Call for change

Reimagining talent mobility and upskilling impact

The upheaval brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic further crystalized an urgent and complex global employment challenge: how to prepare people for the future of work in ways that serve individuals, businesses and communities.

A World Economic Forum report estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by machines, but 97 million new roles may emerge due to a new dynamic between people and technology. To address this reality and its opportunities, and as co-chairs of the Forum's Consumer Industries Task Force on the Future of Work, Walmart and Unilever initiated a collaborative, cross-industry pilot program to figure out better, smarter ways of preparing people for new career paths based on their interests and skills.

"Only jobs should be made redundant. Not people."

— PATRICK HULL, Unilever VP of Future of Work

40%

Of worker time is potentially automatable for workers in Retail. It’s 54% for workers in Consumer goods.

85

Million jobs may be displaced by machines by 2025.

97

Million new roles may emerge by 2025 due to a new dynamic between people and technology.

When tech meets human ingenuity

Creating possibilities through skills

Walmart and Unilever have long believed that keeping people employed by guiding them to new opportunities is good for both business and communities. The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, however, led them to a collective decision to act now to help people and businesses thrive.

So, they joined forces to launch a pilot program that ran from December 2020 to February 2021. Accenture was brought in to lead the pilot program and help Walmart and Unilever create a new way to create better, more sustainable opportunities for people—one that could attract broad industry participation.

Accenture partnered with SkyHive, an award-winning Canadian startup that uses quantum labor analysis to assess labor market supply and demand. SkyHive looks at declining and emerging jobs as collections of individual skills, and analyzes how much the skillsets overlap, as well as which specific skills must be learned for a person to move from the declining role to an emerging role.

The pilot would test three specific hypotheses:

1. Can hidden skills be identified and unlocked?

Could deeper insights reveal workers’ unrecognized skills which would allow them to shine in unexpected, emerging roles?

2. Can workers be better prepared for the future?

Instead of looking at a role as a set of responsibilities, can technology identify transferrable skills that create a roadmap from one job to another?

3. Can people move between organizations?

Can people take on new jobs within and across industries based on their skills, not simply their job descriptions?

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"The more granular the skill data on each role, the more opportunities begin to present themselves. The AI eliminates human bias in terms of who’s truly capable of doing which job."

— Nicholas Whittall, Accenture MD of Talent & Organization

Proving out the hypotheses

Yes. SkyHive has found that people self-identify, on average, 11 skills for their particular role. Using SkyHive’s technology, however, that number jumps to 34.

The data also found that a person might only need to acquire a few additional skills to switch disciplines entirely—which wouldn’t be possible without AI identifying the skills people don’t realize they already have.

Yes. Using SkyHive’s skill matching between roles, Accenture built upskilling pathways to prepare people for their new roles and demonstrate that the pathways are viable, fast, practical, and cost-efficient. The pilot showed that people could be upskilled for new roles in different functions within just six months.

Yes. The skill mapping also showed that there’s likely a smooth transition from manufacturing roles to a job in green energy, such as installing solar panels. It doesn’t seem intuitive at first, but the analysis showed that the skills and attributes are similar.

Pathways were also identified between roles at Walmart and Unilever in certain geographies, showing that people can move between organizations, within and across industries based on their skills, not their past roles.

“No company today is equipped to operate upskilling efforts at full scale. That's the problem and the opportunity.”

— AMY GOLDFINGER, Walmart SVP of Global Talent

A valuable difference

Where the data meet determination

While the pilot proved the importance of data in preparing people for the future of work, there’s still the human element to consider: Employers need to understand what people actually want to do, what is their purpose and passion, and then support them to embark on unexpected pathways. That’s the art of upskilling efforts that can’t be overlooked.

That’s why both Walmart and Unilever are aware that there are much broader implications and considerations ahead.

Leaders across the company need to be informed and educated about people’s ability to close achievable skill gaps. HR, recruiters and workers looking to change jobs all have to believe that the paths are real.

"We’ve been working for a number of years on how we transition people into other jobs, but with pilots like this, we’re learning how we can do it even better."

— Leena Nair, Unilever CHRO

The path forward

In proving the three initial hypotheses, the team concluded the pilot program with five key learnings that must be kept top of mind if their new approach to preparing people for the future of work is to take hold.

Organizations can have an outsized impact on the communities they serve. Skilling people for new roles, even externally, is one of the smartest things a business can do in lieu of simply reducing headcount as jobs decline.

Data-and AI-driven strategic capabilities empower people to make personal choices about their careers based on strengths, interests and other personal criteria. The HR function can support that decision-making process by providing options and opportunities.

AI opens possibilities that people can’t see due to inherent biases. In particular, there is widespread evidence that women and people of color underrepresent their skills. As responsible AI evolves and takes hold, it’s likely to help people shed more biases, create more equitable processes and allow for the creation of more job pathways.

Management needs a mindset shift to foster a culture that recognizes the relationship between expanding career opportunities for people and creating growth opportunities for the business.

Companies must structure themselves to think about upskilling as a competitive advantage or as a business imperative, not a nice-to-have later, when time allows.

As more pathways are explored, more ways of thinking about mapping skills and talent mobility will emerge, each more dynamic than the previous iteration. As the discussions around the issue improve, more workers will pursue these new career paths. But only so much can be accomplished if companies go it alone, rather than collaborating with other organizations to prepare people in their communities for the future of work.


“The Future of Work has arrived. This collaboration is historic as it exemplifies the unique actions companies need to be taking to future-proof their workforces, by putting people first.”

— Sean Hinton, founder and CEO of SkyHive

Meet the team

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