The top 4 priorities for tomorrow’s workforce

While we cannot prepare for every eventuality, a corporate strategy that prioritizes employee readiness and skill development offers a robust roadmap for growth, no matter what comes next.

After several years of COVID-19 chaos, it’s tempting for organizations to slow the pace of change and embrace the “new normal.” But with uncertainty about inflation and recession, a tight hiring market and the rapid emergence of disruptive technology like next-generation artificial intelligence tools (ChatGPT did not write this…), it’s more important than ever to double down on workforce development. 

As the pandemic taught us, we can’t predict or prepare for every eventuality. However, with careful investments, companies can more easily adapt and create a better future by implementing these four strategies: 

1. Invest in digital transformation

In 2023, digital transformation is no longer a lofty goal for corporate roadmaps. It’s imperative for survival across industries. 

For example, today’s financial services corporations are essentially technology companies. Citigroup employs more than 70,000 tech professionals and spends $10 billion each year on technology—and they aren’t alone in prioritizing tech investments. According to the International Data Corporation, global spending on digital transformation will reach $3.4 trillion in 2026 with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 16.3 percent. 

But money alone isn’t enough to ensure success. Layering new technologies on top of broken processes will only cause frustration. Choosing new platforms and tools only represents 20 percent of the journey. The other 80 percent is about changing mindsets and getting people in your company to work together in new ways. That’s why digital transformation efforts always need to include employee upskilling and reskilling efforts.

2. Prioritize employee upskilling

Once upon a time, earning a credential and then spending the rest of your life monetizing that credential was a common and viable career strategy. Today, the skills that both businesses and employees need are evolving faster than ever—Gartner has found that the number of skills needed to perform any single job has been increasing by 10 percent each year since 2017. Employees need to continuously learn to maintain earning power, while companies must adapt quickly to changing consumer needs and technical demands. Upskilling initiatives benefit everyone and serve as a powerful tool for employee retention.

However, creating a comprehensive upskilling program can be daunting for large global organizations. To get started, companies should focus on specific areas where the need is most acute and build replicable processes that they can broaden across the organization over time. For example, a company might invest in training its HR organization to use a new workforce management software and then use learnings from that process to inform the structure and delivery of future skills development efforts. 

3. Keep diversity, equity and inclusion front-of-mind

DEI efforts are a priority for many companies, and they go hand-in-hand with workforce development initiatives. Offering upskilling opportunities to employees at all levels is a powerful way to diversify your workforce, providing underrepresented groups with pathways into new roles. For example, many companies have adopted efforts to upskill and reskill women into tech roles, as Disney has through its Code: Rosie initiative.

Savvy companies increasingly recognize that they have huge untapped potential within their workforces. Bain & Company points out that Black and Latinx employees are often disproportionately represented in lower-paying frontline positions. Companies that offer those employees the opportunity to move up within the organization will diversify their workforces, build employee engagement and improve their reputations as employers. 

4. Focus on sustainability

As COVID-19 showed us, global crises impact every organization, often in unexpected ways. The ongoing impacts of climate change will force most companies to change how they do business, with potential effects on customer demand, modes of production and even business locations. 

Companies in all industries must speed up their climate action plans to reflect this reality. What this looks like will vary—while a global manufacturer must consider supply chains and transportation, a financial services company may instead assess the long-term viability of specific business models when delivering loans and realize it needs to train commercial bankers to make more sustainable credit decisions. But the imperative is the same. To move climate initiatives forward, companies will need to invest in their employees so they can develop new skill sets for a more sustainable future. 

No one can predict the future with certainty. But as corporate leaders, we must act upon the best information available to us—and the data show that the coming decades will bring massive economic and technological change.