Both learning and development (L&D) and digital transformation are popular workplace topics at the moment. To get greater clarity on the challenges and benefits these areas of interest present, UNLEASH caught up with Martin Fiore, regional tax leader at Ernst & Young, for a Q&A.
Safe to say, Fiore had plenty of insights that will prove useful as you consider your organization’s next employee project, and we begin by discussing generational learning.
Q: Often UNLEASH talks to leaders about upskilling younger generations, but how can older generations adapt to new technologies?
We can no longer view learning as a once-and-done part of our lives. It will need to be a continuous thread that winds its way through our lives in periods of greater or lesser intensity.
Currently, there are four generations in the workforce with a few from the silent generation still participating as well to make a fifth. About half are digital natives and half are digital immigrants.
The natives are comfortable adapting to new technologies—they trust them. Immigrants, on the other hand, need more time to get a handle on digital tools, especially touch screens and navigation processes that they were not brought up understanding and using.
There’s also no question older generations are slower to adopt new transaction models, such as online shopping, banking, and buying goods in the metaverse using cryptocurrency.
Leading employers will be aware of these generational differences and address them by building trust in progressive technologies and exposing older employees to training and mentoring that facilitates their ability to use them effectively.
We [EY] have found that breaking down workplace learning into short-term but ongoing programs—such as badging or virtual, self-serve courses—are a great way to engage employees of all levels and ages.
In addition, mentoring is an effective way to help bring generations together. Digitally savvy younger employees can mentor Gen X and Boomers on software, for example, while seasoned employees can share their experiences in areas like relationship building and market knowledge.
Q: What skills do professionals need to remain relevant and what skills should those entering work bring to the table?
Studies consistently show that while fewer than 10% of all occupations are likely to be completely automated, about half of today’s work activities across all industries can be automated—and likely will be by the middle of this century.
I think it will happen much sooner than that. Artificial intelligence is already such an integral part of our daily lives, and while often unnoticed on the surface, it impacts so many processes, functions, and systems.
Clearly, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and basic computer skills remain the most sought-after. That basis is followed by or should include analytical reasoning, critical thinking and problem solving, project management, and courses that develop an innovative mindset, which might come out of a more liberal arts background.
I would also add economics and negotiation skills, as our world continues to globalize and transactions take on exciting new twists, such as using cryptocurrencies to make purchases in the metaverse.
Last, but certainly not less important, people skills will become increasingly important differentiators as we prepare for tomorrow’s challenges, including empathy, judgment, and mindfulness. As people and technology merge, these skills will be just as crucial as math and science.
Beyond the skillsets themselves, I feel strongly that learning in these areas needs to start earlier in the education process—from grade school on up. We launched a program at EY several years ago that piloted specific courses in STEM, computer science, and some soft skills, earlier in the college curriculum. We called it Day One Ready because it was a way of training students to hit the ground running when they enter the workforce.
Q: We frequently discuss the need for more technology in the workplace, what should employers be cautious of? And how can employees be protected?
One of the biggest threats posed is technology bias, though it’s often unintended. As mentioned before, AI is such a huge part of life today, so it must be bias-free. From credit scores and lending decisions to resume scanning and search engine results, AI is exerting influence over our lives and our organizations every second of the day.
But machine programming is only as balanced and unbiased as the humans who produce it. This potentially puts groups that currently are underrepresented in STEM fields, such as women and underrepresented minorities, at risk of bias. In a broader sense, the heightened importance and use of technology also demands that organizational leaders stay focused on putting people first.
Employees can protect themselves by continuing the current trend to ensure organizations stand for mutual respect, walk the talk around diversity and inclusiveness, and create an atmosphere of belonging and shared mission.
More than ever in our history, the employee-employer relationship is a two-way, mutually dependent one. This has never been more true than in post-pandemic times. Our employees want to feel valued and want to have a sense of belonging to a high-performing organization they can trust; that includes working with team members they enjoy and learn from.
This is a great time to be looking for a job, so take advantage of this market to ask your future employer some tough questions. If you are a woman or member of a minority group, ask about the journey of others in that organization who look like you. Ask about the company’s value system, learning programs, and reward systems for high performers.
Q: Digital transformations are continuously being launched, what do you see as the most important project of 2022?
We live in a world of remarkable possibilities, and a time of unparalleled challenges. Each year, new trends and mind-boggling achievements grow. One of the most important steps organizational leaders can take this year is to recognize that unrelenting technological and social developments are reshaping humanity.
Once awareness is there, it is up to all of us to be as thoughtful as possible about what this means to our organization, our people, and our community, and then commit to doing our part to put people first and lead with steadfast values and purpose. This may mean establishing a commitment to sustainability, launching an effective D,E&I program, devising a whole new approach to work-life balance—or all of the above.
But, above all, it will mean finding the nexus between employer and employee, and then pursuing a course of action that helps your organization and the people in it grow and thrive.
Q: What do you think is the next big disruptor that leaders should watch out for? Why?
I see several major disruptors at work in our world right now, all of which can have a significant positive or negative impact on business over the next several years, and a few of which—if not handled well—could represent a threat to humanity as we know it.
As mentioned earlier, we are at a pivotal time in human history, and I think more of us need to be as thoughtful and as action-oriented as possible to ensure it turns out in humanity’s best interest.
Here are my top four:
1) The existential threat of climate change. We’ve made some progress in recent years, but there is a long way to go. I think we are turning a corner on how seriously we take the threat—we have come to realize how connected we all are and how we all will be impacted if we don’t act now. Doing nothing, or too little, is no longer an option.
2) Talent issues. Many people blame current shifts on the pandemic, but I believe it is much more profound than that. The pandemic has helped people see work differently, but there are even more powerful forces driving their questions and concerns.
This is not just about financial rewards, this is about organizational value systems, personal priorities, and wanting more control over their lives. Employers are going to have to address these issues and take responsibility—not blame problems on their employees.
3) The unprecedented impact technology is having on humanity. What started as technology working around us, then alongside us, has become technology working inside us. In addition, technological innovation paved the way for society to continue to function even as a pandemic shut down the entire world—and it was medical science that brought us back to some level of normalcy.
And then there’s civilian space travel and the evolution of a new virtual world via the metaverse. Disruption and innovation are all around us, but they aren’t forces beyond our control; they are levers for advancement that we need to control in ways that provide positive benefits for all.
4) Global economic and political crises. In my book, I talk about the three key forces driving change—long-term, powerful movements that touch on every aspect of civilized life: globalization, the pace of innovation; and demographic or generational shifts. Today, all three of these are at work, but the war in Ukraine and the human and economic toll it ultimately will take, has suddenly come center stage.
Why is this war, this invasion more watched and discussed than others that have unfolded in other parts of the world over the past 20 years? I think the answer lies in the other two forces—we have never been more interconnected and “global,” sharing our stories and uniting—or dividing—over value systems.
And if anyone doubts where innovation fits in, when most of the weapons of war are quite traditional, they need look no further than the power of the Ukrainian leader’s messaging via Zoom to NATO, the UN, and the US Congress. This is a fight for human preservation, and innovative tools are having an impact.
Q: Finally, in your experience at EY what has been an example of handling transformations positively?
When we first introduced intelligent automation to our firm about eight years ago, we made the important decision to put people first. Our goal was to embrace new, supportive technologies and use them as a catalyst for positive change—for our clients and our people. We did not view our software bots as people replacers, they were a means of taking the robot out of the human.
This means that we used the bots to perform boring, repetitive tasks that people don’t like to do, and thus free up their time for more qualitative, interesting—uniquely human—work. This decision drove a shift in our talent model, which has provided more opportunities for motivated employees, not less.
Handling transformation requires resilience and determination: it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Change is harder than most people give it credit for. Transformational change is a deep, long-term commitment to getting it right. It means taking risks, making mistakes, learning from the mistakes, and moving forward with this new knowledge.
It’s having the confidence to follow a purpose-driven strategy.