. This article, developed exclusively for GPCA, will discuss our findings and provide new ideas on how to address the Future of Work.
Researchers predict that 375 million employees across the globe will need to change occupation in order to meet new demands of the workplace. A survey conducted by Mckinsey Global confirmed that nine in 10 leaders stated they either currently face a skill gap in their company or expect it to develop within the next five years. Moreover, only one third of survey respondents said their companies are equipped to cope with this market trend and technological disruptions in the workplace (3). But if they do, evidence suggests that the organizations which are fast to adapt capture more benefits, ranging from increased cash flow to improving security and inequality. Artificial intelligence front-runners, for example, can expect a 122% cash-flow increase due to efficiency gains, compared to just 10% for followers (4).
The types of skills needed within any industry can be divided into three main categories: digital skills, cognitive skills and soft skills. Basic cognitive, manual and physical skills will decline, but demand for technological, social and emotional, and higher cognitive skills will increase (5). It comes as no surprise that the megatrend in skills of the future is digitalization which includes advanced data analytics, internet of things, automation, AI technology, and robotics. The major cognitive skills employees need for the future are critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, decision making, and design thinking. On the other hand, the top soft skills are adaptability, effective communication active listening, and relationship management.
As labor cost increases, companies are heading toward automation to improve their competitive advantage. However, one question remains: how can manufacturing companies adopt digitalization effectively and engage their employees to work seamlessly alongside machines?
A recent World Economic Forum white paper looked at 1,000 companies who were successful at achieving a sustained digital transformation by limiting repetitive work with more interesting and diversified work. These companies not only trained their employees to operate in a digital environment, but to also add value beyond what automated systems and intelligent machines can do and to continually adapt to new ways of working. One of these companies is P&G, whose dishwashing liquid production plant in the Czech Republic increased their productivity by 160% and customer satisfaction by 116%. Elettrotecnica Rold Srl, a company manufacturing door locks for washing machines, grew their revenue by 8% by adding live collection of data, dashboards monitor equipment effectives, granular data collection based on IoT devices, and rapid innovation in design prototype.
In a successful reskilling program, companies should prepare by explaining future roles and the reskilling agenda; training employees to use their new skills in their current role; building partnerships and capabilities; using several learning resources from online providers to universities and technical organizations; and fostering a culture of continuous learning. Companies with skills gaps might not even recognize they have them. To understand what skills an organization lacks requires a rigorous approach to compare strategic needs with the supply of each skill. Then, a company can either hire or reskill. Skill building, rather than hiring, has been more effective for organizations and seven out of 10 leaders have noted that the impact has been greater or equal to the investment in them.
So, one might ask: what does this all mean for aspiring professionals looking to enter the GCC chemical industry or other STEP related fields? To remain competitive and attractive to future employers, young and aspiring industry leaders must engage in continuous learning. They must learn how to upskill and reskill themselves in a world surrounded by change. They may enrol on volunteering or internship programs that provide them with exposure to the real life work environment, develop valuable connections and network with professionals from the industry every opportunity they get.