General Assembly chief: Upskill your staff or marketing skills gap will widen

Workplaces of the future will be about upskilling and investing in existing talent, rather than poaching and recycling

Workplaces of the future will be about upskilling and investing in existing talent, rather than poaching and recycling, according to General Assembly's president and COO, Scott Kirkpatrick.

Speaking to CMO on a visit to Sydney this week, Kirkpatrick said with marketing changing so fast, the industry must undergo a reskilling effort led by practitioners or companies will suffer.

“You can’t solve the talent gap by recycling talent. You have to create new talent pipelines within companies,” he told CMO.

General Assembly, a global education and career transformation business, evolved from a co-working space to a global education provider, with some 70,000 students in its long form courses. Kirkpatrick said the business evolved from working with employers and placing graduates, to working with employers on the global skills gap problem caused by digital transformation.

With the global skills gaps worsening, the costs of talent acquisition skyrocketing, and employee churn rising, there is about to be the biggest move to upskilling and reskilling ever seen, Kirkpatrick said. However, the benefits of investing in existing employees, such as better retention, improved loyalty and better ROI, will be invaluable as the globe faces down digital transformation.

“Every CEO is talking about digital transformation right now,” he explained. “They have transform their companies, they have to think digital first, and they have to align all this to deliver value to customers. The fact is, every company needs to be a software tech company now. The problem is, none implement this very well, and it all comes down to talent.

“They don’t have the right talent, or the right culture. But it’s not about hiring someone new or getting a new technology, it’s about fundamentally changing the way you operate, and undertaking experimentation, and that’s why so many are failing."

Kirkpatrick said the skills gap is a real problem, and part of the reason is self-inflicted by employers. "They have very weak long-term planning goals around talent, and inertia around old school hiring processes. They are not doing skills-based hiring, they’re still doing behavioural hiring like the admin at a school's front desk, while hoping higher education will solve the problem. It won’t," he continued.

“So how do we solve this? The most innovative companies are rethinking all this. Most companies now are poaching talent to fill gaps, but this is a zero sum game and the only ones making out are the recruiters. No one solving it with training, and they should be. Data shows the amount the average company spends training someone is $1000, but they will spend $30,000 to hire talent.

“So, the most innovative companies are investing that $30,000 into their existing employees, therefore getting the skills they need, and bending the loyalty curve back in the process.

“The best quote I’ve heard about this is: ‘The CFO asks what if we train and develop all these employees and they leave? To which the CEO says, what if we don’t and they stay?"

Kirkpatrick also saw reskilling as a way of combatting the low diversity existing in many organisations today. "That’s a real problem. The more diversity you have, the more in line you are with your customers," he said. 

“By investing in your exiting employees, you achieve a better ROI, they are more loyal, there are overall lower costs to a business, and you retain them longer. This is what is driving the massive movement to upskilling.

“Higher education in Australia has valued vocational learning more than other countries, which is great. But a degree is also of zero value until you get it. Instead, you should be getting credentials over time."

As a result, Kirkpatrick saw less value being placed on degrees, and more value being placed on learning as you go.

"The days of doing a degree and expecting it to teach you everything you need for a 30-year career are over. Ongoing learning will be crucial to keep up.”

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