Workforce readiness: A mystery to most, essential to all

Kevin Martin, Chief Research Officer at i4cp, highlights what organisations need to do to ensure they have the skills and capabilities to move forward.
By: | September 6, 2021

The pandemic exposed the importance of an organisation’s ability to pivot quickly and embrace change.

Essential to both is a workforce with the skills and capabilities when needed, and organisational systems and processes that ensure a ready-now workforce whenever and wherever it is needed.

This is workforce readiness at its core.

The pandemic also simultaneously and universally forced organisations to radically alter their strategies and embrace different work models. And for most, these now represent the future of work; a future that dictates different skillsets and mindsets about the work that gets done. This includes who gets the work done, as well as where, when, and how.  

All of this makes workforce readiness more critical and more complex. 

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“The pandemic also simultaneously and universally forced organisations to radically alter their strategies and embrace different work models.” – Kevin Martin, Chief Research Officer, Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp).


To understand how organisations around the world are addressing this important issue, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), in partnership with HRM Asia, collected survey data in June 2021 from 1,334 human resources and other non-HR business professionals worldwide. The respondents included 131 professionals based in South-East Asia who work for organisations with at least 100 employees.

The research found that the current state of workforce readiness is bleak.

Only 30% of the total respondents (31% of whom are based in South-East Asia) believe that their organisations’ current workforce has the skills and capabilities needed to execute their strategy in the next one- to three years. Further, nearly one-half of all global respondents (including 45% in Southeast Asia) reported that their organisations do not have a clear definition of what workforce readiness means.  

This lack of clarity has numerous negative downstream effects. Consider, for example, the indicators used to gauge workforce readiness:

  • Most popular is level of employee engagement (cited by 61% globally and 59% of those in South-East Asia).
  • However, our research found a much more effective indicator is worker progress in targeted upskilling or reskilling programmes (utilised by only 20% of organisations overall and 35% in South-East Asia).
  • Only 36% of organisations globally (including 44% in South-East Asia) believe that their organisations are highly effective at providing opportunities for workers to develop new skills.

The research also made clear what organisations need to do to ensure they have the skills and capabilities where and when needed going forward.

  • Know what you have and what you need – 27% of global respondents overall (and 26% of those in South-East Asia) told us that LinkedIn knows more about their workforce than their organisation does.

Tremendous gaps exist in information about the skills and capabilities an organisation currently has and the skills and capabilities anticipated that will be needed over the next one to three years.

Employers must prioritise cataloging the skills and capabilities of their current workforce, as well as forecasting what they will need in the future. Fewer than 30% of the respondents overall reported that their organisations are highly effective at both.

  • Unleash your organisation’s trapped value – In addition to not knowing about the skills, capabilities, interests, and knowledge of its workforce, most organisations do not provide the means for its workers to fully leverage what is unique to them.

This is one area that i4cp’s research shows should particularly see strong progress in the coming months. Take, for example, internal talent marketplaces that map individual employees to jobs or tasks. These have a very strong positive impact on overall workforce readiness and are also viewed as the most opportunistic source of skills and capabilities organisations will look to in the coming year.

  • Foster a culture of continuous learning – An organisational culture that is resistant to change has strong negative impact on both its overall market performance as well as its effectiveness in workforce readiness.   

Much of an organisation’s culture is determined by how people leaders lead, and i4cp research has consistently shown that leaders at high-performance organisations are foremost developers of talent.

Offering job rotations to employees is among the most impactful practices to drive high market performance and workforce readiness effectiveness. Unfortunately, 35% of the overall respondents told us that managers often hoard high-performing talent rather than encourage their movement internally across the organisation.   

Most savvy business executives know that talent risk is business risk and talent advantage is business advantage. Workforce readiness is essential to overall business sustainability and success and should be viewed and managed as a key organisational success criterion.

Kevin Martin is Chief Research Officer at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), and will be making a presentation titled Global Study: Workforce Readiness In The Next Era of Work, at HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2021 on Tuesday, September 21 at 2.20pm (SGT).