Reskilling for success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution


Technology is changing the nature of jobs within the financial industry. As fresh perspectives are required, banks should seek to create more diverse workforces who can bring different skills into play.

“What is at stake is not only financial institutions’ productivity, geared with the knowledge and skills to adapt to technological shifts; it is also about creating an inclusive work environment, by investing in people who will become active leaders in societal change and themselves promote diversity and reskilling.” Genevieve Douhet, GTB Chief Innovation Officer, Societe Generale

According to a World Economic Forum survey,1 more than one in four adults in OECD countries reported a mismatch between their current skills and the qualifications required for their job. In the banking sector, new digital technologies, such as automation and artificial intelligence, are reshaping not only customers’ experience, but also those of bank employees as processes and jobs are transformed.

As a manager and innovation director, I see every day how technology is reshaping our needs for IT talents. Reskilling is required as some traditional skills are no longer appropriate for specific tasks. Digitalisation of retail branch networks, automation and digitalisation elsewhere in banks, as well as the implementation of AI has led to a shortage of skilled IT workers. Particularly severe is the shortage of skilled data scientists and other IT workers such as agile developers, according to my own experience and what I hear and see from my peers.

In addition, the nature of a banking career is changing, from a straight career path to several careers within a lifetime. Business transformation cycles are much shorter than those of workforce development: a 40 years life-long career versus a transformation cycle of six months to one year. For example, today, 90% of the data handled by an IT specialist were created in the past two years, showing the acceleration led by technologies and digital ecosystems.

In the banking activities that have not been affected by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, managers tend to tap into the talent pool of the university or school from which they graduated. This community mindset has led to low diversity among those working within these areas. Achieving innovation in an environment of homogenous skills is a challenge.

Technology as a catalyst of diversity

Technology is an opportunity to bring diversity in profiles and promote an innovative mindset among employees. By tapping into non-traditional sources of employment, banks are likely to create a more diverse workforce. Diversity can be achieved by fostering social inclusion and enlarging talent pools among under-represented schools or education courses. Banks, like most companies, are also working on offering a real employee experience (work environment, new ways of working, balance between work and personal life, etc.), rather than a life-long career within the organisation. A continuous feedback loop between banks and educational establishments will help both entities to create wider, more skilled talent pools of individuals with greater employability.

Technology can also contribute to more gender parity among tech profiles. For example, SmartCo, which was launched by Societe Generale’s innovation lab in Dakar, is a program designed to encourage technology entrepreneurship among women in Africa. For the first edition, 100 women project leaders, mainly from outside the Group but also women staff members were selected to develop and create sustainable solutions. We believe this helps to promote Tech Women empowerment, but above all, it aims to set a basis for promotion and social harmony through women's learning.

Injecting fresh perspectives via reskilling programs

Re-skilling the workforce can bring new perspectives to a financial institution through a variety of ways:

  • Reskilled workers can bring a new vision, particularly if they come from other industries with different customer experiences;
  • Reskilled workers will not have the cognitive bias of replicated patterns that are developed if a worker has stayed in the same activity or industry for several years;
  • Those who have overcome the psychological barriers of reskilling might be more adaptive and think “outside the box”; It may sound like a paradox, but this requires more ‘soft’ than ‘hard’ skills; and
  • A reskilled worker is likely to become a promoter of social or gender inclusion, encouraging others by saying: “I have done it, why not you?”

In reskilling the workforce, a bank should first map how client user experience and technology have an impact on current skills and jobs, define the target in terms of skills and adapt retraining programs. They should also prepare for technology-driven disruptions that will require retraining of the workforce.

The program will combine hiring new staff, training existing staff and re-skilling others. Within Societe Generale, we launched Simplon2, a retraining program that re-skilled 15 people from inside and outside the bank to become web developers in 21 months. Management has an important role to play: senior managers must be able to guide the transition and impart their knowledge and experience. The challenge is to find managers willing to welcome re-skilled workers in their team and spend managerial time to facilitate their integration. The capacity – and willingness – to adapt are key success factors in any re-skilling program.

Financial institutions need to create a corporate culture that promotes learning and innovation, autonomy and empowerment to foster self-reskilling and development, if they want to remain to the forefront in the increasingly competitive talent race.

[1] World Economic Forum - Accelerating Workforce Reskilling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (July 2017) http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_EGW_White_Paper_Reskilling.pdf [2] Simplon is a network of social digital factories in France and abroad which has trained more than 4000 trainees in the digital sector since 2013.It aims at making the digital sector a place of inclusion and to reveal talents among groups underrepresented in this field.


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Head of Innovation Global Transaction Banking - Societe Generale