3 Ways to Invest in an Agile Workforce

Jack Van Tiem, Kelly
April 28, 2021
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We live in an age of smart machines where repetitive tasks, no matter how complex, are being automated. This has a profound impact on our workforce as new jobs are being created, the demand for skills is changing, worker expectations are shifting, and the talent gap is widening.

We’re at a critical juncture in the evolution of work. We live in an age of smart machines where repetitive tasks, no matter how complex, are being automated. This has a profound impact on our workforce as new jobs are being created, the demand for skills is changing, worker expectations are shifting, and the talent gap is widening.

These trends have only been accelerated by the pandemic. Supply and demand for talent has shifted significantly over the past 12 months, and economic uncertainty paired with workers’ safety concerns has made it extremely difficult for businesses to accurately gauge their talent needs and quickly scale their operations. As a result, businesses large and small are turning to contingent workers to meet their production goals.

Contingent talent offers the agility companies need in times of uncertainty. Contract work and project assignments appeal to a large number of workers with a gig mentality, particularly when their personal lives are in flux, too.

But the battle for talent is fierce, with workers carefully evaluating every opportunity. It’s a job-seekers market and talent expects employers to meet them where they are. Job seekers are looking for better work-life balance, safe workplaces, and wellbeing programs during this pandemic. As a result, the current worker shortage requires employers to respond with more talent-centric solutions, including flexible work arrangements, benefits, hiring bonuses and pay increases.

And that’s only the beginning. The most successful attraction and retention strategies also include skills training and career mapping.

While many contingent workers prefer short-term gigs, others ultimately want a permanent position. In either case, talent craves career advancement. More than eight in 10 look for training and upskilling opportunities when considering their next assignment, according to a new survey by Kelly® Professional & Industrial.

We surveyed 205 managers at large U.S. companies and 447 professional and industrial workers on assignment for us. Our survey revealed major discrepancies between how they perceive the impact of automation, highlighted a growing demand for upskilling opportunities, and identified solutions to mitigate the current talent crisis.

1. Workers and managers have different views on the impact of automation.

As U.S. manufacturing prepares for a post-pandemic economy, our survey shows stark differences between how workers and managers perceive the impact of automation:

• 7 in 10 managers say advancements in robots, machine learning and digital processes will reduce the number of workers needed within the next five years.
• Yet, only 3 in 10 workers view it that way, with 70% saying they are unconcerned about the impact of automation.

I would argue that workers have it right. Fears of automation destroying jobs are overblown. Yes, certain jobs are disappearing, but others are being created in their place. As repetitive tasks are being automated, human work – work that requires creativity, intuition and critical thinking – is becoming indispensable. Many of these new jobs will require workers to interface with sophisticated machines, which will demand an entirely new set of skills for the average industrial worker.

Companies must upskill workers for the more complex work that is to come, so they can thrive alongside these new technologies. Without introducing such initiatives, the talent acquisition problems employers face today will only continue to grow.

2. Upskilling is critical to attracting and retaining qualified talent.

Not only is there a critical need to upskill today’s workforce, there’s strong demand for it among job seekers:

• 57% of workers say they need more education and training to access higher paying jobs.
• 73% of workers say they will take up employers on upskilling opportunities if offered.

Today’s job seekers expect personalized work experiences, including on-the-job training. Employers must create training and upskilling to avoid falling behind and losing talent to competitors investing time and resources to prepare employees for the work of the future.

3. More transparent and accessible approaches to credentials and certifications are needed.

Our survey showed managers believe training leads to better service, productivity and overall quality of work, yet workers don’t understand what skills employers demand or how to obtain them:

• 8 in 10 managers say workers need more education, credentials, certificates or training to access higher-level jobs.
• Nearly half (47%) of workers say they don’t understand what skills matter most to employers and more than half (52%) say they are uncertain what skills would give them a boost in the job market.
• 1 in 4 workers say they don’t know where to acquire new skills and more than half (51%) are worried about how to pay for it.

The most successful companies clearly define the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need. They look at candidates through a skills lens and provide pathways for workers to obtain training, credentials and certifications.

The most critical workforce question today is not if smart machines will impact the world of work, but how workers can thrive alongside these new technologies. The reality is that repetitive tasks are being automated and that certain jobs are disappearing. But new jobs are emerging in their place – jobs that require new skillsets and new approaches to training and upskilling. Today’s businesses must recognize this trend and evolve with it, or risk losing the talent battle for good.

Jack Van Tiem, Kelly
Jack Van Tiem, Kelly

Jack Van Tiem is the Detroit Territory Vice President for Kelly Services, a global leader in providing workforce solutions. He oversees the staffing and business solutions operations throughout metro Detroit, with a focus on staffing for automotive, manufacturing, retail, financial services, and technology. He is also a member of Automation Alley’s Board of Directors.

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