How Smart Companies Can Close The Skills Gap

“In the next ten to fifteen years, rapid change in a post-pandemic world and emerging technology will revolutionize nearly every job, eliminate some, and create new forms of work that we have yet to imagine,” says Deanna Mulligan, author of the book, Hire Purpose: How Smart Companies Can Close The Skills Gap.

In a highly personal and reflective manner, Mulligan, with Greg Shaw, details through stories, examples, insights and frameworks, how business leaders can prepare for and respond to technological disruption. Mulligan is Board Chair and former CEO of the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

Mulligan tackles in, Hire Purpose, education, training, the classroom, the workplace and workers.

One of my favorite learnings from the book is where she states her believe that:

The primary goal of a business is to be profitable in order to compete, innovate, and provide stable jobs, but also that there are many paths to profit – and that the best ones take into consideration financial performance and the health and happiness of the people who make performance possible.

“In the interest of our businesses, our country, and our society, we have to relearn an old lesion: focus on both profits and people,” explains Mulligan.

Recently, she also shared these insights with me: 

Deanna Mulligan

Question: What did you see happening in companies that convinced you this was a book you wanted to write? 

Mulligan: This really came into focus for me after the 2008 financial crisis. Companies were forced to look outside for new skills and in many cases laid off quality people whose functions had been terminated. Many, many of these people have had a hard time finding new employment. Guided by one of our company values at Guardian Life, people count, I believed that there had to be a better way. 

We see accelerating change with the rapid adoption of technological advances like artificial intelligence and machine learning. It’s not just what we see in companies and new technologies. It is the entire world. The forces of globalization and the emergence of the millennial in the workforce are forcing every organization, including Guardian, to re-think how we hire and reskill our existing workforces. 

Question: Why is it so important that business leaders prioritize reskilling, not just for business reasons but also for a social and moral obligation to society? 

Mulligan: Companies are caught between furloughing workers whose skills are no longer needed due to automation and not being able to find the people with the skills for the present and the future. Reskilling is the clear solution. It’s far more economical for the company and far better for society to give existing workers the skills needed to do the work the company needs done. 

Question: What steps should businesses take now to prepare workers to fill the skills gap, now estimated at 85 million skilled jobs by 2030? 

Mulligan: The first step is to invest the time and money in workers. At Guardian, as new technology has streamlined some aspects of customer service, we launched a program to retrain call-center workers as programmers. It’s not cheap in the short run, but the cost of not reskilling in the long run is far greater. Companies need to think beyond the next quarter’s financial results and make commitments to the people they hire as well as to their customers and investors. 

Question: You started work on, Hire Purpose, long before the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout. How has this crisis influenced your thinking about the future of work? 

Mulligan: I don’t think that any of us imagined the speed at which whole industries, and the jobs they provide, would be massively affected. Think of the restaurant industry or the airline industry. The effort to help people impacted by these changes is obviously bigger than companies alone can shoulder. The government has stepped in to provide income support to people who lost their jobs. Now we need to think about how to re-deploy those people, either permanently, or temporarily. 

This crisis has put an exclamation point on the topic. The future of work is now! It is going to take a true public/private partnership to make the re-skilling of our workforce a success. It takes planning, deep investment, great execution, and perseverance in the face of adversity. 

Question: If a company could only implement one recommendation from your book, what should it be? 

Mulligan: Treat your people like the most valuable asset you have. Invest in their continuing education, and their value and loyalty will only grow. 

In 2019, Fortune named Mulligan one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business.”

Shaw is coauthor of Satya Nadella’s, Hit Refresh, and Kevin Scott’s, Reprogramming the American Dream.

Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of Mulligan's book.


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