The Future Smarter Agile Workforce

Recent publications around the world, refer to an ‘agile’ interim #workforce as the way forward for the #skills crisis; targeting immediate business needs and supporting potential workforce with the necessary skills; and exposure for development and progression. The inference here is that this places ownership for personal development on the individual; than employers who are establishing leaner measures for training and development. With more employers recognising austerity measures will limit funding for employer led vocational training, in the long term; CFOs have the lead on establishing definite business ROI from investments and seek increased clarity on how business funds will be invested in organisational development plans. Global uncertainty is here to stay; and remaining strongly competitive is the ultimate decider on any investment.

An excerpt from Right Management latest press release that highlights global HR pressures on talent management (

‘Right Management’s global survey, which examined the HR challenges of 2,500 senior executives in 14 different countries, found that globally, four in five (82%) HR executives were experiencing this pressure.

The increased demand for monetary-based metrics was felt most acutely in BRIC economies including India (93%), China (91%) and Singapore (93%). The pressure appears to be less severe in Western Europe but there is still a clear strain on HR teams with 61% of German HR executives and 75% of French HR executives reporting increased pressure to use metrics that indicate a clear return on investment.’

In the UK, HR Magazine recently published the report for ‘The new vocational currency: investing for success, suggests that there is a ‘perception gap’ (Emma Parry, author of the report and reader of human resource management at Cranfield School of Management) between employers needs and employees views on vocational training. Whilst this report suggests employers have a marked interest in accessing candidates who have had vocational training; individuals seeking employment do not. With more preferring the more traditional route for education. Changing perceptions on education is complex with plenty of variations and career options to choose from.

There are the more general skills that help support individual development and employability.

There are the more specialist skills that only exposure to a sector and experience in the industry, will support sector specific employability.

Presently, the decider is the recruiter or employer on employment and assignment of skills are fit for the role. The candidate must make sure they are competent and willing to take on the role. The candidate ‘vote with their feet’ in terms of what they think will help make them employable. Majority choose the more traditional education route as the more accessible, widely recognised and assured way of gaining credibility for employment. But options are diverse. Marketing spin from educational institutions will ensure education route from colleges and universities heed credibility and strength; whatever the qualification. After all, there is ‘credible currency’ attached to the value of a recognised qualification.

Employers are reluctant to increase accessibility and provision for vocational qualifications via established institutions – either for fear of quality dilution through governance (capacity issues in maintenance), deemed immediate business impact, increased investment, lack of clarity in defining a future workforce and skills need and sector competition.

Technical colleges working with employer and careers partnerships aim to support the growing skills gap; but it will never plug immediate skills needs nor that of the future; as workforce planning requires a window of 5-10 years – with which the sector, industry and demands change. Employers find it increasingly difficult to inform the skills agenda, with increasing sector specific ‘big data’ challenges and interpretation. This places ownership; direction and drive on leadership.

  • Are leaders equipped in time and essential knowledge to inform the rising skills crisis? i.e. industry needs, workforce and succession planning, organisational immediate needs and future, including skills analysis
  • Or are businesses just getting by with immediate business projects, tasks, activities and service needs?

An interesting paper by Accenture on ‘Corporate Agility – Organisations Working At The Speed Of Opportunity’ highlights some of the key challenges for workforce developers, HR and educationalists. Indeed, some of the blogs here also refer to these complex challenges and ways of thinking beyond to support workforce development and planning.

Going Into The Future:

If ownership in the future, lies with the individual; sectors, industry and employer bodies must help individuals make a clear, informed choices about the sector, employment needs and development opportunities either through accessible career profiling, career advisors, detailed skills knowledge that helps develop careers and personal development. Information currently available is vast – globally. Economies of scale and scope are not being met with government input for skills development i.e. initiatives are not quite realising skills potential, solutions to plug capacity and capability issues (sector specific) and economic impact. Employers have the difficulty in informing government initiatives with concrete skills need analysis for the sector and individuals ‘walking with their feet’ in terms of a qualification or a job step to increase further opportunities or monetary gains (based on information available primarily through marketing sources than credible professional bodies).

The only way we are to support the skills crisis and plug the gap is to:

1. Be clear as employers our business needs and individual wants: Beyond the PR spin of business vision, mission and plan; with concrete skills mapping and analysis. Structured workforce planning  will help inform the debate on skills and perceptions.

2. Support individuals with knowledge that helps make the decisions on education routes and experience needs – now and the future.

3. Accept individuals with a variety of skills, experience and sector exposure – this includes ‘future skills’ potential i.e. What are the transparent acceptance criteria for the role? Make efforts to understand individuals experience in an interview, where the sector is different. An interesting article by Gary Swart (CEO oDesk) on LinkedIn aims to share just this: What employers should really look for, in a candidate. (

4. Create future proof ‘project managers’ – our future workforce that can deal with projects, lead with quality and in complexity i.e. An appreciation of business culture and stakeholder needs.

5. Accept a credible way forward on building skills currency for the workforce ‘as a whole’ i.e. sectors need to work together to support the changing pace of skills, needs and cross-sector visibility. Removing layers of complexity in vocational learning, competence development and workforce mapping; that ensures essential skills are recognised and successful attitudes tapped and recruited.

6. Employers work on establishing a minimal workforce benchmark cross-sector; that describes the minimal sector entry requirements and professional sector needs. Work on an agreement that ensures you and the sector commit to training and development for individuals (whether Gen X or Y).

Professional bodies are enablers to the skills crisis, as are industry specific networks. How can we make sure these networks are accepting of views and direct input from individuals / candidates outside of the sector? How do we listen outside of our profession and embrace perspectives from the talent currently untapped?

Our recruitment decisions are based on gaining the ‘ultimate talent’ either by substantial rewards or through collective bargaining. However, we must be mindful that the economy is the ultimate decider – not the individual. And with this lies the complexity of economy and skills. Macro-economics drives skills development and needs; outside of the immediate control of individuals, learners and employers.

What we need to focus on is how we plug our own immediate workforce needs. But, we can no longer lead the way with the traditional mind-set that we have ownership and loyalty of workforce skills; nor that they will be from the sector we are working in.

Feature image from a recent publication – CIPD (UK) ‘Mega Trends Infographic’


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