Talent pipeline shortages are a concern for businesses today, according to a recent Brookings report by Marcus Casey and Ember Smith. The search for new sources of talent to fill job roles has led companies to create retraining and upskilling programs, and even alternative education programs in which certifications are rewarded to qualify individuals for open positions. The certifications can take the place of a required college degree. Similarly, the retraining and upskilling programs can give employees in positions with few future prospects a chance for a new role in an organization—one with great growth potential and a higher salary.
“Many firms, increasingly cognizant of these talent pipeline shortages, have moved toward supplying workers with the training they need to fit the new tasks and jobs emerging from technological change. In some cases, this is taking place in-house,” Casey and Smith write. They point to the example of Accenture, which pledged as much as $1 billion a year for retraining, and Amazon, which announced a $700 million investment in upskilling workers in 2020.
Even more interesting to me is a plan hatched by Google to give workers without a traditional education background a chance for a much more promising and higher-paying job than would otherwise be open to them: “Google Career Certificates, originally announced by Google last summer, represents a potentially promising program in this space. Specifically, the program provides the opportunity for prospective students to take flexible classes and receive credentials via Coursera, an online education platform. The program offers certifications and training for in-demand occupations including Data Analysts and Project Managers,” Casey and Smith report.
A hurdle to Google’s plans may be the hesitancy of traditional-minded executives to accept a person with a non-traditional education background into a role with potential for significant growth and income. In the case of retraining and upskilling, the psychological barrier can exist among the workforce. The leaders of a company may be progressive and open-minded enough to want to prepare their existing employees for newer, better roles, but the employees themselves may have other ideas. They may be intimidated to learn new skills, or may feel they have gotten to a point in their career when they should not be expected to adapt to new circumstances. They may expect the company to adapt to their needs, or for the company to spend money hiring people they can delegate to.
I have seen that in my own career. While I have always been open to learning new skills, such as management of a Website versus a print publication, many of my colleagues have not been willing to do this. Some have been assigned management of a Web-based publication, but have not adapted their editorial styles to the new platforms. They write headlines for a print publication in which readers do not have to be induced to click to open an e-mail with a link to an article. Some have never learned how to use a Website content management system, and to this day, struggle to do basic tasks, such as adding a photo, creating a call-out box, or inserting a hyperlink. I have heard of at least one department head, who leads multiple online-only publications, who does not understand how a page within a Website that includes links to different articles differs from content that is placed on an entirely different Website. He doesn’t understand that one features content housed within the same platform and the other features content that is housed on a different platform.
Sometimes reskilling and upskilling expectations fall along gender lines. I have noted the more frequent expectations that women employees adapt and learn new skills to keep their jobs, facing a higher requirement to prove their value than male employees, who more often get junior employees hired to support them. Moreover, I have noticed these male employees with an inability or unwillingness to learn new skills often are rewarded with greater opportunities for advancement. With junior employees hired to do the things they are not willing to do, or women colleagues taking on those tasks, the dinosaur employees get their time freed up to concentrate on higher-level, executive work.
When thinking about your pipeline, it is essential that the opportunity—and burden—of retraining and upskilling falls equally on all employees. It also is important to ensure that the participants in alternative education programs find executives who are open to hiring a person who arrived at their new skill sets in novel ways. Snobbery and one-dimensional thinking have no place in an organization that wants the most robust and competent talent pipeline possible.
Is your company getting creative about finding and developing new talent? What programs have you launched, or are thinking of launching, that retrain, upskill, or offer alternative paths, to new job roles?