Accenture’s HR chief shares what the company has learned from retraining nearly 300,000 employees

Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer. Inspirefest HQ
  • Accenture has retrained almost 300,000 employees over the past four years.
  • It has developed a system for making new skills training immediately applicable.
  • Its “Job Buddy” program assesses which roles will be automated, and which adjacent roles can be learned within the company.
  • This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND – A major point of conversation at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this year concerned the future of work during a time of significant technological shifts in the developed world.

At Business Insider’s panel, both labour leaders and executives agreed that for companies to thrive during the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and not leave their employees behind, a focus on internal job-retraining programs would be essential.

Accenture’s head of human resources, Ellyn Shook, told us in a separate interview in Davos that Accenture can be a case study for this. Over the past four years, the Dublin-based consulting firm has, Shook said, “reskilled” nearly 300,000 of their total body of 469,000 employees, investing about $US1 billion annually in training.

“You need to inspire this work-learn, work-learn mindset,” she said. “You’re not going to go to school and practice what you learned in school for the rest of your career. That day is over.”

Accenture is a large, global company providing a wide variety of professional services to its clients, and employees’ roles change at a fast rate. It’s been investing in reskilling for employee retention, which keeps it stable and allows it to offer more consistent service.

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Labour leaders and executives agree that the traditional 4-year college degree isn’t enough to survive the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ that’s happening right now

To make reskilling effective, Shook told us, training has to have an immediate payoff. If an employee receives training and cannot implement new skills for six months, neither the worker nor the company benefits. That’s why, Accenture has been refining its “skills pipeline” to reduce this transition time.

And to have this work smoothly, Accenture developed “Job Buddy” software. “And what it does is it tells our people that look, this percentage of your job is likely to be lost to automation; your skills are adjacent to these skills, so go take this training,” Shook said. After the pilot program went out 18 months ago, 85% of the employees it was made available to used it to assess their jobs and enroll in new training.

Shook shared an example of an employee from Charlotte, North Carolina, who used Accenture’s reskilling pipeline to transition from her position as a mortgage processor to a technologist after the first client no longer needed that service. Over a year later, that employee is thriving, Shook said, and was recently recognised for excellent performance.

“I think the thing that organisations really have to start doing, quickly, is move from workforce planning to work planning and really understand what work is going to be done by machines and what work is going to be done by humans, and make sure that you are investing in your people, to understand how to work with the technology,” Shook said. “And I think that’s how you’re going to future-proof your workforce.”