WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The world is changing faster than ever before, leading to a shortage of talent, meaning companies are being forced to find new ways to adapt and overcome skills shortages.
Everyone by now understands that the workplace, and the workforce is changing as a result of advances in everything from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to robotics which will both help destroy jobs and create new ones thanks, in part, to reports from companies like Deloitte that talk about how AI, for example, will wipe out hundreds of thousands of UK government jobs, and news snippets about companies like Accenture who used these technologies to automate 17,000 jobs, although interestingly enough here, noone was made redundant. As for my part in all this I’m less interested in the what will be automated and why, and more interested in how we as executives and society deal with it and help prepare people for this uncertain future of work which is why I wrote and shared my recent report on the Future of Education and Training 2020 to 2070 which you can download for free.
Just like their peers though all the big accounting firms are under pressure from digital disruption these days, just like everyone else in every other industry, so rather than waiting for it to happen PwC is trying to get onto the front foot by using a new digital accelerator program designed to train employees for the next generation of jobs.
To do this the company isn’t just providing some additional training resources and calling it a day though. They are allowing employees to take 18 months to two years to completely immerse themselves in learning about a new area. This involves spending half their time on training for their new skill development and half putting that new knowledge to work with clients.
PwC’s Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader at PwC was put in charge of the program. She said that as a consulting organisation, it was important to really focus on the providing a new set of skills for the entire group of employees, and that would take a serious commitment, concentrating on a set of emerging technologies. They first decided to focus on data and analytics, automation and robotics and AI and machine learning which are all hot topics now and for the foreseeable future.
Ray Wang, who is founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says this is part of a broader trend around preparing employees inside large organizations for future skills.
“Almost every organization around the world is worried about the growing skills gap inside their organizations. Reskilling, continuous learning and hands on training are back in vogue with the improved economy and war for talent,” he said.
PwC began designing the program about a year ago and decided to open it up to everyone in the company, from the consulting staff to the support staff, with goal of eventually providing a new set of skills across the entire organization of 50,000 employees. And as you would expect with a large organization, that started with baby steps.
The company designed the new program as a self-nomination process, rather than having management picked candidates. They wanted self starters, and in the end over 3,500 people applied. McEneaney says she considered this a good number, especially since PwC tends to be a risk averse culture and this was asking employees to leave the normal growth track and take a chance with this new program. Out of the 3,500 who applied, they did an initial pilot with 1000 people.
She estimates if a majority of the company’s employees eventually opt in to this retraining regimen, it could cost some serious cash, around $100 million. That’s not an insignificant sum, even for a large company like PwC, but McEneaney believes it should pay for itself fairly quickly. As she put it, customers will respect the fact that the company is modernizing and looking at more efficient ways to do the work they are doing today.
Daniel Croghan, a risk assurance associate at PwC, is of of those people who decided to go on the data and analytics track. While he welcomed getting new skills from his company, he admits he was nervous going this route at first because of the typical way his industry has worked in the past.
“In the accounting industry you come in and have a track and everyone follows the track. I was worried doing something unique could hinder me if I wasn’t following track,” he said.
He says those fears were alleviated by senior management encouraging people to join this program and giving participants assurances that they would not be penalised.
“The firm is dedicated to pushing this and having how we differentiate this against the industry, and we want to invest in all of our staff and push everyone through this,” Croghan said.
McEneaney says she’s a partner at the firm, but it took a change management sell to the executive team to get them on board and really getting them to look at it as a long term investment in the future of the business.
“I would say a critical factor in the early success of the program has been having buy in from our senior partners, our CEO and all of his team from the very start,” she added.
She reports directly to this team and sees their support and backing as critical to the early success of the program.
Members of the program are first given a 3 day orientation and then after that they follow self-directed course work. They are encouraged to work together with other people in the program, and this is especially important since people will bring a range of skills to the subject matter from absolute beginners to those with more advanced understanding. People can meet in an office if they are in the same area or a coffee shop or in an online meeting as they prefer.
Each member of the program participates in a Udacity nano-degree program, learning a new set of skills related to whatever technology speciality they have chosen.
“We have a pretty flexible culture here… and we trust our people to work in ways that work for them and work together in ways that work for them,” McEneaney explained.
The initial program was presented as a 12 to 18 month digital accelerator “tour of duty,” Croghan said.
“In those 12 to 18 months, we are dedicated to this program. We could choose another stint or go back to client work and bring those skills to client services that we previously provided.”
While this program is really just getting off the ground, it’s a step toward acknowledging the changing face of business and technology, and the impact that it’s having on the workplace. Companies like PwC need to be proactive in terms of preparing their own employees for the next generation of jobs, and that’s something every organization should be considering, no matter how large or how small.