Mass training will be one of the defining challenges of our time: CEO

A woman takes an online training course.

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Upskilling the workforce in the use of technology will be critical to economic success post-pandemic, according to the chief executive of one of the world’s largest staffing firms. 

Jonas Prising, CEO of ManpowerGroup, said that businesses needed to train staff so that everyone has the opportunity for prosperity.

“The need and the opportunity after the pandemic to really reskill and upskill the workforce in all countries, in all organizations, is going to be extremely important, because the labor markets are bifurcated between the haves and the have nots in terms of their ability to take advantage of technology, as opposed to being subject to the changes of technology,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”

Prising added that universities, schools and governments would need to support business in training people to avoid a widening wealth gap. “That’s going to be one of the defining challenges of our time to ensure that we bridge this gap, so that we can ensure that everyone can participate in the creation of wealth and prosperity by participating in the workforce,” Prising said.

Having people work from home has meant an increased reliance on technology, as well as an acceleration in things like home-schooling, Prising stated. “We have proven that we can run our businesses in a different way, we can educate our children in different ways and we can now really think about mass training and reskilling activities within organizations,” he said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Rajeeb Dey, founder and CEO of training platform Learnerbly. “We have known that there is a need to constantly upskill and reskill people, for a number of years … it’s been accelerated because of the pandemic and people being laid off,” he told CNBC by phone.

“In the past, it was called ‘the future of work,’ now it’s just ‘work,’ right. Everything overnight has transformed,” he added.

Indeed, 53% of executives polled by consultancy Deloitte said that “between half and all of their workforce would need to change their skills” over the next three years. The survey polled nearly 9,000 business and HR executives in more than 100 countries online in November 2019.

Learnerbly lets employers give staff personal learning budgets and allows employees to choose topics they want to work on, ranging from public speaking to software engineering. And, rather than staff development being managed by senior teams, a bottom-up approach can be more effective, Dey stated. “Our philosophy has very much been (to) give employees that freedom to explore, give them the opportunity to be curious and create a learning culture … the most successful companies are the ones that have that culture of learning built in because the world is so uncertain and volatile,” he said.

As employers look to blend working from home with having staff commute to their organizations, Dey said popular training subjects include managing teams remotely. “There is an increased need for the kind of empathy aspect of being a manager and the so-called ‘soft skills’ (such as) active listening is more important when you’re working from home (and) you’ve got all sorts of distractions in the background,” Dey said.

Employees are also keen to learn about how to build new routines when they no longer have to commute, Dey added. “Now, you have more freedom, more flexibility, there’s a lot more trust (from employers) … there’s not someone physically seeing what you’re doing at all times.”

For Jonathan Pearce, workforce strategies leader at Deloitte, the challenges ahead won’t just be digital. He told CNBC by email: “We also have to think beyond digital skills, to how they integrate with the physical and emotional well-being of employees. Virtual employees are working their way through layers of new challenges, from creating human connection to managing family and work priorities, to navigating the ambiguity of virtual work, isolation and well-being.”

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