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With one billion people needing to reskill by 2030, our first “Future of Work” blog in a series of five considers how learning and development (L&D) plays a crucial role in meeting demand. By training in both hard and soft skills, L&D is vital in keeping businesses and economies competitive, teams collaborative and employees knowledgeable.

Some of the areas where L&D can have the most impact on the future of work include:

Whilst the march of technology is nothing new, the pandemic has accelerated it to a sprint. McKinsey research found that Covid-19 pushed digital adoption forward by five years, in a space of just eight weeks. Numerous businesses had to rapidly expand their online services to survive the pandemic and there is no going back. Digital transformation is a major priority for many, with customers expecting continued and improved offerings.

Businesses therefore need to ensure that they have a skilled workforce that can operate new technologies, but also have flexibility and drive to embrace further digital interventions. Creating a culture where learning is continuous not only helps individuals to upskill, but it can also bring together teams, departments, countries, and regions. Utilising technology effectively can have a powerful impact, instigating greater collaboration across the organisation.

The World Economic Forum mapped out where future job growth is due to come from and found that whilst highly technological and scientific skills are needed, softer skills – such as leadership, collaboration and creativity – will also be in great demand. These interpersonal skills are crucial to roles in sales, human resources, care, and education to ensure quality interaction between employees and customers.

Soft skills will also have to be transferable in a virtual world, as Covid-19 has transformed the way we operate with more employees working from home than ever before. Traditionally, softer skills were taught and utilised for in-person interactions, but increased use of virtual meetings means that they need to be transferred online too. So, where L&D initiatives are targeted at teaching soft skills, it must translate to an increasingly online community.

L&D plays a vital role in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) arena – from tackling unconscious bias, to highlighting barriers to better representation in an organisation. It’s a role that is only set to increase in importance too, as employees and customers alike are demanding more accountability and visibility from businesses when it comes to D&I practices.

One such area where representation is imbalanced, is the technology sector. Fewer women than men work directly in ICT roles in almost every country in the world – potentially exacerbating gender inequality globally. With technology roles playing such a crucial role in future growth opportunities, it’s concerning that representation amongst women in tech is still low. Whilst all departments have a responsibility to improve D&I, L&D is in a unique position to work across an organisation – ensuring that cultural change occurs, barriers to inclusion removed and diverse groups adequately supported.

In all elements of the future of work, L&D plays an integral role in ensuring employees are up to the challenge. Whether hiring an individual to digitally transform a business, or upskilling teams internally to focus on improving culture, L&D is central to ensuring lasting and impactful change occurs.