I read an article recently about a Japanese company taking the stress out of leaving a job by writing a person’s resignation letter for them. It immediately got me thinking about the circumstances under which a person would prefer to deal with the situation in such a potentially impersonal way, rather than looking for a different solution to a job or career that they might not be enjoying – and indeed what that solution could be.

That takes me neatly to my point: the urgency of action needed to encourage companies to retrain and upskill their workers to keep pace with ever accelerating change. And the mindset that workers need to adopt to see the acquisition of new skills as a means of future-proofing their careers.

We’ve just published a report on lifelong learning with The Boston Consulting Group which proves exactly that. Based on nearly 5,000 interviews, the results offer an insight in to how employees and companies consider the impact of technological changes on jobs.

Gaining new skills is a journey with no terminus. It is essential to retrain and master new skills amid globalization and constant technological progress. But while the message is broadly uncontested, what strikes me as still lacking is the will among governments and employers to act by providing the right conditions for workers to adjust. Who knows, if the framework were there, some of those Japanese employees might never need to resign in the first place?

Clearly, it’s time for employers and governments to set the stage and prepare employees for an ever faster changing world of work. Jobs increasingly need to be “futureproofed” – as far as that’s possible – to prevent disruptive social upheaval.

Companies must think beyond the next quarter or 12 months and anticipate the urgency of lifelong learning and reskilling. Employers are on the front line here. Having an appropriate workforce is crucial to sustaining a business in the medium and long term.

Governments also have an essential part to play. They must provide the right fiscal and educational frameworks to encourage such longer term thinking by employers about their workforces. Put most crudely, the lack of a suitable labourforce will, ultimately, lead to declining national competitiveness and rising unemployment.

How to do it? I see a mixture of measures. Governments need to provide the right framework for companies to invest in their staff. The quickest and easiest short term solutions are fiscal changes allowing companies to offset spending on reskilling against earnings. In the longer term, expenditure on retraining and reskilling could be treated in a similar way to investment, amortizable over an extended period.

More radically, I like the idea of lifelong learning accounts for individual employees. France and Singapore have already taken the plunge with this concept. I think it should be broadened and internationalized.

In such schemes, workers and employers both contribute to individual “accounts” earmarked specifically for training and reskilling. The concept bears some resemblance to the three-pillar system of pension provision in Switzerland. There, individual pensions comprise a modest state pension, occupational pension co-funded by employers and employees, and, for those who want, supplementary private pensions funded exclusively by workers.

For reskilling schemes to function, there have to be inducements. Tax benefits for employee and employer are the most obvious carrots. But there are also more imaginative and longer term incentives. A lifelong learning account, for example, could include provisions for workers to “buy back” some period of early retirement if enough commitment has been shown over the years to retraining and upskilling.

What should retraining schemes provide? That’s hard to predict. But I’d stress two cores, with other elements being added based on industry, age, seniority and individual needs.

First would be a basic understanding of science and technology. That doesn’t mean universal coding courses, let alone advanced astrophysics. You don’t have to know exactly how a television or computer processes information to use it to your or your employer’s advantage. But having a decent grasp of key technological trends, such as artificial intelligence or big data, are musts for the future.

Secondly, while technology may be grabing the headlines, we should still value essential soft skills. These, if anything, are becoming more important than ever. Creativity and thinking for oneself are two that spring to mind. Learning to collaborate and work in a team are others. These are key human skills that machines will take years – if ever – to replicate, and they should be encouraged in any training programmes.

This article was originally published by Alain Dehaze, CEO The Adecco Group, on Linkedin. The Adecco Group is a member organisation of digitalswitzerland.


Author Alain Dehaze, CEO The Adecco Group

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