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27 FEBRUARY 2020
10 CEO perspectives on upskilling
strategy+business, January 2020
Organisations are preparing for the speed and impact of technological transformation. To better understand how leaders view the effects of technology on their workforces and society, strategy+business looked back on two years’ worth of interviews conducted with CEOs from around the world.

1. Change the conversation 

“We need to help people understand that working for the same company in the long term, right up to the age of 65, no longer makes sense…. We must change our approach and be very flexible, because all this transformation will erase many traditional views that we have about labour relations.”

- Antonio Huertas Mejías, CEO, MAPFRE

2. Focus on your existing workforce

“I saw an interview with the Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, where he was asked, ‘Where do you get these techies from?’ And he said, ‘I hired the people you fired.’ And this can be done. If somebody gives employees the capability to reinvent themselves, gives them some training, they will do it. That’s what we found. We hired some new people but we reskilled our old people and built this whole cadre to re-architect our internal technology.”

- Piyush Gupta, CEO, DBS Bank

3. Ensure transparency 

“In the very first session, I described the commitment I was asking of employees and of the company. Someone put their hand up and said, ‘That’s really good, Michael. But how long do you plan on being CEO?’ Kudos to the employee who was willing to put that to me in such a public forum — I thought that was fantastic. It also set a great precedent, I think. I was very happy to answer what some might consider a personal question, and demonstrate that I meant what I said when it came to transparency and openness.”

- Michael Pennisi, CEO, QSuper

4. Address foundational issues

“You need everyone to be trained before you can start talking about upskilling. You can’t upskill what is not skilled. The quality is fast deteriorating. We have very smart people who, given the opportunity, would do well. We need to begin to think seriously of having the right workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution era.”

- Peter Amangbo, former CEO, Zenith Bank

5. Redefine education 

“At Stanford, many years ago, we thought of part-time education as primarily focused on getting people master’s degrees. Today, it’s a certificate — three courses in machine learning, three courses in cybersecurity and blockchain — that can allow people to upskill themselves broadly across the field. And I think we’re going to have to continue to do that. The AI revolution’s going to force us to.”

- John Hennessy, chair, Alphabet; former president, Stanford

6. Provide more flexibility 

“Today’s open plan offices still suffer from that assumption that one size must fit all. We’ve simply moved from ‘everyone gets a private office,’ to ‘everyone gets a cubicle,’ to ‘everyone gets a seat at the bench,’ to ‘everyone shares the bench.’ The problem isn’t any of those ideas. It’s the idea that everyone gets exactly the same thing. The solution is to put freedom back in the mix.”

- James Keane, CEO, Steelcase

7. Automate the redundant 

“[Robotic process automation] is the core of upskilling. If we liberate people from their repetitive chores, they have time to learn new things, to connect better with customers, to develop their soft skills.”

- Daniel Dines, cofounder and CEO, UiPath

8. Grow the entire company 

“We’ve grown so fast that if you’re not mentoring someone to take over your job, then you’re not succeeding. In a high-growth company, there’s always another job waiting for you. Our most successful people have been those who have continuously hired, trained, and promoted other strong people. We are proud to have women and men who are responsible for client relationships and business functions that are larger than they ever dreamed of at their age. Around here we say, ‘grow leadership’ versus ‘grow yourself.’ It’s absolutely my conviction.”

- Nina Vaca, founder, chair, and CEO, Pinnacle Group

9. Make the complex easier 

“I’m interested in creating a user interface that’s more intuitive so someone doesn’t have to have a four-year college degree to be productive in our factory environment... One possible scenario is using virtual reality glasses to communicate instructions. An employee would only have to know where to look and how to gesture to carry out complex work. They will be productive in a computer-enabled environment. That’s where the future is.”

- Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens US

10. Start from the top 

“The power of everything that’s being developed in technology has to be obvious from the top to the bottom of the organisation. You can’t outsource that level of understanding. And it’s not just technological learning; it’s business model learning. Mostly you need to learn what you can do with this technology.”

- Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chair of Tata Sons
Useful resources:

strategy+business
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