Madrid 2021: Building capabilities in infrastructure

February 2021

Modern infrastructure and capital projects demand new skill sets in every phase—and by every actor involved. For instance, while digitization is projected to create 20-50 million jobs globally, 60 percent of current worksite functions can be partially replaced by automation. As early as 2017 a McKinsey Global Institute analysis estimated that 14 percent of the global workforce will need to be reskilled entirely, and 40 percent will need partial reskilling to continue with their current occupations.

Compounded by COVID, organizations across the world are seeking strategies to keep them competitive in the rapidly changing market. In a recent survey 78 percent of executives highlighted capability building as a key factor impacting organizations long-term growth, a 19 percent increase relative to pre-pandemic levels. However, despite significant investment, the results from the traditional approach to corporate training have been less than optimal.

On February 3rd, McKinsey’s Global Infrastructure Initiative (GII) hosted a roundtable discussion with Iberian senior leaders representing engineering and construction (E&C), project owners, real estate, investors, and technological innovators. Five key themes emerged during the discussion:

  1. Manage human capital as rigorously as financial capital. Due to the size and potential impact of the investments in capability building, it is fundamental to manage them with the same rigor applied to capital investments. Roundtable participants highlighted the need to accurately track and measure the impact of such programs, using tangible KPIs.
  2. Align capability building journeys with strategic priorities. A McKinsey study of over 1,200 executives revealed that only 37 percent successfully managed to align the organization’s learning goals with their strategic priorities. Organizations should design their capability building programs based on an assessment of their forward-looking skills required to maintain market competitiveness.
  3. Reinforce program importance through leadership modelling. Senior management needs to attend and lead some of the sessions to demonstrate their belief and commitment to the program. Participants agreed that creating opportunities for team members to apply their new skills is equally important to ensure adoption and make capability building journeys continuous.
  4. Strive for a mix of hard, digital and soft skills. Global infrastructure leaders have identified three major sought-after skillsets—hard skills (e.g. subcontractor management), digital skills (e.g. analytics for project delivery), and soft skills (e.g. coaching). Collectively, this mix of skills maximizes the opportunity to increase team effectiveness and productivity across operations.
  5. Use internal reskilling as lever to close the skills gap. Given the talent scarcity for roles in high demand (e.g. complex data analysis), internal reskilling provides a great opportunity to close the skills gap. Roundtable participants highlighted the importance of identifying key talent to train or reskill to maximize program value.
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