While we remain in the throes of a pandemic, talent concerns, including recruiting and retention, skills development, capacity, and availability, have emerged as a threat to the global economic outlook. In fact, recent data shows there were more job openings in the U.S. this spring than before the pandemic hit in March 2020, along with fewer people in the labor force–signaling that the millions of displaced workers during the pandemic still remain on the side-lines of the job market.
On top of the talent shortfall, employers are continuing to realize a gap in skills among both their current employees and new hires, particularly in today’s hybrid environment driven by digital processes. Even before the pandemic, business leaders were voicing concerns about threats to their business from the growing global skills shortage. PwC’s 22nd Annual Global CEO survey found that the number of business leaders who expressed concerns was already high, averaging out to 79% in 2019.
As employers remain hindered by skills gaps among their workforces and look to attract and retain talent that can meet business objectives, upskilling should be a central focus of talent strategies. Once new hires are made, companies must help workers rapidly climb the learning curve so they can develop the skills needed for their jobs, today and in the future, and fill the voids of the talent shortfall. No longer just a work perk offered by some employers, upskilling should instead be treated as a critical worker benefit on par with paid time off and retirement plans offered by every employer.
Upskilling and reskilling in the digital era
We have recently seen an uptick in companies pivoting from role-based to skills-based hiring. Upskilling is an essential element of this shift and is more than just learning–It’s a change in mindset within the organization. It’s about preparing employees for a technology-based future and determining which skills are needed now and moving forward.
This, by no means, suggests every employee will be in a tech-focused role. Still, it reiterates that to thrive in the future of work, we have to understand the implications of technology on an organization’s business function. For many, this seems so removed from the jobs they do. But few, if any of us, will avoid using technology–even if this is just to login for work or take customer orders.
Upskilling and reskilling can help make employees relevant for the future. Both are an extension of learning and development (L&D) and will likely require partnership with professional bodies or learning establishments to understand what can and should be offered to current employees and new hires.
To start, organizations should engage with their employees in regular pulse checks. This allows leaders to see what skills employees hope to gain, how they feel about their career path progression, and any learning policies (i.e., tuition and course reimbursement, incentives for new hires) they are hoping to leverage or incorporate into the company’s culture. These pulse checks also give organizations insight into potential employee flight risks and how best to retain its current talent.
Lifelong learning is a business and employee benefit
The digital world has prompted an increased commitment from many companies’ leadership teams to focus on the workforce, including the well-being, career development, and investment in the learning needed for employees to excel. Establishing a learning culture is key to future business success, which is why the leadership team–from the top-down–must be proponents for continuous learning. A good first step to embedding learning into a company’s culture is to ensure that each function within a business has a dedicated training leader who reinforces upskilling as a critical priority.
Additional ways to promote a learning culture include investing in one-to-one and volume training courses, building training into continuous performance management objectives, encouraging organizations to invest in mentorship programs, and assigning learning buddies.
Lifelong learning should be offered to all, ideally as a term of employment, but at least as an optional benefit. Learning Management Systems (LMS) and/or Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) will play a vital role in this, and today’s potential new hires will be looking for these benefits in potential employers.
Learning systems need to provide single access to all learning resources, from mandatory training to applications, where feasible and appropriate to align with organizational needs. The ‘Learning in the Flow of Work’ model looks to operate under a seamless interface with both a company’s daily tools and the full learning system. At Alight, we are currently working with our IT department to ensure Microsoft Teams has the capability to be incorporated within Alight Academy, our internal learning system. This will allow a manager and employee to discuss, in real-time, any skill gaps and best course of action moving forward.
An organization’s definition of learning and development should also be reviewed. Too often, L&D focuses on job-related skills and overlooks the person, which can create broader issues. Self-management, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills–along with ongoing alignment with the company’s overall business strategy–are equally needed to get the best results for the future of work. Without these, a less visible skills gap is being created.
Some companies are already making great strides in creating internal, lifelong learning programs that grow talent internally. From low-waged operatives to richly compensated boardroom executives, this type of program approach helps set no limits to how high anyone can climb in an organization. This opportunity for growth is a significant benefit and often considered a far greater compensation than small salary increases for many, because it may lead to far higher salaried positions within the organization.
For the employer, learning programs keep the cost of employee acquisition to a minimum. It also allows the best people to be homegrown and develop the evolving skills needed as the world becomes more automated and standardized.
Upskilling opportunities will only continue to be an essential factor in attracting new talent and retaining current employees in today’s job landscape. As job opportunities remain vacant and workforces battle a gap in skills, upskilling will be critical as companies recover from the pandemic and ensure talent is well-equipped to do their jobs. Organizations should establish a learning culture that promotes, supports, and encourages its employees to continue learning, adopting news skills, and making investments in their own professional growth and future. Those companies who do will reap the rewards of a loyal, engaged and productive workforce.
Neha Trivedi, MA, CPTM, is a director on the global talent development team focused on all colleague learning at Alight Solutions.