Emergence of the Chief People Officer: Upskilling and Learning at the Core

The World Economic Forum's "Future of Jobs" report predicts that by 2022, exponential data growth and accelerated technological progress will displace 75 million jobs globally. The "Future of Jobs" report also estimates that between 2018 and 2022, 42 percent of existing skills will shift, leading to the creation of around 133 million new job roles.  

According to the "Pathways to Digital Enablement Survey," conducted by Willis Towers Watson, many employees feel that automation is putting their jobs at risk. However, even though there is a buzz about robotics and artificial intelligence dislodging all jobs, the fact is, jobs will not go away, instead, radically changing work patterns will constantly reinvent job profiles.  

Top global companies are emphasizing increased human resource development to keep pace with dramatic technology shifts. To deal with severe talent shortages, and ready employees for the future, high-level company executives, are switching responsibilities to augment human resource development efforts. This is giving birth to a new role within the HR department under the name of the 'Chief People Officer'. For instance, Infosys CFO Mohandas Pai, in 2006, voluntarily stepped down from his position to lead the company's efforts in areas of human resource development as the Chief People Officer. Similarly, Mekin Maheshwari, who headed Flipkart's technology division, took over as the Chief People Officer to reshape the online retail platform's HR policies related to performance management, compensation, and employee retention. These moves highlight the emergence of a new HR role and its growing importance in recent times. 

As businesses struggle to retain their skilled workforce and experience extreme difficulty in attracting new talent, the role of the Chief People Officer is undergoing a paradigm shift over the past few years. Besides overseeing basic human resource management tasks, nowadays, companies also expect the Chief People Officer to build a robust organization culture that enables them to counter disruptive challenges. It is now the responsibility of the Chief People Officer to prepare the current workforce for transformations and disruptions, through flexible employee training programs that accommodate continuous learning and upskilling. 

Upskilling and Obligations of the Chief People Officer

In today's new work environment, a Chief People Officer needs to match tasks to skills efficiently, identifying skill sets that are declining in demand v/s that are growing in the wake of evolving automation technologies. This presents a formidable challenge due to ever-changing business dynamics and requirements, as stated by many HR professionals, in various studies. To cope with the problem of decreasing workforce as a consequence of shifting skill sets, Chief People Officers will require a comprehensive understanding of the shifts that are happening, and accordingly, they will have to follow up with the management for allocation of resources that facilitate employee training programs for upskilling and recruiting suitable talent.  

For empowering its workforce with relevant skills in the field of engineering, technology, and science, a 133-year-old telephone company, AT&T, began upskilling its employees way back in 2008. While PricewaterhouseCoopers has made a massive investment of 3 billion dollars to train 275,000 of its workers, the largest bank in the US, JPMorgan Chase, has added 350 million dollars on top of its existing 250-million-dollar investment to launch a new upskilling program called the 'New Skills at Work,' which will upskill its employees in emerging AI-technologies.

From Amazon to IBM, large corporations around the globe are sending their employees back to the classroom, and smaller companies can also do the same to upskill their workforce for the future. 

The Role of the Chief People Officer in Building a Culture of Learning Through Effective Corporate Training 

For a business to flourish, and for its talent to boom in this fiercely competitive ecosystem, both employers and employees will have to come on a common platform to enable continuous learning methodologies that promote upskilling. 

It is the job of a Chief People Officer to create a culture of learning within the organization in a way that learning gets incorporated into the daily work of employees. This can include varied learning experiences, including blended-learning courses or quick, micro-learning modules, made from content like infographics, video, and audio. A more formal in-person education, peer-to-peer learning, mentorships, rotational programs, and online training are some essential practices that a Chief People Officer must integrate into corporate training programs to boost the learning culture and enhance upskilling capabilities. 

Top-notch executives feel that learning methodologies need to change to deal with today's disruptive technologies and ever-changing business dynamics. Many of them believe that blended-learning solutions are the best way forward because of the flexibility the mixed-method learning module offers. The high-engagement, immersive learning module is ideal for corporate training programs, as it makes employees work-ready by enabling them to gradually upskill themselves at the time and place of their choice.  

A Chief People Officer Should Be Agile Enough to Balance HR Operations and Business Foresight 

Besides managing an organization's human capital and performing HR operational activities, a Chief People Officer should also be well-versed in emerging technologies to engineer innovative plans that deliver success in achieving business goals. A Chief People Officer must have the business foresight to build an organizational structure that can swiftly react to new opportunities, changing demands, and threats. To make this happen, it is vital for a Chief People Officer to improve retention and land new talent, by making 'upskilling' a strategic priority. Chief People Officers, aspiring to become business leaders, must embrace an agile, forward-thinking mindset that creates significant value for the organization.  

Perpetual Upskilling

Since work and technology are continuously changing, corporate training cannot continue to remain as periodic events. Various studies reveal that to handle today's changing work profiles, it is necessary for organizations to shift from regular training programs to perpetual upskilling. This, no doubt will infuse agility, but there are specific barriers to upskilling that employees face, which include -

Time Constraints 

Most employees lack the time needed to pursue an upskilling-oriented employee training program, in addition to their daily workload. 

Resource Constraints  

Employees do not get adequate leadership and financial support because top executives often feel that upskilling is an expensive process that does not impact ROI.  

Adaptability 

Organizations do not want to come out of their present state of affairs to make upskilling a priority. The inability to accept change is a significant barrier. 

To address these challenges, Chief People Officers need to persuade CEOs and senior management officials to adopt blended learning — which offers a flexible, less-expensive teaching module that can be personalized to enable students to learn at their own pace.  

Combining face-to-face teachings, instructor-led, live classroom learning, online training, and hands-on courses, blended-learning is a mixed-method education model that facilitates the delivery of knowledge over varied channels. Blended-learning not only allows students to access and share knowledge from anywhere at any time, but it also helps employers to integrate a high-quality, cost-effective learning mechanism into corporate training programs for upskilling their employees.

In this digital era, where disruption is a constant feature, blended-learning is an excellent upskilling tool that organizations can use to gain sustainable and substantial competitive advantage.  

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