Skills becoming obsolete is a problem. And it is a 2021 problem. Sure. But this is also not a new problem. The process of skills becoming obsolete has always existed, as humankind’s working methods have been evolving for as long as humankind has been in existence. But now the rate at which skills obsolescence occurs has accelerated so greatly that it no longer takes generations to materialise; it is years, sometimes mere months. There are alarming figures that show the rapidly decreasing lifespan of technical skills and knowledge. Identifying the jobs that will be most impacted by digital transformation is a good start, but accelerating employability within your company is the ultimate goal!

We are all equal in the face of automation and evolution?

Predictions on the “Future of Work” herald the death of some occupations whilst they usher in the birth of new ones. New jobs that require a new range of technical knowledge and skills. It is tempting to believe that skills obsolescence only impacts certain sectors but nothing is certain. What may seem stable today can fall victim tomorrow. Skills obsolescence, driven by increasing automation affects huge numbers of professions, from white collar workers managing recruitment campaigns to blue collar workers in a factory production line. 


While fewer than 5% of all occupations might be fully automated, about 60% of occupations could have at least 30% of their activities automated. In McKinsey’s baseline scenario, 49% of all of today’s work activities may be automated using currently available technology by 2055.


“A future that works: automation, employment and productivity” January 2017, Mckinsey Global Institute


So, to the question: ‘should we be afraid of skills obsolescence?’ The answer is, ‘absolutely not, to the contrary!”

Recruit knowing that everything will change!

Skills obsolescence is happening. It is a reality that we can anticipate and prepare for today.

Step 1 Map your Talents’ skills.

For companies that are already investing in Workforce Planning (and especially for those who aren’t), the obligation to maintain forward-looking management of jobs and skills may seem daunting. But establishing a competency framework helps to structure your talent acquisition, training, and even reskilling efforts significantly.

Step 2 Re-evaluate your recruitment strategy

Next, why not broaden your efforts (and results) by reviewing your recruitment channels or your primary talent acquisition criteria? Your strategy can revolve around candidate potential and growth opportunities. Look for soft skills such as adaptability, active listening, creativity or critical thinking that contribute to a more consistent advancement in skills. In this context, an inclusive recruitment campaign focused on soft skills brings new perspectives, in particular a change-oriented attitude. Integrating personality tests  into the recruitment process can reveal character traits or capacities that are not usually reliably identifiable on a CV or traditional job application. During interviews, HR and TA professionals can quiz candidates by asking them questions aimed at identifying a way of thinking that is complementary to daily missions: curiosity, ability to mobilise their resources, positive communication, etc.

Step 3 Develop a learning culture

As some professions become partly or entirely obsolete, there is a growing need and desire to evolve, particularly in the face of digital transformation. A recent Deloitte survey shows that 72% of executives consider their employee’s adaptability to be a priority, in particular by reskilling, changing jobs via internal mobility or taking on new responsibilities.


Motivated by employee experience, companies that prioritise reskilling are benefitting their people and themselves in equal measures. When companies objectively analyse the macro environment of their industry and its future development as well as the micro environment of specific jobs, they can more readily evolve: overcoming challenges together with their workforce – reviving jobs through a methodology that fosters loyalty and motivation. Everyone has a part to play and can engage in personal reflection that feeds into a collective corporate effort. For example, this can take the form of learning a new management style or training for a technique offered by a competitor or requested by customers.

97% of those polled by Deloitte say that they lack information on their employees. There is a need to bring employees into the fold for developing their career and in turn the skills of the company. In this way, you will combine collective and individual challenges and build a learning culture that benefits both employees and the company.

Get everyone involved in overcoming skills obsolescence

Instead of a top-down approach, combined contributions from managers and employees make it possible to find effective solutions. As the workforce are the ones responsible for carrying out daily missions, they are in the best position to explain why certain tools or processes need updating. They are the most valuable contributors to the skills framework and to the renewal of job descriptions. Forget anxiety-inducing annual reviews, yearly appraisals should be joint and dynamic reflections that look to the future!

Amidst mass digital transformation, skills obsolescence is forcing us to support and accompany employees more than ever before, as the survival and growth of companies depend on them. To do this effectively – all whilst tackling big issues including socio-professional inequality, job insecurity, and divisions caused by digital transformation –  each company needs to develop a learning culture and collective intelligence.