Front-line retail employees dealt with a wide range of personal challenges and new work requirements throughout the pandemic. As shopper behaviors changed dramatically, so did expectations of hourly employees. They had to fulfill new job functions and execute different types of tasks brought on by a public-health crisis. This made 2020 a year of feverish activity for training and development.
Now, there’s a growing sense that 2021 could see a return to normalcy as COVID-19 fades. As it does so, however, there’s expected to be an even greater need for employee training, because the pandemic accelerated technology’s impact on innovation and created all manner of new and elevated shopper expectations that front-line employees must satisfy.
“What we once thought of as the future of work has now become the ‘now of work,’” asserts a landmark research study, the “Global Work Ahead” report conducted by the Center for the Future of Work at Teaneck, N.J.-based multinational product-led digital corporation Cognizant. Released in January, the study is conducted every five years, with the latest installment involving interviews with 4,000 executives, 1,300 of whom are in the United States, conducted in June 2020.
While the research looked across industries, one of the top takeaways for food retailers is that “humans will continue to add value and be valuable by upskilling — having skills and capabilities that cannot be supplied by even the smartest of machines,” the report notes. “This is as true for those in the boardroom as for those on the factory or sales floor.”
Other key highlights with implications for food retailers, how stores will operate and employees are trained, include the following:
- Investments in the right skill sets will modernize North American work. The pursuit of skills development will be an essential need throughout careers. Fresh new ideas are in high demand, with those most in demand by 2023 being analytical skills (59%) and decision-making (59%).
- Algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are fueling — and changing — the modern North American business. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) have data analytics implementations underway, and a similar number are employing AI. As cutting-edge digital technologies become a bigger partner in work, jobs and tasks, those companies that combine data-driven insights with the ability to innovate will thrive.
- The North American ethic of “working faster and harder” will endure as a technology- assisted feature in the future of work. Speed and efficiency top the list when it comes to how respondents think work will change by 2023.
- The changing nature of work means a shift from jobs to tasks. The future of work requires a more fluid mindset to break down work into tasks as the most sustainable way to transition to a fully hybrid human-and-machine workforce.
- COVID-19 and AI are galvanizing efforts to more highly value employees. In the wake of the coronavirus, businesses in North America that are the furthest ahead in their adoption of AI and AI ethics are significantly more likely to believe that the next three years will witness higher pay for essential workers (66%), augmented workforce safety (65%) and greater social protections for free-lance workers (57%). With this outlook, these businesses are poised to help “make real” the stated intent of American CEOs to value stakeholders in addition to shareholders.
While the nation appears to be much closer to the end of the pandemic, new challenges for food retailers are just beginning when it comes to workforce training and development.