Leveraging skills and adapting your workforce


While the lockdown is in effect, creating ripples in supply chains and businesses globally, decision makers have been scrutinising their operational models and processes. They have been doing this partly to maintain a competitive edge, but also in many cases to tread water and survive.

Others have looked to adapt to support the fight against coronavirus. For instance, Barbour has thrown its weight behind supporting the NHS and is using its factories, where their signature wax coats are made, to now manufacture hospital gowns.

A lot of this adaptation focuses on new ways to manage people and how you can leverage skills to be the agile business you need to be. Leveraging or adapting the skills of their workforce efficiently will truly drive product or service innovation and change, to meet today’s everchanging climate.


Scrutinising individual skillsets

The way to leverage skills effectively is to play into people’s strengths and aptitudes. Businesses need to tap into cross-skilling and up-skilling; cross-skilling by engaging your employees in new job roles and upskilling by teaching them additional skills in their current role.

Creating new supply chain structures is a pertinent example of manufacturers adapting and effectively leveraging individual employee skillsets. The overhaul of a supply chain model to account for a global event, such as coronavirus, or even to implement a new, greener system is a huge undertaking. It can be difficult if you are an older company with established structures that are hard to demolish and replace but it can be done. Companies that successfully transition will ensure it’s a seamless and piecemeal process; this can be done through carefully repurposing and distributing employees and their new skills.

Businesses need to ensure that people movement and management is tactical, to not significantly upset the apple cart. For example, if you are looking to establish a supply chain in a new region to improve the final product, then cross-skilling a procurement manager to source new raw materials in a different geographical region is a sensible option, rather than reskilling and migrating a product developer to work on the procurement side of things.


Technological literacy

Businesses need to consider what their new “business as unusual” model looks like with remote working, lack of face-to-face contact and different streams of communication. There’s a growing importance of BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) where employees need to be comfortable and capable of efficiently accessing company content and data remotely on their own devices.

Technological literacy is a must-have skill for workforces and those who don’t learn it will struggle to integrate into modern businesses. In order to ensure employees aren’t left out when learning and using tech, there needs to be a clear stream of communication between management and employees over IT supply, training and implementation.

Research from PwC shows that 90% of C-suite executives believe their company pays attention to people’s needs when introducing new technology, but only about half (53%) of staff say the same. Technology in the workplace needs to be a conversation between management and employees with a mutual understanding; employees should be properly trained and educated so they can be brought along on the digital journey and understand the benefits good tech can bring to them.


Are people competing with AI?

With all this talk of tech, one concern that crops up regularly for employees is a fear of being replaced by a machine. From a skills perspective, it can seem like AI is a superior asset for a workforce.

However, the bottom line is that AI is not a threat, if it is deployed correctly. A great example of AI creating jobs is with the introduction of Computer-Aided Design (CAD). When this was new to the market, detractors worried it would take out the human design element, but it hasn’t replaced people and workforces; it has augmented design, introduced new skilling opportunities and opened up new positions for designers to work in tandem with.

In the finance domain, AI is increasingly having a big role to play. Our ‘CFO 3.0 – digital transformation beyond financial management’ report found that while eight-in-ten respondents (86%) believe that automation has already improved business productivity, six-in-ten are worried about the extent to which their role will be automated in future. And, the vast majority (93%) believe technology has to be carefully selected to align with the culture of an organisation.

People worry finance AI will mean the end of controllers, but employees can now focus on data anomalies and exceptions. Here, AI will change the nature of jobs to focus on problem management and troubleshooting; it will not eradicate those jobs. If AI is implemented correctly and people are skilled to use it, then it does not pose a threat.


The benefits of adapting with tech

A lot of value can be taken from skilling and adapting your workforce with tech in mind. For instance, if employees are skilled in utilising data, then this can help with trend analysis, helping to ensure there’s less mistakes, more insight, greater value and better understanding. AI and machine learning can also come into play and help with predictive angles for business planning and management.

Businesses are realising that they need to modernise their operations and train many employees to be data scientists in some form or another. Human beings need to slice and dice data and interpret; there’s a need for people to self-serve when it comes to data, so they can use data to drive decisions. If you have a good compass when leveraging data, like a GPS getting you directly to a destination, then you can avoid drowning in data and can harvest good insights from it.

New tools like automation and data pose an opportunity for skilling the workforce in a new digital area to help augment insights for their roles. By leveraging things like automation and data, employees can focus on the changing requirements of the business and improving core competencies. It’s clear that investment in data-centric tools and skill-sets will enable businesses to adapt quicker and more effectively as the it understands implicitly the mechanics of its operations, and customer base.

The intersection between emerging technology and human interaction has created an opportunity for leaders to reimagine business, upskill and cross-skill, and offer a more strategic and visionary approach to their role. By training employees on leveraging digital tools and skills, ensuring that new roles and responsibilities play into individual strengths and adapting operational models in a conscientious and piecemeal process, businesses can adapt and improve their models in the right way.