In response to the global pandemic, Hewlett-Packard conducted a study around the evolution of its own workforce and the new skills and technology tools that employees are prioritizing during this time of accelerated change. The HP Workforce Evolution Study consists of three parts, two of which focus on the disruption of industrial work and on innovating for the future; these latter two deal mainly with Hewlett-Packard’s printer business and their advancement of additive manufacturing and 3-D printing in the medical field in particular.

This article will deal with the higher-level findings that look at changes to the workforce itself and the management of that group. I believe this information will be of more general interest to leaders in L&D and to enterprise executives; the entire Workforce Evolution Report is available online from Hewlett-Packard.

The study

Global market research firm Edelman Intelligence interviewed office workers in six areas in the United States and Europe between July and August. Interviewers asked about lifelong learning, expectations for upskilling/reskilling employees, the role that upskilling/reskilling plays in building a resilient workforce, and how it bridges gaps in skill sets to level the playing field and creates a more equitable business landscape/society.

Some surprises in the study

First, employees are not passively enduring the pandemic without expecting that they will have to take action on their own. They believe that they will be able to turn the disruption to their advantage in spite of reduced working hours and pay cuts. The belief is that they can use this as an opportunity to improve their ways of working. At the same time, employees say their employers have not provided sufficient resources.

Second, employees themselves identify continuous learning and upskilling as the means of continuing to perform well at their job. They are not waiting for their employers to provide the resources. In fact, employees are making personal investments to obtain technology, tools, and supplies to use in their jobs even as they transition to working from home.

Third, employees say one of the areas where they need support is in the transition to digital communication. Management understands that Zoom is being widely adopted (from the bottom up in many cases), but this is by no means universal or sufficient. It isn’t just about fatigue from seemingly endless online meetings. The lack of support affects employee morale, loyalty, and quality of work. 65% of US employees surveyed feel it is important to learn new skills in order to remain competitive, yet 41% feel their employers have lowered the priority of training. Only 24% of US employees say they have received guidance from employers on working remotely.

Lessons for leadership and L&D

It is not wise to take the employee initiatives in the face of the pandemic for granted. The employees remain your future workforce, and although they expect that working from home will remain a feature of life, they don’t want this to be the only feature of life. Career advancement remains important, and it is essential to (as noted) morale, loyalty, and work quality.

What next?

The entire study is worthy of the attention of leadership and L&D and will provide actionable information about supporting the future workforce. In particular, support is needed for digital communication systems and skills with their use, and for the facilitation of connection between isolated office workers at home (in other words, making informal learning in the workflow possible again). The exact needs will vary by location and organization, and the study will help readers identify the details.