Future-Proofing Your Workforce Through Continuous Upskilling

July 21, 2020 Sarah Strahan

First published on LinkedIn


Our rapidly changing economy requires people who can quickly adapt to the pace of change. For organizations, this means identifying and cultivating behavioral competencies that allow people to thrive in a new environment, master new technologies, and acclimate to new ways of working. By assessing for behavioral competencies, rather than focusing on short-lived technical skills, employers can hire people most likely to keep up with emerging technologies and acquire new skills.

However, the importance of assessing for behavioral competencies isn’t limited to new hires. It’s also important when evaluating and closing skill gaps in your existing workforce. The results of Aon’s Digital Readiness Survey suggest that homegrown talent isn’t being sufficiently used or developed by many organizations. Just 15% of respondents said that the identification and development of internal talent forms a vital part of their digital strategy, though results varied widely by sector. Only 7% of the public sector, nonprofit and education organizations make internal talent development a priority. By comparison, the numbers are higher for retail and consumer goods companies (22%) and technology and telecommunications firms (26%).

Success in the digital age doesn’t mean just hiring people with technical skills. It’s also about continually developing your workforce by instilling an organizational mindset that embraces new ways of operating and rewards behaviors that impact business performance. Here are three steps to enable continuous upskilling to future-proof your workforce.

Focus on Learnability, Agility and Curiosity First

Aon’s digital readiness model is centered on the core competencies of learnability, agility and curiosity — all three showing significant correlations with indicators of an individual’s ability to navigate the digital world of work and to feel comfortable in an ever-evolving environment These behaviors will ensure that your employees are effective and engaged, no matter how technology and jobs change.

Understanding and fostering these competencies will allow your workforce to be flexible, seek self-improvement and remain open to change and novelty. This, in return, will enable them to more easily re- or upskill as roles evolve and requirements change.

Test for Skills That Foster Cross-Functional Leadership

A digital-ready workforce, prepared to continually develop new technical skills, will require strong leadership and cross-functional teams. Our research has found that there are several behavioral competencies that are relevant for leaders to be effective in ever-changing, digital environments. For example, the ability to promote collaboration and showing a drive to lead are important for shepherding others through change. This, coupled with a balance of humility and empowerment, helps ensure leaders have the ability to motivate their teams in the right way to embrace change and adopt new skills.

Aon can assess workers on competencies that are critical to leading digital readiness efforts and continuous upskilling initiatives. Providing personalized feedback on strengths and shortcomings can help raise leaders’ self-awareness of their capability to effectively manage teams and drive organizational transformation, as well as how they can develop to improve their digital readiness.

Look for Behaviors Over Tech Skills

Remember that critical competencies for digital transformation, such as learnability, agility and business acumen, are not the same as technical skills specific to certain digital tools. However, scores on the digital readiness model are related to successful adoption of other technical digital skills. For example, employees scoring high on agility show more positive attitudes toward using digital tools at work. And those who score high on learnability report a higher level of understanding of how to get the most from digital tools.

Technical or digital skills are expensive and often short-lived. Testing for behavioral competencies, on the other hand, ensures your workforce has capabilities to adapt to change and learn new skills as your industry and technology changes. In effect, it helps to future-proof your workforce with more enduring capabilities.

Learn more about the strategy and tactics that can prepare your organization for a continuously disrupted future in our Scaling the Digitally-Ready Workforce Report.

About the Author

Sarah Strahan

Sarah Strahan is a Senior Consultant and leads the North American Strategic Growth and Accounts team for Aon Assessment Solutions. She focuses on helping organizations advance their talent strategy through assessment, selection, and development programs. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in industrial-organizational psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and is located in Minneapolis, MN.

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