What is the future of employee training?

Justin O’Sullivan gives his take on what the future holds for employee training in 2017 and beyond.

Despite existing in more or less the same way since a couple of philosophers in Athens developed the Socratic method around 2,500 years ago, teaching is not immune from innovation — especially teaching in the business world. Technology and the development of new ideas mean that 2017 could be the year we begin to see employee training change. Here are just a few things to look out for.

Bring your phone to work day: App-based training takes off

Where better to look for innovation in the world of employee training than the largest private employer in the world? Walmart, keen to keep said prestigious title, has started to roll out an innovative new employee training system that can be completed via app. This isn’t just some gimmick either; 80,000 Walmart employees are already using the app to learn about anything from health and safety policy, to returns policy, to how to drive a forklift truck.

However, while workplace training via an app might sound great, there are some potentially serious drawbacks to the idea. At the end of last year, French workers won the ‘right to disconnect’ in a landmark case that tackled the issue of checking emails outside of work. An app-based training system could be a huge step backwards in this regard, as it could encourage Walmart managers to push training on their employees outside of work.

Humans need not apply

Still, worse than the idea of Walmart staff being forced into doing unpaid employee training on their morning commute is the rather stark warning from vlogger CGP Grey of a future job market where ‘humans need not apply‘. In his video, Grey makes the rather astute point that many technologies which already exist could replace a huge portion of the workforce. After all, it’s not science fiction if the technology is already here. In particular, Grey argues that self-driving cars (which Tesla founder Elon Musk predicts will become a reality this year) could replace pretty much all transport jobs.

Drone technology also has the potential to replace jobs in many sectors. Amazon Prime Air, while still in its trial phase, has successfully delivered packages to customers in Cambridge in less than an hour. This development saves time and money, but it also saves labour. Even in the health and safety world, warehouse racking inspections performed by drones have the potential to streamline the whole process — an idea which was raised at the 2015 SEMA (Storage Equipment Manufacturers Association) Safety Conference.

However, before you start to panic imagining a Terminator-esque future where the machines have taken over, it’s worth noting that Grey made his video nearly three years ago. As yet, no such apocalypse has happened. Perhaps a more optimistic prediction of the future, one which concedes many of Grey’s points, could be that employees begin to be trained for higher skilled jobs, or trained to perform their current jobs better, as lower-skilled jobs are replaced by automation.

Employers as teachers and employees as students

It was almost ten years ago when McDonald’s first announced that they were introducing qualifications which would be the equivalent of an A-level. Public opinion was mixed at the time, but a lot has changed in ten years and the idea of employers helping their employees to achieve qualifications is becoming more and more normal.

In fact, the UK government’s revamped apprenticeship schemes have helped to bring the idea of employee qualifications back into the mainstream. Still, it’s not just the British government, and it’s not just in the UK, where this trend is gathering steam. The idea of employers taking a hands-on approach to their employees’ education has taken on a whole new dimension in the US, where many employers are giving their immigrant employees full-blown English courses.

This sort of training is precisely the kind that may help employees in a job market where low-skilled jobs are taken by highly-skilled machines. It makes sense. As employers begin to see what jobs could easily be done by machines, many of them are choosing to find a better use for the staff they already have by giving them more sophisticated and advanced employee training.

Justin O’Sullivan is the owner of Storage Equipment Experts.

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