Don’t Have Skills? Better Get Motivated

Just about everyone is talking about the future of work. Automation and artificial intelligence are changing job functions, from factory workers to attorneys. The skills that get someone hired today may not be the skills the job will require in a few years.

What’s more, while most of us agree the future jobs will look different, there’s little agreement as to what, exactly, that means for the average worker or what they should be doing to prepare. My company set out to ask workers directly how they feel about digital transformation and what, if anything, they’re doing in response.

Our third survey on the state of the skills gap in the U.S. found saw some interesting trends:

  • 84% of respondents believe there is a skills gap, a 6% increase from 2017.
  • 39% of respondents feel personally affected by the skills gap, a 4% increase from last year.
  • 43% expect automation/AI to be able to do their jobs within five years; that figure jumps to 54% among men, compared with only 34% of women.
  • 51% say they’d quit a job if their employer did not offer training necessary for advancing in their careers.

While awareness of the skills gap and the potential impact of automation on U.S. jobs is growing, most feel good about their prospects and continue to believe in the American Dream. That doesn’t mean they put their faith in the government. Indeed, more than half (54%) lack confidence in government upskilling programs, and nearly half (48%) think today’s political climate will have a negative impact on their industry.

When it comes to how employees are approaching the future of work, our research suggests they can be broken down into three basic groups: the Motivated, the Optimists, and the Passive.

The Motivated
This cohort is pragmatic about the future, isn’t taking anything for granted, and wants to be prepared, so they’re proactively upskilling, picking up side hustles, and jumping on the opportunities that come their way.

This group is also 22% more likely to have a side hustle and 22% more likely to quit a job where they didn’t receive training. This cohort also has a much higher regard for online learning, with 56% saying people who learn online are actually more qualified than their peers.

The Optimists
This group is comprised primarily of people in management, workers with college degrees, and employees closer to retirement age who don’t seem as concerned about external factors hurting their career trajectories, though they’re very much aware of them.

For example, the Optimists expect to do better than their parents (69% of those with a college degree vs. 56% of those without), despite also being far more likely to recognize that job skills are changing. Among the Optimists, older workers respond similarly to millennials/Gen Z when asked whether there’s a skills gap in the U.S., but only 30% of those older than 38 feel personally affected by it.

The Optimists are more likely to participate participating in corporate training (6% higher among managers vs. rank-and-file workers), so while they feel they’re already in secure positions, they’re taking advantage of employers’ support too.

The Passive
Overall, 12% say they haven’t learned any new skills for work, and about half of our survey respondents said they are content to stay at a job even if the company offers no training.

Among those with only a high-school diploma, 18% say they haven’t done anything to upskill. They’re also far less likely to say the skills gap affects them personally, and they’re 16% less likely than college grads to sense the impact of automation on their jobs. Only 29% of those who wouldn’t leave a job without training expect required skills to change. Whether this is wishful thinking or lack of awareness, the result is a group that won’t or can’t find ways to develop their skills.

Turning Challenges Into Opportunity
Complacency has never been a winning attitude for those looking to build their careers, and it was encouraging for me to see most survey respondents hungry for learning opportunities. The 51% of survey respondents who would quit a job where they weren’t offered training were more likely to be aware of economic trends that could hinder their career growth.

Learning Is The No. 1 Skill
Self-motivated learners are exactly who companies should want to hire, and you may be able to spot these motivated workers by the online courses on their resumes. Not only are 34% of employees taking online courses, half of survey respondents actually consider online-course takers more qualified than their peers.

Every individual owns at least some responsibility for keeping their skill sets up to date. Still, I believe employers must share the burden by providing robust training that evolves right along with changes in job functions.

There are numerous benefits to rolling out learning programs that let every employee develop hard and soft skills on the job. For starters, employees are more engaged and like their jobs more when they have access to training: Udemy’s “2016 Workplace Boredom Report” found 80% of workers agreed that “being given opportunities to learn new skills at work would make me more interested and engaged in my job.”

It makes a lot more sense to retain adaptable, high-value learners, instead of being on a continual hunt for external candidates with specific skill sets that keep changing.

The motivated employees you want to hire are choosing employers who support their development needs. So, what is your organization doing to help motivate and empower people to upskill for the future?

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