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leadership lab

B.C. managing partner and chief inclusiveness officer, EY Canada.

As well-known companies engage in acts that collectively test public confidence, many businesses find themselves facing skepticism from various sources, including an organization’s greatest asset: their own employees. Without them, there is no business.

But how can an organization regain or maintain employee trust, particularly as we move deeper into a digital world? New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain are fundamentally changing the way we work. Regardless of industry, people share some level of uncertainty about how digital transformation will change their job – and how far businesses are willing to go to protect it – which is contributing to greater societal distrust.

The single most important thing businesses can do to build trust is to invest in their people, and equip them with the future-focused skills and opportunities they need to succeed at work. Take the growing fusion of the newest technologies as a cautionary example: Businesses didn’t address the need to adequately reskill workers for an automated future of work, and many once-reliable jobs in manufacturing have disappeared.

We are now entering the second wave of the fourth industrial revolution: the age of prediction with machine learning, AI and robotic processing automation (RPA). And with that wave is a great opportunity for businesses to learn from the past and rethink their approach for the future.

Gone are the days where you went to university or college, then settled into a career with the odd course here or there. Today’s rapid changes require everyone to continue to reskill and adapt to the changing nature of work. An approach to learning – in school and the workplace – must be long-term, technology-enabled and centred on developing skills, rather than imparting knowledge, Such an approach is fundamental to fostering a culture of trust and transparency.

All businesses have an important role to play in people development: to identify the evolving skills and tools needed to succeed, and equip people with them long after schooling is complete. If we collectively ignore this, companies will not have the human capital – nor the employee confidence – needed to grow their businesses.

This responsibility grows in tandem with the gig economy. Companies are embracing more contractors and gig workers, and these individuals need equal workplace support and opportunities.

To support individuals in their re-skilling journey, businesses must look at the competencies needed to thrive – not only digital skills, but also “human” skills, such as empathy and curiosity. I propose a three-pronged approach, comprising learning (with access to educational programs, in-house or through accredited online or post-secondary programs); experience (involving employees in hands-on experiences, such as community service, hackathons and group projects); coaching and teaching (providing opportunities for employees to educate and coach one another).

It’s time organizations put trust at the top of the business agenda. Consistently and collectively investing in the resilience and productivity of Canada’s workforce is the key to bolstering employee confidence, and in the important role that business plays in society.

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