Are your employees ‘future proof?’

Lifelong learning was once considered a luxury. No more.

It’s such a necessity that management consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. predicts that more than one in three workers may need to adapt their skills’ mix by 2030. Demand for advanced technology skills, such as coding and programming, will rise, as will social skills such as initiative taking and leadership.

Employees will have little choice but to upgrade themselves to perform in future jobs. It’s time to look at these needed skills not as a burden, but an opportunity for HR and benefits managers to consider in their employee training.

It’s clear that some skills will always be in demand. Glassdoor’s best jobs in America research shows there is a growing demand for soft skills. It includes things such as leadership, effective communication, listening and collaboration. Higher cognitive skills, creativity and complex information and problem-solving will be significantly more important.

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Engineers work in the laboratory at the Devialet SAS headquarters in Paris, France, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. In November the Paris-based company, which employs 250 staff and generated €60 million in sales last year, raised $106 million from a suite of investors that ranged from rapper Jay Z to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund. Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

It may be some time before we understand how automation will affect the workforce, as changes will be based on the competitive business landscape of your chosen industry. The McKinsey report recommends that employers place greater urgency on large-scale retraining initiatives now for most workers who will be affected by automation.

As a former CEO of a major healthcare company, I recognize the need to work closely with human resources departments to ensure they are not just dealing in the present, but also looking ahead. That includes helping employees prepare to adapt and quickly transform their job skills. In doing so, they are essentially “future-proofing” themselves. The best way to “future proof” is to move away from tasks that are largely routine and predictable, and easy to automate. This may include:

· Creative work. There is no replacement for creative work, and thinking that explores not just the outside, but a whole new box. In the tech industry, we will always be looking for disruptors. Marketing and advertising need big picture concepts, visuals and new ways to explain and share ideas.
· Roles that require human interaction. America will always need jobs that require empathy and caring, such as in nursing or social work. Even outside of caregiving, being an effective leader depends on building relationships with people.
· Strength in trades. Fewer people are entering skilled trades, such as electricians and plumbers, but those skills are still in high demand and require great knowledge. Those jobs shouldn’t become automated anytime soon.

HR and benefits managers need to take this time to help their employees adapt, to not just look at the skills these people offer now and how they can adapt them. They should embrace lifelong learning to keep “future-proofing” themselves. A focus on learning will be one of the most important components of success.

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