Workforce Talent Development: Upskilling Your Staff
Pam Sornson, JD
It’s hard to fathom how the COVID-19 pandemic changed things for the better, but, in some cases, that seems to be the case. In many businesses, it’s acted as a catalyst to innovation and renewal as they retool their enterprise to embrace new consumer expectations. They’re also rethinking how to go about their ‘business as usual’ in light of the explosion of technology, the transition to remote work, and the new economic opportunities that have opened up as the world shifted its activities to comport with COVID’s digital demands.
What some business leaders have come to know, too, is that their existing workforce is not yet capable of managing all the changes that have arrived or will arrive in the next few years. Their challenge is now is deciding if they hire a new, more capable workforce or retrain their existing one to meet emerging needs. According to experts, investments in workforce upskilling are beating all others in terms of corporate ROI metrics.
‘Tom-A-to/Tom-AH-to’ – It’s all the Same Thing
‘Upskilling.’ ‘Workforce Training.’ ‘Workforce Talent Development.’ ‘Corporate College.’ Whatever you call it, it still refers to the practice of improving the skills of existing employees instead of hiring a set of new, already trained workers to take their place. In some cases, standardized programs that teach a standard set of (new) skills are available through many sources, such as basic computer skills, office management procedures, or basic hygiene techniques. In other cases, a specialized training program is designed to fulfill a specific company’s occupational or systemic requirements. In both cases, the employer retains all the value already invested in its workforce while the workers improve their job skills and set themselves up for future career growth.
Upskilling is Now an Imperative
Even before the pandemic, the C-Suite was aware of the lagging of its workforce skill base compared to newly emerging tools and practices. According to SHRM, in May 2020, one in four CEOs (79%) reported concerns about their employees’ lack of essential skills. Almost two out of three (60%) believed the skill level of their workforce would be out of date within three to five years. And nearly half (46%) said they considered retraining and upskilling as their best strategy to close skills gaps in their organization.
There are more benefits, too, apparently, to be had by making the upskilling investment:
It boosts morale. In most cases, a happy worker is a productive worker, and the most productive workers are those whose skill sets meet their job description demands. Employees, too, are watching how technology is upending occupational standards; investing in their future with your company is a win/win for both of you.
It improves retention. Well-trained workers are proud of their efforts and of the company that has invested in them. Reducing employee churn saves the time and money needed to recruit, hire, and train the replacements.
An upskilled workforce can also improve your customer’s satisfaction. When existing customers can count on your employees to keep them up-to-date and informed on the latest (product/service/options), they’re more likely to repay that service with enhanced customer loyalty.
Developing the Workforce Talent Development Strategy
Like any business investment, the most successful workforce talent development project begins with an informed and comprehensive strategy. It makes sense, then, to also invest the time needed to tune that strategy to meet specific corporate goals.
Keep Your Focus
These steps offer insights into appropriate upskilling strategy goals:
- Focus on your business values. If you want to sell more, upskill existing sales activities to include up-to-date technology and practices.
- If you’re looking to grow, retrain production lines to see new opportunities in existing systems or products. The opportunities available to add value to existing inventory are growing as technological tweaks add improved performance and function.
- Focus on talent. You already have an IT department (probably), but have you connected your entire workforce to emerging technological tools? In many companies these days, truly skilled and technologically savvy workers are making a significant impact on their employers’ outcomes because they:
- know how to optimize their technology usage, and
- don’t waste the IT team’s time with mundane, non-corporate-critical repairs.
Your current workers are already your biggest corporate investment; enhancing their value maximizes their already proven value to the company.
Engage Your Workers
These steps illustrate how some organizations embraced the task:
- They made it an actual corporate asset investment. More than $300 million is invested annually in corporate education, but many projects fail because they aren’t tied directly to business impact. Without that clear focus, the training may provide interesting updates and new skills but have little or no return on investment in terms of corporate growth.
- They made it easy to achieve. Rather than immersing employees in weeks-long training seminars, many successful employers provide upskilling activities in smaller batches that are easier to access, obtain, and retain. Also, the training packages themselves are related directly to work already being done. Workers were upskilling the skills they used in their daily jobs, making those more effective and productive.
- They made it fun. Today’s immense online gaming industry speaks to its embrace by millions of people. Educators, too, have learned that student participation goes up, social and emotional skills evolve, and even (appropriate) risk-taking actions improve when lessons are taught in a game format. Workers with focus challenges also improve as their focus and attention are drawn into the game.
- They reduced silos by building teams through upskilling activities. People ‘playing’ together develop stronger bonds and emotional attachments as they pursue success in mutual tasks, negotiate strategy, and collaborate on problem-solving.
Changes in workforce expectations are already here, as COVID-19 forced more workers than ever into remote positions. More change is coming as the global economy adjusts to the new situation. Companies that invest in retooling their workers to meet both today’s and tomorrow’s workforce demands will be better prepared to lead the way into those emerging economic opportunities.
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