One of the biggest conversations happening in human resources right now is about how to build a workforce that is agile enough to adapt to the ever-changing world of work.
It’s a conversation that began before the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased automation in workplaces and the advent of remote work. The global health crisis and its impacts on labor supply and demand, however, have made it a primary focus for organizations trying to pave a path into an uncertain future.
“The future of work has arrived — sooner than many of us anticipated — and workers and businesses are being forced to adapt,” says Maria Flynn, president and CEO at Jobs for the Future. Many organizations have responded to this opportunity by building talent-management strategies that incorporate reskilling and upskilling employees, which Flynn asserts will help them succeed.
“The companies that will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis in strong positions are those that make investments in ‘future-proofing’ their workforce and provide their employees with upskilling opportunities to ensure they are resilient as the economy evolves,” Flynn says.
But with so much else going on in the world of work and the ongoing economic uncertainty many businesses are experiencing during the pandemic, is such an approach to talent management realistic? Is now the right time to implement strategies of worker upskilling and reskilling?
The short answer is yes. “Human investment is now the best investment we can make,” writes Tram Anh Nguyen, cofounder of the education platform, Centre for Finance, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. And employees are anxious for the opportunity to improve their skills for future opportunities at work.
Employees are Ready for Reskilling and Upskilling. Organizations Need to Catch Up.
Recognizing that their current skill sets may not take them into the future, workers have become anxious to close their skills gaps to maintain relevance in the workforce. “Millions of employees want to learn on the job,” write Kelly Palmer of Degreed and Aaron Hurst, founder and CEO at Imperative.
Companies are behind the curve when it comes to investing in learning and development programs for employees.
According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Report, only 17 percent of respondent organizations have significantly invested in AI-specific reskilling initiatives. This puts both employees and companies at a disadvantage when it comes to maintaining relevance and succeeding in the future. In today’s economic climate, it is a business imperative to train current employees to close skills gaps in order to meet the future needs of the organization.
As Carol Patton at Human Resource Executive writes: “Reskilling or upskilling employees is no longer a trend but a survival strategy that fuels or sustains a company’s growth.”
Companies are holding back for many reasons. According to Siddhartha Gupta, CEO of Mercer Mettl, the issues that keep businesses from investing in reskilling and upskilling programs include:
- identifying relevant skills gaps.
- finding the time for employee training.
- budgeting enough money for learning and development programs.
With the right plan in place, a company of any size can make reskilling and upskilling opportunities possible. Here are some lessons that can be learned from organizations that are paving the way in employee upskilling and reskilling initiatives.
Insights From Companies with Reskilling and Upskilling Programs
As technology progresses, the future of work will continuously evolve. Some companies have implemented reskilling and upskilling programs, and their efforts provide lessons for others as they create their own programs.
AT&T’s Future-Ready Initiative Focuses on Personalized Skills Development Paths
Upon examination, AT&T found that only about half of its employees had the STEM skills the company would require of its workers in the future. The company realized it had to quickly solve this problem.
Bill Blase, senior executive vice president of human resources at AT&T, says the company had two choices. “We could go out and try to hire all these software and engineering people and probably pay through the nose to get them, but even that wouldn’t have been adequate. Or we could try to reskill our existing workforce so they could be competent in the technology and the skills required to run the business going forward.” It chose the latter path.
It’s a billion dollar, multi-year investment that includes elements almost any company can develop. The initiative focuses on collaborations with online education platforms to offer employees online learning opportunities. It includes personalized learning experiences in a career portal that helps employees plan their future and identify skills they need to learn.
Building online training programs and career portals are two upskilling and reskilling tactics that even small companies can employ to ensure their workforces are prepared for the future.
PricewaterhouseCoopers’ New World, New Skills Initiative Focuses on Access and Collaboration
In 2019, PwC announced a $3 billion investment in job training for all employees. While there are a number of different elements to the initiative, the Digital Fitness app and the Digital Lab are two pieces that stand out.
The Digital Fitness app allows PwC employees to assess their digital knowledge and create customized learning plans. Through the app, they receive learning assets to “help our people think differently and unlock their innovative creativity at scale,” Joe Atkinson vice chair, chief products and technology officer at PwC, writes.
The Digital Lab allows employees to collaborate and share innovative solutions. “Digital Lab is a democratized platform, which uses social and gamification features to incentivize building and sharing of assets with wide applicability,” explains Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader at PwC U.S. Through the platform, employees not only learn from one another but also apply their new skills.
This collaborative approach can be used by any size company to give employees access to more resources and help them build the skills they need to succeed.
Accenture’s Connected Learning Platform Gives Employees Control of Learning
Accenture CEO Julie Sweet says the company has invested nearly $1 billion in 2021 on millions of hours of training to reskill its workforce. Central to the initiative is the company’s Connected Learning Platform which is a blend of classroom and digital learning opportunities with content from internal and external subject matter experts.
“Our people learn best by connecting, collaborating, and practicing for the scenarios they will encounter in their work with our clients,” says Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer for Accenture. “From basic skills to industry-specific content, learning is available to all our people anywhere, anytime – and, in many cases, no selection or approval is involved. Simply tap the app and start learning.”
In this way, employees control their own learning and career development. Such platforms don’t have to be built to offer thousands of classes in hundreds of roles. Workers in any position at any size company would benefit from autonomous learning opportunities.
Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 Initiative Includes Apprenticeships
Amazon launched its Upskilling 2025 initiative as part of its commitment to prepare workers for a more digitized workplace in the future. “We think it’s important to invest in our employees to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves,” says Beth Galetti, senior VP of People Experience and Technology at Amazon.
One of the many opportunities offered through the initiative is the Mechatronics and Robotics Apprenticeship Program. In the two-phase program, employees attend classes and receive on-the-job training in preparation for work as mechatronics and robotics technicians. When done, they will then be poised to earn more money and secure better career opportunities.
While external apprenticeships may not be feasible financially for all companies, internal mentorship or apprenticeship programs can be cost-efficient ways to upskill employees. By learning on the job, employees learn the practical applications of new skills.
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