HRs must be “superheroes” in the future of work

VP and managing director of General Assembly Anand Chopra-McGowan outlined five practical ways HR can tackle the reskilling challenge

HR professionals should be the “superheroes” of organisations and solve the reskilling challenge facing the future of work, according to Anand Chopra-McGowan, VP and managing director of General Assembly, speaking at the Working Futures conference.

“HR professionals have the opportunity to be and in many cases are the superheroes we need to create a positive work environment for all,” he said.

Technology and automation are creating exciting opportunities for organisations but are “scary” for employees whose skills may no longer be needed as a result, he said.

“If you’re one of the workers who technology is going to affect then for you it’s pretty scary,” said Chopra-McGowan.

“You can pick any percentage of jobs that will be eliminated or affected – there’s lots of different versions… But whichever you pick what’s not up for debate is the way work is changing.

“So the question is, in this scary world for employees, teams and colleagues, who is going to save us?”

Chopra-McGowan explained that this is where HR professionals have the opportunity to be superheroes by reskilling employees for the future.

“Superheroes [are] creating and bringing to life effective, impactful and innovative new pathways for employees to reskill themselves… [so that they can fit in] the more digitally-transformed and automated working future,” he said.

Pointing to a Harvard Business Review article which defined the CEO, CFO and CHRO as the “G3” that should come “together to run the business in a more collaborative, cross-functional way”, he said HR leaders need to take a key role in reskilling people for the future.

“Plenty of companies are starting to take matters into their own hands and say if ‘on the one hand we’re going to invest in tools of automation and digital transformation that have a great impact for us then we have a responsibility to and can prove the cost benefits if we reskill employees to take advantage of this’,” he said.

“Superheroes are leading the charge to see these possibilities come to life for employees.”

Chopra-McGowan outlined five practical ways HR can reskill the workforce for the future.

“Every superhero needs a utility belt – the practical gadgets and tools that bring this stuff to life,” he said.

“There’s five things we’re seeing work in bringing these reskilling possibilities of the working future to life.”

First is “the idea of a rallying cry”, he explained: “It can’t just be an HR team thing or a small group going on training or to classes… it needs to be a big powerful commitment from the top that we will invest in people.”

Chopra-McGowan pointed to firms such as PwC and Amazon that have channelled significant investment into reskilling employees. “These are not the L&D budgets we’re used to – these are big bold commitments,” he said. “It is not just a few hours in a workshop somewhere… companies and superheroes realise they need this big investment.”

The second tool is to use modern skills assessments to guide investment in reskilling, Chopra-McGowan continued. He warned that if companies just start with a blanket reskilling plan for the wider workforce, it is “absolutely going to waste some money” because it will be too advanced for some employees and too rudimentary for others. HR should use “practical assessments and exams” as a starting point, he added.

Chopra-McGowan said the third tool is to “match the pace of change with agile strategic workforce planning”. Instead of planning what roles employees need to be reskilled for in five years’ time, he said HR should constantly look at the data, plan what skills and jobs are emerging, and continuously adapt the workforce planning strategy to meet these needs.

“Anyone who can predict what role they need in five years is at best optimistic and at worst lying,” he said. “We don’t have any illusions that we can’t predict exactly what someone needs to learn or the skills needed in five years – instead [HR should] establish a tight responsive agile message on what the business needs and keep updating it.”

The fourth tool is to bring talent acquisition and L&D together, he said. Chopra-McGowan pointed to the approach at Walt Disney where any female worker in any role in the company could put themselves forward to be reskilled to become a software engineer.

He then went on to define the fifth tool: to embrace new talent pipelines.

This means “giving people [opportunities] who wouldn’t normally have the chance”.

“HR superheroes [should] look to alternative pipelines for talent,” he explained. “Not just the employees you have here or you get from the recruitment team but also apprentices and your own employees you can reskill.

“So it’s solving problems for the company by creating more positive ways and practical ways.”

Chopra-McGowan added: “So there are some scary new trends that impact the future of work but I truly believe that HR leaders can be the superheroes we need if they have the right utility belts.”