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By Elaina Farnsworth, President & CEO of The NEXT Education

There are few times in history when advancements in technology and information have caused such an upheaval in the workforce as to require an overhaul in the way workers are trained. Never has the transition happened so quickly as today. Industrialization, the invention of the automobile — these are milestones that changed the shape of employment — but slowly, over generations. Today’s advancements in transportation, with connected cars, autonomous vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles, are pushing the limits on transportation workers at lightning speed. According to a 2017 study by McKinsey Global Institute, “70 percent of executives at companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue see technological disruption over the next five years affecting more than a quarter of their workers.”

There’s an ever-growing gap in the ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) workforce now as many traffic engineers, installers, and managers — the metaphorical backbone of ITS — often come from a civil engineering background. They are the workers who started out in the field, pouring the concrete, building the foundations. But they are worlds apart from the information technology specialists, analysts, and coders. The ones reading the data and those installing the infrastructure are completely separate. The installers have no formal training in digitalization, automation, or artificial intelligence. What they have learned has been self-taught — skills gathered by going out into the field, finding a problem, and figuring out on their own how to fix it.

Today’s advancements in transportation are pushing the limits on transportation workers at lightning speed.

So, what is the solution? Obviously, we must close this growing gap in order to move forward as an industry. But how? The precedent would suggest taking a trip to MIT and recruiting a whole new team because, in the past, we’ve had generations between the changes taking place in technology and have been able to solve the learning gap by slowly bringing in fresh faces across a few years.

But current advances in digitalization are moving too fast for that. It’s impractical today to find an entirely new team. Not only can companies not justify a complete employee turnover, they also can’t afford it. Fortunately, those very same installers and engineers in the field have provided us with the solution: learning new skills. They’ve been retraining and upskilling themselves. They’ve sought out conferences, watched videos, experimented, and learned by trial and error until they found the skills they needed. Then they grew, worked their way up that corporate ladder, and began training others to follow in their footsteps.

And that’s the solution. Finding suitable, formal training/reskilling programs for companies is the realistic response to close this gap. Why hire new employees when you have boundless amounts of potential already supporting you? As we all know, it’s twice as expensive to sign a new customer than to retain an existing one. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to employees? Bank on those very real resources already in front of you.

But don’t take our word for it. Over the past five years, only one-third of companies have focused on reskilling, but in the next five years, that narrative is sure to change. Last year’s MGI report polled 300 executives from companies averaging more than $100 million in annual revenue and 66 percent said that reskilling is a top ten priority, while 30 percent say it’s in their top five.

Unfortunately, knowing the solution is not the same as being able to put it into action. In fact, when asked, only “16 percent of private-sector business leaders in [the polled] group felt ‘very prepared’ to address potential skill gaps.”

And that is where we come in. Partnerships with formal further education providers, like The NEXT Education (www.thenext.education), are the perfect resource for retraining and upskilling current employees. Dedicated instructors who have been there, learned the skills, and are wholly invested in sharing that knowledge can take some of the pressure off the management teams, HR representatives, and CEOs that feel responsible for their employees. We are professionals from an international range of industries and are prepared to take on that challenge. We are hands-on, ready to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty to create actionable methods and solutions to close that ever-growing gap.

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