Lifelong Learning: Today’s Tool for Tomorrow’s Workplace
Digital transformation has been a near universal goal for companies worldwide. However, striving to be more like a digital native isn’t always enough. Infosys’ 2020 Digital Radar research report found that two-thirds of businesses surveyed had hit a digital ceiling. Many of these large enterprises struggled to reach the visionary tier where companies focus on employees as well as their technology and customers.
To better understand these dynamics, the Infosys Knowledge Institute collaborated with the University of Melbourne on a global study about the information technology sector. The objective was to project the industry’s outlook, understand the role of employees, and identify how to solve potential talent gaps.
More than 2,000 IT industry professionals, from all levels, participated in the online research. The survey was conducted before COVID-19. The pandemic accelerated some trends identified in the research, but most insights have stayed the same.
The positive impacts of emerging technologies
Automation is a foundational tenet of digital transformation. But there is often a negative perception since it is closely associated with job loss. Our findings, however, showed that IT industry workers had a more positive view of change. These employees said digital technology’s top two effects in the next five years would be creating new kinds of work and helping people perform their jobs better. (Figure 1). Those benefits accounted for half the responses.
Organizations can create a more positive atmosphere around change by helping workers learn new technologies, and most importantly, understanding how they address business challenges and opportunities. “Technology is all-pervasive, and the rate of change of technology is faster than what an average person can consume,” says Ferose VR, senior vice president and head of the SAP Academy for Engineering. “This creates anxiety, stress, and a fear of missing out. Becoming a lifelong learner becomes the most critical skill to remain relevant in today’s world.”
Figure 1. The positive outlook toward digital technologies
Source: Infosys Knowledge Institute
Increasingly, digital technology also provides greater flexibility for worker and employer. COVID-19 accelerated the trend toward working remotely on a large scale, including with external partners and not just with co-workers inside one’s own organization. Enterprises now better understand that many more roles can be performed both remotely and effectively. The results can save the employers the cost of some office space and the employees the cost of commuting.
Australian telecom firm Optus, for example, decided to make its customer service center employees work permanently from home when the arrangement worked so well during COVID-19. Post-pandemic, more than half its employees are expected to work from anywhere they choose.
The motivating factors for coming to work
It's not enough to hire the best talent: business leaders must understand what drives their employees. This study shows that the two biggest motivators are opportunities to learn and challenging work that allows them to put those skills into practice (Figure 2). Both of those ranked higher than what are perceived as stronger motivating factors, such as better pay and appreciative managers. Financial benefits finished third. Employees are well aware of the accelerated technology changes happening in the workplace and are ready for the extra effort required to meet those challenges.
Figure 2. The biggest motivators for work are challenges and opportunities to learn
Source: Infosys Knowledge Institute
“The most important skill required is the ability to adapt to new technology quickly, master it, and ride the wave of progress,” said N.R. Narayana Murthy, Infosys co-founder. “Only those companies that do this can indeed succeed.”
For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has made contact tracing into one of the world’s fastest-growing employment opportunities — one that no one expected. This demand for diverse, multidisciplinary skillsets created unexpected opportunities for workers who were able to deploy quickly.
In April, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security estimated that 100,000 would be needed in the U.S. The University launched a six-hour online course in contact tracing a month later. Google and Apple released APIs for developers to create contact tracing application on Android and iOS operating systems.
However, some contact tracing skills might find application post COVID-19. For example, a form of contact tracing could help with root-cause analysis when a poor quality part arrives at a factory. Several industry and function specific use cases — particularly for audits — demand the traceability of people and goods.
For organizations to survive, they must have the right technology in place. Those that want to thrive need to have the right people to take full advantage of that technology.
“I have always used the past to predict the future,” said Anant Agarwal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, and founder and CEO of edX. “Older jobs have given way to new jobs. This wave is no different.”
A desire to learn and excel are factors that bring IT professionals to work every day and keep them returning. Business leaders need to use that knowledge to design new work and develop key performance indicators and incentives.
A learning ecosystem with motivated employees will ensure that organizations are ready for evolving opportunities. Technologies have a finite shelf life. Motivated lifelong learning for employees will be the way organizations stay competitive and at the leading edge of technology.