Even before the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way many organizations do business, the business world was facing a reskilling crisis. Technology has been changing rapidly for years. Back in 2017, research from Deloitte found the average half-life of a learned skill was just five years. The same year, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as many as 375 million workers would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030.
Rather than hiring new workers with the right hard skills — a tactic that wasn’t working pre-pandemic when schools weren’t able to turn out enough grads to meet job demands — it makes more sense to reshuffle jobs, training the workers you have for the jobs that are available. This started happening before the pandemic. PwC announced a $3 billion upskilling project in 2019. Amazon launched Upskilling 2025, a $700 million fund to reskill 100,000 workers, last year as well.
Covid has made this need more urgent. With teams going remote — some indefinitely — many employees require new skills to do their jobs from home. According to research from Brandon Hall Group, 56% of companies are concerned about reskilling workers who might return to different jobs than the ones they’d left, while 43% of businesses are concerned about determining whether employees will be returning to their old jobs, or whether their new jobs will change because of new business conditions.
Ginni Rometty, executive chairman of IBM, interviewed on Fortune’s Leadership Next Podcast, likened the situation to throwing a deck of cards in the air:
Everyone’s not going to land back in the same spot,” she said.
What is reskilling?
Reskilling is more than simply providing ongoing training to your employees; your current training program might introduce new skills to your learners, but according to OECD senior economist Glenda Quintini, quoted in the Harvard Business Review, it’s not reskilling unless you’re training your learners “in service of an outcome, which is usually the successful transition into a new job or the ability to successfully take on new tasks.”
In other words, how the training is delivered doesn’t matter, as long as the learners are able to take on a new job once they’ve completed the course.
How to build a reskilling strategy
While there are many ways to develop a reskilling program, there are several basic points to keep in mind if you’re reskilling a large number of workers at once.
1. Prioritize the skills you need right now.
It can be tempting to completely retrain your entire team for whatever the world might throw at them in the next year… or five. You’re retraining them anyway, right? Why not give them a whole set of new skills? Bear in mind, however, that you need your team to be up and running quickly. Identify the skills that will be essential to your new business model, and train your employees on those first. Those skills may be as simple as doing their old jobs remotely, or you might be training certain individuals for completely new roles. Whatever the skills you need right now are, those are the ones to prioritize. The rest of your team’s shiny new skills can wait. (We’ll get to that a little later.)
2. Use learning paths for individual workers.
You need your team reskilled fast. Rather than training everyone with the same modules, it may make more sense to use learning paths to get specific workers up to speed quickly. Use a tool like SAP Litmos Training’s Competencies, which allows training administrators to target training for specific learners. This tool allows L&D managers to enroll a learner in specific assignments to build competence for a new job role.
3. Commit to an online training program.
Your team is likely remote now, due to the pandemic. Maybe some workers have returned to the office while others are still at home. Or perhaps your organization is hiring new workers who will remain remote indefinitely. Whatever your strategy is, an online training program is a safe, easy way to make sure that all workers – no matter where they are based — have access to the same training content. An online learning management system (LMS) also ensures that you can quickly push out training to all the learners who need it.
4. Make a plan for future retraining.
If your company is like the companies interviewed by Brandon Hall Group, your reskilling initiative is probably pandemic-focused: making sure your workers can work from home, or can be moved out of roles that no longer exist, for example. But it’s important to remember that the pandemic has changed more than the way we work. It’s also changed the way people shop, eat, go to school, and socialize. Those ripples will be felt across every industry, and change the roles in many companies. So as you move past your immediate retraining needs, consider the changes you’ll need to make in your own organization, and design your reskilling plans for next year accordingly.
5. Don’t hire people for what they know how to do.
While reskilling is about training new workers rather than hiring new ones, it’s important to consider your hiring strategies as well. “Forget about hiring for a hard skill,” says Rometty. She suggests that companies look for soft skills instead, particularly for skills that make employees better at learning. If your employees are good learners, after all, they can be reskilled again and again, as technology — or the world — changes.