Upskilling is a win-win — both employees and employers benefit but whose responsibility is it?

The issue is especially pressing in the fast moving era of artificial intelligence (AI) and increasing automation across all industries.

The extent of the change has been estimated by the McKinsey Global Institute to be occurring at 10 times the pace of the Industrial Revolution and at 300 times the scale.

The Government has signalled that it wants to nurture an environment that gives businesses the confidence to take up new technology and is in the process of creating the position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO), who will report directly to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.


"The CTO will be responsible for introducing and managing a National Digital Architecture and Digital Technology Roadmap," said Finance Minister Grant Robertson in February. "They will also work with the wider industry to develop ingenuity and creativity in the ICT sector."

After initial applicants failed to impress the position was readvertised in May.

Robertson believes "there is an enormous possibility for us to have productive and fulfilling work over the coming decades. But it will happen only if we prepare now."

He says the Government's aim is for the ICT industry to be the second-largest contributor to GDP by 2025.

In another initiative the government has made on-the-job training more appealing to employers, with this year's introduction of a "two years fees-free" policy for industry training.

Who Pays?

But who bears the cost of this upskilling? Ask employers and they suggest employees should wear the cost, but ask employees and many say that the organisation they work fore should be accountable.

One key finding from research carried out by recruiting company Hays among 1253 employees and 951 employers is that a massive 96 of the employees consider upskilling as "important" or "very important", 84 per cent would not consider a role that lacked skills development and 47 per cent wouldn't join an organisation that didn't offer formal training opportunities.


For some, not receiving time off to attend seminars or conferences, a lack of coaching or mentorships and not providing time off for university are deal breakers.

"There's a push-pull between employers and employees when it comes to upskilling," said Jason Walker, managing director of Hays New Zealand.

"Today's jobseekers are far more likely to judge a potential job role on how well it will position them for career longevity. Given how quickly technology changes, the challenge is to stay employable by keeping skills relevant. Employers that provide on-the-job training are therefore becoming very attractive to jobseekers.

"With highly-skilled professionals in demand, it could be that bosses who ensure their employees' continuing learning will gain the upper hand in securing top talent."

The question is especially pertinent to New Zealand where a large proportion of businesses fall into the small to medium enterprise category. Employees in these companies are often required to have a broader skillset applied to a multitude of tasks beyond their immediate skill-set.

Upskilling a no-brainer

Retraining employees to match the agility of these new innovations is the smart move.

For businesses, upskilling will improve retention, boost an organisation's brand and culture and have a positive impact on the bottom line — untrained workers are inefficient — more time, money and effort is spent when employees aren't properly trained to perform their tasks or fulfill responsibilities, mistakes are made and employee engagement drops.

For employees the benefits are myriad; it will enhance employment prospects, reduce the chance of redundancy and open up new areas of employment.

Walker believes the burden and cost should be shared.

"Given that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is reshaping how every industry and profession operates via digital transformation and technologies such as AI, the answer is probably a combination of employers hiring active learners with a demonstrated history of upskilling, while also training up their existing employees."