Even before the arrival of COVID-19 many employees were grappling with future shock. Technology is moving at a pace that threatens to leave some parts of the workforce behind, creating ‘automation anxiety’ among those afraid they might lose their job to an algorithm or robot. Restoring their confidence through upskilling and reskilling is an imperative for every organisation.

Amid the uncertainty brought about by the novel coronavirus, one of the certainties is that digital transformation is now in overdrive. Organisations that want to keep pace need to ensure that they align their people with the new working practices and skills required to master new consumer expectations, increase efficiencies and fend off new, digital competitors.

Skills and confidence

According to the Talent Trends 2020 report from PwC, 74% of CEOs it surveyed were concerned about the availability of key skills. Some 38% of CEOs who are the most advanced in delivering their upskilling programmes were very confident about growth over the next 12 months. Only 20% of those who are just starting their upskilling journey agreed.

PwC says this illustrates the importance of developing a workforce with the digital and transferable skills the business needs — as well as the ability to adapt quickly in a world of constant change – through a well-designed programme. The benefits of such a programme go well beyond building new skills says PwC – it will also drive:

  • Stronger corporate culture and employee engagement
  • Higher workforce productivity
  • Improved talent acquisition and retention
  • Greater business growth

Mismatched supply and demand 

As an article in Strategy + Business argues, upskilling and reskilling are more important than ever because of the growing mismatch between the skills available and the skills in demand. “On the one hand, automation is threatening many existing jobs,” write the authors. “On the other hand, there is a severe shortage of qualified talent for the new digital economy.”

At this point, organisations cannot necessarily rely on the market to rapidly supply the skills they need in competence such as data science or user experience design. Many are making investments into upskilling (helping employees learn additional skills or enhance existing skills) and reskilling (learning a new set of skills or training for a new role).

For some organisations, the COVID-19 crisis has deepened the skilling crisis, with some employees overextended and others underutilised. In some cases, people have needed to adopt digital working practices without the usual training and change management. This situation can be treated as an opportunity to accelerate reskilling and upskilling programmes.

Practical tips to drive upskilling

Gartner advises that organisations should emphasise on-demand consumable microlearning: “Take longer courses and break them down into short, consumable bites. If your organisation has relationships with external learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Degreed or Coursera, search for modules and learning pathways that focus on digital-era skills and highlight those for employees.”

Another tip from Gartner is to get social – encourage employees to use tools such as chat boards or online interactive learning events to share experiences and create a community in which they can support and teach each other. This can help to reinforce what people learn through formal training programmes.

AIHR Digital suggests considering job rotation. This is the practice of moving employees between jobs within the business to transfer specific skills, knowledge, and competencies. This tactic could be helpful at a time when some organisations face resource shortages in some competencies, while people in other roles are idling.

An article in Forbes stresses the importance of personalisation. Tools such as HR platforms and self-service learning environments can be used to give each employee a tailored learning program, built to fit their specific needs, shortcomings and goals. This approach will help improve employee engagement and learning outcomes.

A final tip is to embrace continuous learning. This is about building a work environment that prioritises attaining new skills, natural curiosity, and ongoing improvement. Continuous learning should be expected, incentivised and rewarded. Companies could, for example, give employees a budget for professional development for conferences, classes, and learning materials.

The time for businesses to act on upskilling and reskilling is now – not when the next crisis is upon us. It’s an imperative to drive growth, maintain morale and ensure productivity. As PwC notes: “CEOs who have already taken action to upskill their people are seeing the advantages. That sends a pretty clear message to those still on the fence.”

References:

https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-survey/2020/trends/pwc-talent-trends-2020.pdf

https://www.strategy-business.com/feature/A-strategists-guide-to-upskilling?gko=0bb8b

https://www.luminary-labs.com/insight/problem-spotlight-upskilling-and-reskilling-america/

https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/use-covid-19-downtime-to-upskill-for-digital/

https://www.digitalhrtech.com/upskilling/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielnewman/2018/07/25/4-key-practices-for-upskilling-workers-in-the-age-of-digital-transformation/?sh=29bc0a9d1a3e

https://enterprisersproject.com/article/2020/7/leadership-how-upskill-pandemic

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