Investing in future skills, starting today

BMO prioritizes employee learning to keep pace with changing world of work

Investing in future skills, starting today
At BMO, a focus on dynamic learning and development began a generation ago. Credit: BMO

Over the next 10 years, the world of work will shift in dramatic ways. Changing workforce and customer demographics, rapidly evolving technology, increased expectations and new market entrants will disrupt traditional business models and create opportunities and challenges in every industry.

Countless studies predict the impact of the changing landscape. For example, the World Economic Forum expects that by 2022, 75 million jobs around the world will be vulnerable to disappear through the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and big data — while 133 million new jobs will grow out of these same technological advances.

Skills are emerging as a new currency for the new world; however, companies’ efforts to develop cutting-edge skills will struggle to keep pace. In fact, research firm Gartner predicts that 30 per cent of tech jobs will be unfilled by 2020 as a result of digital talent shortfalls.

To remain competitive, organizations must be bold on talent, creating the conditions for human and machine partnerships and growing a culture that sparks engagement and encourages learning, creativity and innovation.

A focus on skills

Skills provide a common language that gives employers a deeper view of the workforce and enables predictive analytics to help define where to “buy, build and borrow” talent.

A skills framework is critical because it:

• creates a systematic approach to support business goals

• offers concise, on-demand data about talent

• provides a company inventory of existing, emerging and hot skills

• helps to pinpoint gaps to allow for proactive development.

Using the same library of skills to underpin all parts of the HR system — including job requirements, recruiting, learning, performance, careers and succession planning — benefits both employees and employers. It gives individuals a clear view of the skills they need for current and future roles, and it shows them how to prioritize their learning to fill gaps and compete. And it gives the company a way to look out across the organization and find people with the right combination of skills and dynamically match them to work.

It’s a true win-win.

Where to start

It’s clear that technical skills will be critical to build the digital landscape of the future — and equip people to work effectively with machines.

Equally important will be higher cognitive skills such as creativity and insights, and “human” skills such as resilience, judgment and empathy to connect people together and differentiate them from technology.

To develop these future-focused skills, companies need to take a multi-pronged approach. It’s all about enabling employees to build and apply new skills, test and learn, and to develop the creativity and confidence to solve new problems in new ways ­— including problems we’ve never seen before — to ensure they feel supported if they take chances and fail.

At BMO, a focus on dynamic learning and development began a generation ago. In 1994, BMO Financial Group opened the Institute for Learning (IFL) in Toronto. The IFL was created as more than a symbol of learning — it was a tangible investment in its workforce, the bank’s change agenda and its belief in the power of reinvention.

BMO’s leaders knew then what is still true now: Talented people seek out employers that prioritize supporting them so they learn and grow, gain meaningful work experiences and are part of something bigger than themselves — to be part of a collective commitment to make a difference and help others succeed.

Today, corporate learning is more important than ever, and the range of options has increased dramatically over the past 25 years. From formal classroom programs and online courses to bite-sized videos, articles, ebooks, infographics and on-the-job development activities, employees can now choose how and where they build their skills.

In 2018, BMO implemented BMO U, a mobile, 24-7 learning platform to empower employees to learn for their jobs, careers, personal interests and the future of work. BMO U creates a customized experience by offering easy access to thousands of formal and informal learning resources, and it provides ways to share insights, find experts and participate in learning communities. One year later, almost half of all BMO employees are active users.

Forward learning program

This year, the organization went deeper on future-focused skills by launching the BMO Forward learning program. It was designed to equip all 46,000 BMO employees with digital skills in areas such as data science, AI, analytics, cybersecurity and digi-tech.

The company partnered with industry leaders and top academic institutions to ensure the content was relevant and cutting-edge.

To successfully complete each stream, employees need to demonstrate their learning through a creative, hands-on assignment, and they earn digital badges to certify their new skills. The badges can be shared both internally and through social networks.

In the first three months since BMO Forward launched, more than 1,300 employees have embarked on the learning. Early results are encouraging. For example, employees reported a 26-point increase in their understanding of how to apply data science to their current roles and a 14-point increase in their interest in pursuing data-related jobs.

BMO has made a commitment to use learning as a critical enabler to equip employees to prepare for the demands of the future, grow in ways that matter to their career, provide great customer experiences and drive results — for today and the future.

Looking forward, the most important thing HR professionals can do is to help employees be ready for anything. Although we can make educated guesses about what the world will look like in the next five to 10 years, we can’t be 100-per-cent certain about every prediction.

By cultivating a culture of curiosity within the organizations, encouraging employees to make learning a priority every day and giving them opportunities to engage in a range of experiences that keep pace with change, BMO can equip them to nimbly develop the skills they — and our companies — need most.

Gina Jeneroux is chief learning officer at BMO Financial Group in Toronto. For more information, visit

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