Technological disruption is an opportunity-enabler, provided that the right skill training is at the disposal of those who fear their jobs are at the risk the most.
Technological advancement has transformed the way we carry out everyday tasks. But those who make the connection between people and services like food delivery, delivery of online shopping of products, or packers and movers possible are the blue-collar workers. Aren’t they the ones who actually deliver the services on the ground, even though technology as a medium has augmented the offerings?
Companies like Urban Clap, Ola and Swiggy provide the workers with basic training to give them a better understanding of using the app and ensure service quality and legal compliance. The easy availability of everyday services has fueled the demand in urban India as well as tier 2 and tier 3 cities, which, in turn, is contributing to the expansion of the blue-collar workforce.
Technological disruptions in the labor market and the need for upskilling
A study by MIT Technology Review estimates that 83 percent of jobs that make less than $20 per hour are threatened by automation. Innovative technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are making huge strides to develop cutting edge products, which can directly replace blue-collar workers.
This is because these jobs generally entail labor-intensive work, which can be easily carried out by intelligent machines. Some examples are self-driving cars, automated cleaning devices and food delivering drones which can replace workers from their current roles.
This does not necessarily mean that blue-collar workers will find themselves without jobs. A WEF report states that automation is also likely to create millions of new job opportunities in the future. However, these jobs will require professionals, even in the blue-collar capacity, to have at least a working knowledge of innovative technologies such as AI, ML, and data analytics. As the nature of jobs will transform and become more tech-led, professionals will need to undergo significant and continuous upskilling.
Numerous organisations have identified the need for upskilling their workforce and have already started training employees on higher organisational levels. However, they are still a few. More organisations must aim at aligning such employees at all levels with futuristic technologies, changing customer needs, and market shifts.
In doing so, companies can make all their employees competent enough to adapt to tech-led disruption within the organisation and the industry at large. Also, it helps blue-collar employees gain expertise and competencies to take on disruption head-on.
How can companies efficiently upskill blue-collar employees
To enable efficient learning and ensure a smooth transition for employees, companies need to communicate the ongoing changes to their workers. They should put in extra effort to make sure their people understand the entire cycle of digitalisation and how their role will evolve in the company. This will not only reduce anxiety and build trust among the employees but also help them realise the importance of upskilling.
Leaders might look at training blue-collar workers as a bigger challenge as they might not be well-versed or even introduced to a majority of the forward-looking technologies. However, it is still possible to carve out an up-graded workforce if leaders keep the following in mind:
Map skill-gap: Organisations have to create a map of skill-gap to ascertain where their blue-collar workforce stands in terms of industry-specific skill-sets and what competencies are required in the market for a successful transition. The information about skill gaps will essentially lay down the data and metrics to plan the future road-map for the creation of development programs and mitigate any consequences of skill-gaps on the larger community.
Comprehensible and engaging modules: Companies should use engaging learning modules that are comprehensible for the employees, preferably in the form of videos and audios. These should be translated into local languages to engage employees across different regions. The course should familiarise employees with the basics and then, build on it to increase their knowledge about more industry-specific concepts.
Soft skills to reinforce their role: Even though technical knowledge can help streamline business operations, soft skills act as an add-on to improve overall process efficiencies. People need to be equipped with soft skills such as communication and critical thinking, which can be used to steer the company through change strategically.
Content personalisation: Leaders have to consider that every employee would be different in terms of their competencies, educational qualification and even style of learning. They should offer personalised content according to the learning abilities of different professionals. Team managers and senior leaders have to be involved in the development of training programmes because they understand the weaknesses and strengths of their team better than anyone else.
For optimum results, companies must leverage learning management systems (LMS) and create an agile culture by encouraging peer-to-peer learning. They can motivate employees with appreciation and recognition, even while ensuring that no one is left behind.
Moreover, to become truly futuristic, companies have to rework their structures to make their workplaces more democratic, where white-collar and blue-collar can exchange ideas and learn from each other without any biases or inhibitions. This will also power a flat structure, make way for a heightened learning experience, and set professionals and the organisation on the path towards future success.
Technological disruption is in essence an opportunity-enabler, provided right skill development and training is at the disposal of those who fear their jobs are at the risk the most. Technological changes doesn't have to scare blue collar workforce, but instead empower them to learn foundation skills to keep them ready for the future.The writer is CEO, Mercer|Mettl