Business Strategies towards a Sustainable, Future-Proof Workforce

Bringing together companies representing various sectors spanning the globe, we explored how business leaders, particularly Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) and HR Executives, play a crucial role in future-proofing their industries towards a sustainable future of work.

GAN Global partnered with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), as part of its Future of Work project, to understand why business action on skills development is important for both industry and a more cohesive and equal society. WBCSD and GAN Global explored which types of corporate skills development strategies organisations usually apply to quickly adapt to changing workforce needs. To help companies assess how to choose the most appropriate strategy to respond to both business and societal needs, a guide specifically targeting CHROs was launched, featuring case studies spanning various industries and countries around the globe.

“As an organization committed to shaping workforces of the future, GAN Global is pleased to work with WBCSD to co-create this guide on skills strategies for a sustainable world of work. HR leaders must design dynamic and responsive strategies to shape talent solutions; this guide offers excellent examples of good practice that are scalable and replicable.” – Nazrene Mannie, GAN Global Executive Director

In support of a sustainable world of work, we reached out to the following business leaders, to gain a diverse perspective and understanding around how the private sector is driving the future of work agenda:

· Nazrene Mannie, GAN Global, Executive Director

· Monique Malcolm-Hay, Global Programme Manager, PwC UK

· James Gomme, Director, People & Society, WBCSD

· François Rohrbach, General Manager, Switzerland, SVP Human Resources, Firmenich

· Donatella de Vita, Global Head of Development, Learning, Engagement and Welfare, Pirelli

· Idano Di Ciocco, Head of HR Global Talent and Organization, Pirelli

· Juliet Stuttard, Director, PwC UK

· Alison Maskell, UK Talent Planning and Development, Zurich Insurance

The objective of this session and the guide for CHROs on skills strategies for a sustainable world of work, is to emphasise the importance of comprehensive skills development strategies for creating future-proof businesses as well as a more sustainable future of work, and present business decision makers – in particular CHROs – with guidance to strengthen their companies’ skills development approaches.

Action Points and COVID-19 Trends for CHROs

Mr Gomme kicked off the discussion by providing a backdrop of the context for which the CHRO Guide was developed, citing rapid technology evolution, global socio-economic trends, shifting expectations of workers, and skills mismatch, with 72% of CEOs concerned about availability of key skills. The CHRO Guide is an opportunity to build long-term solutions, empower and engage employers and employees through building partnerships and collaboration in analysing the situation and solutions, and developing skilling programmes that are diverse, inclusive, and accessible. The action points for CHROs to develop impactful skills strategies for the new world of work, include the following:

1. Think long-term about skills development strategies

2. Analyse your company’s situation and choose the best solution

3. Empower and engage your employee base

4. Build partnerships and collaborate

5. Develop programmes that promote diversity, inclusion, and access

According to Ms Stuttard, PwC invested heavily in its digital skilling programmes, not just as a need to adapt to COVID-19, but also to accelerate employees’ soft skills and to incorporate diversity, inclusion, and accessibility to attract a wider talent base. The pandemic has also highlighted the need for leadership, innovation, and agility, in which the latter two will remain a constant need for CHROs’ search for talent. Access to skills development has been an opportunity during the pandemic through digital learning tools and programmes.

How Innovation and Engagement Influences Workforce Development and Planning

Mr Rohrbach gave an overview of Firmenich’s long-term vision on innovation – a key ingredient embedded in its corporate culture as a leading company on perfume and taste. A systematic approach to innovation, including investment, buy-in, strong process and KPIs are key to integrate technological development with workforce skilling and development. Another aspect that COVID-19 has shed light upon is the need for real engagement and listening to the workforce. The topics of well-being in the workplace and mental health have been discussed very openly and have become more important than ever.

At Pirelli, employee well-being has always been on the top management’s agenda, according to Ms de Vita. Especially during the pandemic, Pirelli renewed its focus on the centrality of people, investing in initiatives to keep employees engaged. The link between employee performance and their sense of well-being is direct. As the pandemic heightened people’s sense of anxiety and fear, it was therefore very important to develop programmes to give them a sense of belonging and help them overcome difficulties.

Secondly, leaders should have the ability to leverage their emotional intelligence to listen first, as they are now challenged with leading hybrid teams. Thirdly, HR professionals need to ensure succession planning through upskilling programmes that continuously keep skills relevant and updated. On this point, these programmes cannot be limited to the L&D departments, as it needs the buy-in from business and operations, pointing to the reason why engaged leadership is so critical.

On diversity and inclusion, Ms. de Vita and Mr. Di Ciocco noted that interest in STEM fields is cultivated early, and that there will be a shortage in these types of skills in virtually all sectors across the globe. This is where collaborating on joint activities with the national education system and establishing apprenticeships and internships to make these subject areas more accessible and inclusive can make a difference.

Trends Influencing Organisational Design and Workforce Development

Mr. Di Ciocco highlighted two main trends that have accelerated during the pandemic. The first is that companies were forced to analyse and re-evaluate their business models. This highlighted the centrality of digital transformation. The second trend for Pirelli is employees taking on a wider range of activities; people are performing complex tasks more efficiently, thanks to automation. This second point justifies the need for accessible digital tools such as hardware and connectivity. Employees at all levels are now confronted with expanded roles requiring digital literacy on several platforms.

How the Insurance Sector Empowers Workforces to Adapt to AI and Technology

With Zurich Insurance at the forefront of AI and technology embedded in its operations, the first aspect that the company considered to adapt its workforce was to understand the starting point (the impact that disruptive technologies would have) and establish a goal for what it is moving towards, according to Ms Maskell. The company worked with Faethm and PwC to understand these issues so it can effectively develop reskilling and upskilling programmes. With the establishment of various in-house training programmes including Data Analytics, Data Science, Automation and Leadership Academies, the aim was to prepare its workers to be more agile for critical, in-demand roles, scarce in Zurich and beyond. These Academies were also set up to enhance substantive skills to enable new career pathways. In the UK, they were able to leverage the apprenticeship levy to support some of these programmes, and another crucial factor in being able to set up these programmes, was to have leadership buy-in, as many other speakers had pointed to.

To integrate these programmes as part of its workforce development strategy, the company carried out a skills audit exercise and to motivate employees, it launched learning campaigns using storytelling, Digital Learning Days and career conversations so that learning opportunities and the benefits it offers were well known to its workforce. The company learned that although much of the general conversation around adapting workforces is around the theme of robotics and AI, Ms Maskell also highlighted the need for human skills such as empathy, problem-solving, and creating thinking. The pandemic has also uncovered people’s adaptability in response to change – the ability to embed technology, integrate solutions, apply cultural mindsets – all crucial traits stemming from soft skills.

As bias can start as early as the job application phase, with women tending to apply only if they have met all the requirements, as opposed to men – Ms Maskell noted that companies need to recognise adaptability of skills and go beyond the norm of potential candidates filling in all the boxes of a job description, if we want to cultivate more diverse and inclusive talent pools.

New world. New skills.

Finally, the session concluded with a few key takeaways from Ms Malcolm-Hay:

• Different sectors and geographies will require different approaches.

• Digital skills are just as important as human skills and ESG skills which are taking up a more prominent space in business needs.

• Companies need to know what stage of the learning journey they are in to develop effective strategies. Do they need to develop talent for school to work transitions for apprentices and trainees or leadership skills for managers?

Ms Malcolm-Hay also gave some insight on the New world. New skills. programme at PwC. The firm’s first steps in upskilling were to launch a program called “Digitising the Network”. The program started with 55,000 people in the US, and then expanded to all 284,000 employees around the world.