Reskilling and upskilling: An emergency response

The saying ‘may you live in interesting times’ is regarded as a curse rather than a blessing.  Whichever way you look at it, the current landscape for government, business, and industry is facing some interesting challenges. 

 

One of the most pressing of those challenges is how to reskill and upskill a workforce that is facing huge changes and disruption caused not only by the pandemic but by technology too.

 

Donald H Taylor commented, “For the first time, an option newly introduced to the survey went straight to #1. Not only that, Reskilling/upskilling was #1 for each of 5 areas of employment: Workplace L&D, Self-employed, Education, Vendor and Other. (89% of respondents answered this voluntary question.)And Reskilling/upskilling was uniformly popular across the world. Not much detailed interpretation is needed here. Covid-19 has massively impacted employment world-wide, and this vote reflects that.”

Revolution in the workplace

Klaus Schwab founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum coined the phrase ‘the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ to describe the upheaval, disruption, and transformation caused by the rapid, pervasive growth and spread of digital technology.  As with any revolution, there will be winners and losers, but how organizations and individuals respond to this sea-change will determine which they are.  

When you look at the numbers the scale of the challenge is stark.  The World Economic Forum didn’t mince its words when it spoke of a ‘reskilling emergency’, estimating that over a billion people would need to reskill by 2030.  A report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) concluded that 9 out of 10 employees in the UK will need to be retrained by 2030.  Meanwhile, the skills gap grows wider and the task of reskilling only gets bigger.

Disruption, disruption

Commentators often talk blithely of ‘disruptors’.  Mostly they’re seen as a positive force: an innovation that shakes up the staid practices of organizations that forces them to respond with agility to their eventual structural and financial benefit.  Disruption then is a ‘good thing’. 

But Covid-19 is proving to be a disruptor of a whole other order.  The disruption and potential devastation it can wreak applies not only to industries but the global economic order and the fabric of society.  How do you respond when a mega-disruptor hits?

All change?

Who’d have thought we’d be having business meetings via Zoom from our bedrooms?  Yet his most commented-upon trend is just one small consequence of the current environment.  Some bigger changes in working practices necessitated by the health emergency are likely to continue once the health emergency passes.  

It may still be too early to count the economic and social cost of the pandemic, yet already some of the interim results make for difficult reading.   Estimates suggest 25,000 jobs were lost in a single month in mid-2020 in the UK alone.  There are officially more than 10 million people unemployed in the United States.  And there’s a freeze on hiring too.

Are those jobs lost for good or just temporarily?  What about the lives and livelihoods of those people suddenly thrown out of work?  Equally, what will the effects be on international business travel, working in offices, employees’ accommodation habits, etc.?  What about the future of sectors of the economy most heavily impacted, including transportation, hospitality, energy companies, high-street retail, travel, social and medical services, and so on?

And if the move from the office to home working takes hold it’ll have lasting consequences not just for organizations and their staff, but also for our city centers and the service businesses.  What happens to sandwich shops, coffee stands, and dry cleaner, to mention a few businesses, that rely on the steady footfall from office workers?  

Meanwhile, the technological revolution continues

In considering the considerable impact of Covid on employment, we shouldn’t overlook the continuing erosion of traditional jobs caused by the automation and digitization of tasks.  In certain industries, the outlook is for workers particularly bleak. 

Consider the plight of travel agents, factory workers, supermarket check-out staff, customer service agents, and many others whose jobs are likely to be made obsolete in this new industrial revolution.  For them, it’s not so much a skills gap as a yawning abyss.

An emergency response

Research by Gartner concluded that the need to reskill was now so critical that ‘constant upskilling and digital dexterity will outweigh experience and tenure’.  It’s not just the nature of the job that’s changing, it’s the nature of work.  Experience counts for nothing if what you’re experienced in has become irrelevant.  We’ve learned already that there are fewer and fewer jobs for life.  With the acceleration of change driven by digital technology who’d bet of a job for a decade or even five years?

Whatever the final bottom line it’s clear now that we have a task ahead to rebuild, restructure and revitalize our economy to respond to the change that was already happening, but which has been exacerbated and accelerated by Covid.  To survive and thrive in this wave of change, whether as a business, a sector, or an individual, we need to adapt and retrain.  If reskilling and upskilling were important before the pandemic, they’ve become the clear priority now.

What’s been done?: Reskilling and upskilling

Whether it’s reskilling to move to a new or different job or upskilling to keep pace with the evolution of your job role, you need to move forward and plan to deal with uncertainty by creating your own certainties.

In 2017 the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices argued that ‘it is vital to individuals and the health of our economy that everyone feels they have realistically attainable ways to strengthen their future work prospects.’  This, however, was not only a challenge but an opportunity and responsibility to help individuals and organizations learn, adapt, and grow.

Reskilling and deskilling use those drivers of change – automation and digitization – as a tool to create opportunities and transform work for individuals and organizations alike.  Bridging the skills gap can not only preserve organizations and jobs, but it can also bring tangible financial and personal benefits.  Reskilling is the way forward.

Some are already taking up the challenge to reskill rather than reduce workforces.  In 2020 British Airways was forced to let 12,000 employees go, but a partnership between Airlines UK and the home care company was established to retrain thousands of cabin crew as much-needed carers.  Cera’s CEO noted that ‘the skills possessed by the UK’s airline personnel are highly transferable to social care’.  What’s more that reskilling is happening using a tool created in the fourth industrial revolution: a digital learning platform. 

Reskilling brings benefits

Along with ensuring job survival and the change to continue to work and expand, reskilling and upskilling offer other benefits:

  • Retaining people: offering reskilling means that staff is going to reconsider leaving your organization to fulfill their career ambitions.  Reskilling also prevents existing skills and experience from being lost as critical staff chooses to stay.
  • Attracting people: offering reskilling and upskilling opportunities can make your organization a magnet for talent and wanting greater options for their career.  Talent attracts talent.
  • Reducing onboarding: focus your training not on new hires but on developing your existing talent pool.  This helps you avoid costly churn too.  
  • Saving costs: reskilling your existing employees means you don’t have to buy in talent and wait for them to bed in.
  • Improving morale: the commitment to reskilling is an investment in your people and will be reflected in more contented, motivated, and driven employees who are more productive.  Research suggests people are looking for companies to invest in them.

All of these positives translate to a better bottom line and an organization that is resilient, agile, and fit enough to ride the waves of disruption and in place to reap the benefits.

What do you need to reskill?  

There are two critical areas in instigating reskilling in your organization.  Firstly, you need leadership.  The management team needs to be committed to reskilling and actively promote it.  This means identifying the skills gap and providing strategies and resources to bridge it.  Leaders lead by example.  Reskilling becomes a key and well-recognized performance goal.

The second key element is creating a learning culture.  Learning is no longer a desirable add-on but is part and parcel of working.  Learning resources – formal and informal – need to be readily available and easily accessible.  Engaging with learning becomes a key performance indicator.  One commentator has even argued that ‘learning is the new pension’.

Don’t hesitate, act!  

The time for reskilling is now.  Pandemic or not, need to take urgent steps to address the skills gap crisisReskilling is both the prescription and vaccination for conquering the skills gap.

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