At a time when business and the world of work seem to be changing faster than ever before, it's essential to prepare your organization and your people for the future by investing in skills development.
Reskilling your workforce will make you more resilient and adaptable to trends that will have an impact on your business. This could be anything from the lasting consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic to the growth and development of automated processes in your sector.
Let's take a closer look at some of the reasons why reskilling could prove crucial for your organization, and practical steps you can take to implement a successful strategy.
the skills imperative
While it has always been true that businesses need relevant and applicable skills in their workforce to succeed, the unique challenges and demands created by COVID-19 and rapidly accelerating tech development have pushed this issue further up the agenda for many employers.
In a Gartner survey of HR leaders published in November 2020, 68% of respondents cited building critical skills and competencies as their top priority for 2021. This was followed by other goals that were all in some way connected to workforce learning and development:
- Organizational design and change management (46%)
- The strength of the current and future 'leadership bench' (44%)
- The future of work (32%)
- Employee experience (28%)
Mark Whittle, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice, commented: "In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, HR leaders are moving away from crisis management toward focusing on what will make their organizations strong, both today and in the future, including having the right skills and competencies, building resilience and having a strong cadre of leaders."
These findings were backed up by separate research from LinkedIn, which showed that 59% of learning and development professionals see upskilling and reskilling as the top priority for their workplace programs in 2021. This was followed by leadership and management (53%) and virtual onboarding (33%).
As far as the employee experience is concerned, the LinkedIn survey also revealed that 76% of Gen Z workers (those born since 1997) believe learning is the key to a successful career. This positive attitude towards development will position this generation well for the future of work, particularly in light of the growing impact of technology on how businesses operate.
According to the World Economic Forum, automation will displace 85 million jobs in the next five years, but will also open up 97 million new roles to people who have the right skills and characteristics to fill them. The organization predicted that analytical thinking, creativity and flexibility will be among the most in-demand skills by 2025, and artificial intelligence, content creation and cloud computing will be the top emerging professions.
As you look ahead to what the future could hold for your business, reskilling should be at the heart of your efforts to prepare the organization and your people.
7 practical steps to successful reskilling
Reskilling your workforce is comparable to many other business projects and processes, in the sense that you need to take a structured and goal-oriented approach to minimize inefficiencies and get the best results.
Planning out the most important steps and actions you need to take is likely to prove crucial to your final outcomes.
1. don't delay
All businesses and employees have something to gain from constant learning and development. Organizations get access to new skills and capabilities that will contribute to future performance, while workers can gain a greater sense of engagement in their work and increase their long-term employability.
Reskilling has become more important than ever in the current era of digital transformation and fundamental change in how businesses and industries operate. It's vital, therefore, to make it a priority for your organization right now, rather than viewing it as a 'nice to have' or an objective to achieve at some point in the future.
Acknowledging the importance of immediate action - and getting the whole business on board with the project, from senior managers all the way down to junior team members - is a crucial first step in the process.
2. analyze your current skills
To ensure your reskilling activities are relevant and productive, you should have a clear idea of your current position with regards to competencies in the workforce.
It can be useful to do some dedicated research into the types of skills and experience that are already crucial in your sector and are likely to become more important in the coming years. What are the most significant emerging trends, challenges and opportunities in your industry, and do you have the necessary qualities and capacity to respond to them?
This is an important process to go through if you're looking to improve your understanding of where you're currently well-resourced, and where you have skills shortages that could prove problematic in the future.
3. know your goals
Doing your research on the current state of skills in your workforce and trends in the wider market will help with another crucial part of the reskilling process: identifying the goals you want to achieve.
It's important to have clear and tangible outcomes that you want to gain from this endeavor. This will provide a valuable structure for your reskilling efforts and help you gauge results as the project progresses.
One approach that can prove beneficial is to set goals that are SMART:
This can be just as useful for individual workers as for the HR department and the business as a whole. An example of a SMART goal that could add focus to your reskilling program is: to increase the number of IT staff enrolled in cybersecurity training schemes by 20% over the next six months.
4. look for resources
Like any undertaking in business, you can't expect to get worthwhile results from reskilling if you don't have the right resources in place to support your efforts.
Fortunately, there are many provisions that can boost your efforts to enrich competencies in your workforce, even if you have diverse and geographically distributed teams of remote workers. These range from free resources like massive open online courses and publicly available videos on relevant subjects, to more specialist services like industry certifications and training programs endorsed by professional associations.
You could find it particularly beneficial to look for tools that make it easier for people to collaborate and learn together, since this has been shown to increase engagement, according to the latest LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report. The research showed that workers who use social features - such as Q&A platforms, course sharing tools and learning groups - watch 30 times more learning content than those who don't use them.
5. design tailored and relevant reskilling journeys
One of the biggest challenges linked to reskilling and developing your workforce is learner engagement. If you want your employees to have a genuine desire to learn and constantly refresh their skill sets, it's important to deliver positive, relevant experiences that reflect people's interests and priorities.
Engage with your staff to find out what they're keen to learn about and how they see their career progressing with you. This could also be an ideal opportunity to talk about people's preferred approaches to learning and what platforms, methods and environment they would feel most comfortable with.
One company that has seen success with this approach is Sundt Construction, which has created approximately 70 different learning paths to suit different positions and needs within the company.
6. test and iterate
Ongoing testing and iteration will help you ensure your workforce learning and reskilling activities are constantly evolving, improving and responding to the latest developments relevant to your business and your industry.
You can evaluate how your programs are functioning by collecting feedback from participants and inviting suggestions about what improvements could be made in the future.
It could also be important to focus on particular areas of performance or productivity you're hoping will benefit from reskilling. Start off by conducting a baseline assessment of your most relevant performance metrics and track how these indicators change as your skilling and staff development activities progress. This will help you make informed conclusions about which aspects of your reskilling project are working well and where you need to change your approach.
7. protect your reskilling budget for the future
Reskilling shouldn't be viewed simply as a 'one off' or as a short-term response to a unique challenge like the COVID-19 pandemic, but as an ongoing process that is part of the ethos and culture of your company.
It's important, therefore, to make sure the budget you dedicate to this process is protected for the long term. This might require you to put forward a strong business case for the ongoing value of reskilling, which is why it's so crucial to constantly collect data and analyze the impact of your work in this area, as noted in the previous step.
By providing clear, data-rich evidence of how reskilling is benefiting the business, you can help to make it a fundamental part of how your organization operates. This will put your company and your people in the strongest position to thrive, regardless of how the world of work changes in the coming years.