The blockchain effect: why businesses need to prepare employees

This is a guest post by Rosie Cairnes, regional director at Skillsoft ANZ

When most people hear the term blockchain, they immediately think of bitcoin, the most widely known of the hundreds of cryptocurrencies being traded online today. Bitcoin, a blockchain-based decentralised digital currency with no central bank or single administrator, made headlines in December 2017 when its value reached an all-time high of almost $20,000.

For the majority people, this may have been the first time they had seen or heard of blockchain technology – unless they had already stumbled over Netflix’s Banking on Bitcoin documentary.

While it is still very much in its infancy, blockchain is more than cryptocurrencies, and is poised to disrupt every industry.

Understanding blockchain

Blockchain is essentially the technology that provides a trusted decentralised ledger, which can be used to store data securely and independently verify transactions between parties. Think of it like one person trying to hold onto 50 marbles –  these could be easily stolen or dropped because one person can’t hold that many securely in their hands.

If instead they were divided among 50 people who were asked to take care of one marble, each marble would be more secure, because it’s easy for one person to hold one marble, and if someone tried to run away with theirs, the rest of the group would quickly see the culprit and stop them. In the same way, blockchain ‘shares’ responsibility for the data, so it’s better controlled and more secure.

In addition to digital currencies, blockchain has the potential to automate and streamline huge numbers of tasks and business processes. There are new applications and use cases popping up every day.  The technology is poised to transform how journalism is funded, change how we buy and sell property, and even reinvent employee management and HR.

And it’s not all blue-sky thinking. Numerous blockchain projects are well underway in large organisations.  More than 75 of the world’s largest banks have joined the Interbank Information Network, which uses blockchain technology to minimise friction in the global payments process.

A fundamental shift

We are at the dawn of a technological revolution. Blockchain, as well as a host of other fledgling technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and 5G, is poised to fundamentally change the makeup of the workforce.

Blockchain-based technologies will automate repetitive tasks, significantly speed up global data processes and replace a huge number of jobs. Research on the topic is limited – and predicting the future workforce landscape is difficult, if not impossible.

At a recent blockchain summit, the CEO of one of the industry’s best-funded startups estimated that blockchain could make 30% to 60% of current jobs redundant, simply by enabling people to share data securely with a common record.

To compete and thrive in the blockchain world, organisations need to apply fresh thinking to prepare their workforce for the coming changes. They will need to create new ways of working.

Preparing for change

While there is no shortage of programming roles when it comes to blockchain – and this demand is set to grow exponentially – many people without programming skills will need to prove their value in other ways, or face being replaced by increased automation.

The challenge for business leaders will be empowering their workforce and ensuring their employees are ready. Workers must be willing and able to embrace new and exciting roles. This will mean upskilling employees to use automation to augment their roles – rather than replace them – and explore more creative styles of working.

While it is difficult to predict what many of these new roles will look like – indeed, research from Dell recently predicted that 85% of 2030’s jobs do not even exist yet – it is likely they will involve employing uniquely ‘human’ attributes, such as creative thinking, leadership and adaptability.

Attracting and retaining the right talent will be crucial over the coming years, more so than ever before. But the key to long-term success for many businesses will be providing their people with the opportunities to transition into roles that are more skilled, value-based and rewarding.

This means ensuring employees have access to high-quality digital skills training, while also encouraging an organisation-wide culture of continuous learning and soft skills development.  Not only will this help employees prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, it will drive innovation within the organisation today.

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