What Cities Can Learn From Companies About Retraining The Workforce

A skills gap is developing, as many workers today don’t yet have what’s needed for the jobs of the future

Technology has been changing skill requirements since the Industrial Revolution. But automation, big data, and artificial intelligence have sped up the pace of workforce transformation. Jobs that exist today may not tomorrow. Completely new jobs will need to be filled quickly, and most existing jobs will change significantly. As a result, a skills gap is developing, as many workers today don’t yet have what’s needed for the jobs of the future.

Like leading companies that are investing in learning and development programs to retrain and reskill their workforces, cities can play a valuable role in preparing their citizens for the future— including city employees. They also have a huge incentive to do so to ensure that their communities will thrive.

So what are leading companies doing?

First, they are identifying the key capabilities their workforces need to fulfill future strategic goals, such as stronger technical skills to fill the growing demand for data scientists, robotics experts, cybersecurity experts, and user-experience designers.

They are also balancing traditional training with employee-driven learning, recommending courses based on evolving business demands while providing employees with the freedom to pursue training even for interests outside their core job requirements—for example, providing sales staff with the option to learn coding. In addition, leading companies are integrating new learning platforms into existing performance and talent-management systems so that learning goals are tied to workers’ performance ratings.

Cities should likewise assess the risk to their citizens’ jobs by investing in understanding the scale and nature of emerging needs. In many ways, cities face a greater challenge than companies: they need to think about all of their citizens, not just pick and choose whom to train, as companies can. Numerous tools, such as one offered by Oxford University’s Martin School, can help cities determine which jobs are vulnerable so that they can engage with specific companies and target resources to the industries or geographic areas where jobs are at greatest risk.

Once cities identify sources of risk and emerging needs—say, a shortfall of 1,000 coders is identified—they can consider designing a training program like a new computer science certificate. Training programs need to be targeted broadly to include retraining programs for those in at-risk roles, back-to-work programs for people who are unemployed, and opportunities for students still at school to obtain vocational skills needed for future jobs. Many of these initiatives can also tap into private-sector expertise through public-private partnerships to provide specific training needed by particular employers.

Finally, cities should help their citizens continue to acquire new skills by raising community awareness of the emerging need for new skills and providing opportunities and incentives for citizens to develop them.

This article first appeared in CityVision Magazine