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Why the future workplace needs to think about individuals not generations

22 June 2020

Story by
Sarah Rice


Before this pandemic turned everything on its head, careers were already becoming increasingly dynamic. The nature of roles and industries were rapidly changing, some jobs becoming obsolete, new ones being created, all calling for workers to reinvent themselves multiple times.

While previously this was still a choice, this is now a must – and organisations also need to be prepared to help employees do this. Many more people will be forced to pivot their career trajectories, even those employees traditionally considered to be in their career twilight years. Indeed, when the ONS cites that those aged 50-64 account for half of the yearly increase in the UK workforce, there is no question of needing to help younger and older workers alike to adapt to this new reality.

The likes of generational differences or preconceptions are just no longer relevant and the traditional association between age and career progression has lost its meaning. Organisations need to realign and rebuild workforce strategies for multidimensional and multistage careers. Now, digital programmes need to be based on individuals.

For many, the assumption is also that changing roles or careers intrinsically calls for a change of organisation. But as many businesses themselves are having to switch up business strategies and goals, there could be more opportunities internally – and organisations need to be making the most of what employees have to offer.

Visibility equals opportunity

First things first, employees need to know the possible avenues open to them. This calls for full visibility of the different roles currently open and the required skills and training. In the same vein, as an employer you also need full visibility of employees’ skills and aptitudes on a truly individual level, not assuming their skillset based on their job title or age bracket, and providing the means for employees to properly record all their learning and training.

Knowing where your employees’ current competencies lie helps with identifying their potential for future different roles. For example, noting employees who have already undertaken basic training in a new area who could easily upskill or those who will need to fully re-train to meet new skills requirements.

Beyond current qualifications and skills, it is vital to also drill down into employees’ interests, values and passions. Here, you certainly cannot make any assumptions, but this is vital to help determine where an employee may wish to take their role or career. With some employees now returning from furlough, any extra-curricular learning or even a new hobby picked up while in lockdown are also important to note and could be of use for changing role. You may not know it but someone in marketing could be great at coding.

Learning to change

Whether upskilling or reskilling, while responsibility for learning and training to some extent lies with employees, there are ways organisations need to help. Offer not only a choice of what employees can learn, but also how and where they learn it. Different people prefer different training methods, learning materials and will have preferred devices for undertaking digital learning too. One size does not fit all, it has to be personalised.

With everyone now having to make changes to their previously planned careers it is also even more important that this training and learning happens seamlessly within the flow of the normal workday. Training should not be considered an additional task to perform but rather part of the job. This will ensure smoother transitions. Ongoing elements of a role will still be carried out as employees learn the ropes of new tasks or begin to make the move in a whole new direction.

It’s time to forget the idea of delivering learning to generational groups. Individualised career plans and programmes will not only help employees find their feet in these uncertain times but are also the means for organisations to survive. Companies themselves need to transform and pivot in new directions – they will only able to do this if employees can adapt and change with them. That means understanding your workforce as individuals.

Alexandra Anders is the EMEA Talent Director of Cornerstone OnDemand.



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