As automation, digitalisation and robotics continue to change the face of workforces across every industry, it is evident the world as we know it is now operating in a state of rapid and perpetual change.
A 2017 white paper by the World Economic Forum states, "Our world lies at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period of rapidly developing technology that will continue to transform our work and lives". It highlights five disruptive technologies that underpin this seismic shift towards digital operation: the internet of things, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, enterprise wearables, and 3D printing.
Each of these technologies is potentially transformative in its own right, and all are already coming to bear in complex combinations. The exact impact of this technological cocktail is a matter of much speculation, but can identify some growing implications.
The first is that the continued development of technology, in addition to its positive or negative impact on the numbers of jobs available, will continue to change the way we work. In other contexts, the rise of more developed tools and systems means that workers are required to radically change the way they operate as robotics and technology increasingly augment them.
Another key implication of the rise of digital is the rise of data. More pervasive underpinning technologies will continue to provide a multitude of data points, enabling the rise of data-driven decision-making. A compelling briefing by The Economist entitled Data is giving rise to a new economy made the following point:
Data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change. Flows of data have created new infrastructure, new businesses, new monopolies, new politics and— crucially—new economics.
Where will the rise of digital lead L&D?
DeakinCo.’s latest report, Enabling the Future of Work, looks at the consequences of these changes and the impact it has on both staff and learning and development professionals responsible for their development and adaption.
It focuses on the impact of some trends, including increasing numbers of augmented workers, digital tools and systems, the rise in demand for high-level human experience in line with quality employee experiences and the rising need for agility and speed.
DeakinCo. argues to navigate these changes, the ability to learn and innovate will become the new currency of success. This is where personalised learning programs that help people adapt to the changes specific to their area of expertise is key.
What this means, however, is that for businesses to enjoy the fruits of their labour in future, it is vital that there is an increased focus on the role and importance of HR and L&D departments.
The LinkedIn 2017 Workplace Learning Report confirmed, not surprisingly, that business impact is the measure most desired by CEOs from their L&D departments. Alarmingly, according to the same report, only 8 per cent of CEOs currently see the business impact of L&D. This reflects the long-term problem of L&D practitioners as ‘order-takers for training’.
With the rate of accelerated change and associated demands, it is likely that L&D professionals will increasingly feel the limits of being cast as order-takers.
It’s put forward by DeakinCo. that to combat this, and to help businesses future-proof their workforce, senior leaders must start to view these departments as impactful business partners.
It argues that developing new, more flexible boundaries and definitions will be a necessary part of breaking L&D out of its training silo; promoting the attitude that learning is everyone’s business and positioning L&D professionals as integrated business partners who enable performance rather than simply delivering training.
To help these L&D professionals to deliver more valuable and tailored support which strengthens their role, DeakinCo. believes there are four strategies:
Measuring, identifying and recognising
Enabling performance and a culture of continuous learning involves identifying current abilities and gaps, then providing specific and personalised recommendations and pathways for workers to develop using a myriad of
resources both internal and external to the organisation. Effective personalisation requires accurate metrics around an individual’s current capability, cross-checked against requirements for new roles. Such feedback is crucial for
individuals, teams and organisations to develop a shared reality of the current state and be able to target areas for development as required.
Solving performance challenges
Future performance challenges are likely to present in a range of familiar ways. For example, issues might arise in employee engagement, sales or customer feedback. A key shift at this moment is to reposition L&D teams as partners and problem-solvers rather than order-takers. In practical terms, this means further developing performance consulting skills to engage with the business and uncover causes through consultation or investigative process.
Creating experiences and campaigns
Beyond addressing particular performance challenges, organisations will continue to face business-as-usual learning and training requirements, including—but not restricted to— induction, leadership and compliance.
When considering what this will look like moving forward, it’s important to take an evidence-based approach to effective learning experiences.
Enabling a culture of continuous learning
Workers and organisations must rapidly arm themselves for constant change to deliver experiences that better meet their customer needs, faster than their competition.
Also, we’re entering a world that is increasingly underpinned by technology and data, which workers are expected to understand and leverage to better collaborate, problem solve and innovate.
These four strategies highlight thedemand for a range of new skills from L&D professionals. Design thinking and data analytics are the two priority skills that have been identified by DeakinCo.’s report. It suggests that, armed with these two skills, L&D professionals can embrace tremendous opportunities for impact.
The exploration of learning in a digital age demonstrates that there is a great deal of room for debate about the impact of robotics, the spread of the gig economy and what the future will hold.
However, the one thing that is certain is that there is likely to be continued disruption and change. What will be paramount is businesses’ approach to future proofing its people in a way that engages and empowers them.
DeakinCo Enabling the future of work. https://www.deakinco.com/enabling-the-future-of-work
LinkedIn 2017, 2017 Workplace Learning Report, accessed February 2018, https://learning.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/learning/en-us/pdfs/lil-workplace-learning-report.pdf.
Rafael Reif, L, 2018, ‘A survival guide for The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, World Economic Forum, 18 January, accessed January 2018,
The Economist 2017, ‘Data is giving rise to a new economy’, 6 May, accessed January 2018, https://www.economist.com/news/
World Economic Forum 2017, Technology and Innovation for the Future of Production: Accelerating Value Creation, accessed January
This article originally appeared in "Training & Development" magazine June 2018 Vol 45 No 2, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.