Reskilling and Career Mapping During a Pandemic

Protecting the L&D budget is mandatory. Experiential, agile learning is how companies will survive COVID-19.

Though the disruptions caused by COVID-19 are far from over, we’re seeing companies adapt to this new way of doing business as leaders learn to navigate these unchartered waters. Now nearly nine months into the pandemic, we find ourselves in the distance economy, a macroeconomic trend defined by remote workforces and touchless transactions.

Companies face two choices: hop on board or go under.

As with any sea change, a successful transition means staying nimble. This means more than shifting priorities or revising your vision at the senior leadership level—employees throughout the organization need training to optimize performance in this new working normal. Not only does the distance economy demand new skills, but the pace of technological innovation shows no signs of decelerating, and so we need to continue to provide learning and development (L&D) without the previous luxury of in-person classes or meetings.

As a result, the challenges are two-fold. Not only do people need to learn new skills, but that learning process itself is taking a new shape. However, having led Learning for decades and worked closely with industry leaders, I believe now is the optimal time to develop a plan for updating L&D strategies in the new, distance economy.

Two key insights have been prominent: L&D is more important now than ever before; and some methods are working, while others are not. Let’s start by exploring the best ways to approach L&D during the pandemic.

Interactive L&D

Like most remote workers, you’re probably getting tired of long, awkward Zoom calls. While videoconferencing technology has proved crucial to continuing collaboration in the distance economy, people are simply getting zoomed out. As a result, retention is declining.

Instead of checking the box on collaboration technology by doing a teleconference session (and potentially boring people to death), teams should spend more time on activities that drive retention. This leads back to basics, to the principle that experience is the best teacher. We started developing active learning methods that relate to real life.

This can be as simple as asking people to write down and share examples of challenges they’re facing, success stories, or steps they’re taking to address an issue. This creates a two-way communication where L&D takes complex subjects, relates it to real life, and gets everyone actively involved in the mission.

Another option is using interactive technology such as augmented reality (AR). This type of immersive technology provides a digital overlay that employees can interact with in real time. For instance, in the medical device industry, AR allows employees to drop a machine into any environment at scale, enabling practitioners to explore features and giving salespeople an interactive tool for their presentations.

The takeaway here is to get creative and get involved. When learning is engaging and interactive, people remember what they learned. Although L&D during a pandemic might look a little different, there are encouraging signs of enterprises figuring out new ways to reskill employees and help them with career mapping.

Agile L&D

An agile approach to L&D and career mapping is another key factor in determining success. Taken from the agile methodology for software development, it’s key to focus on individuals and interactions, an iterative process for improvement and a focus on continuous learning.

This plays out in both reskilling and career mapping. For the former, agile learning helps enterprises stay flexible, try new approaches to L&D, and learn new skills quickly and more efficiently.

On the career mapping side of the coin, agile L&D is necessary because the workforce dimensions have changed over the last year. The pre-pandemic trend was workers hopping from job to job, but now people are hesitant to move. In response, companies must try to grow their employees, and they can choose one of two paths.

On one hand, they can handle growth on a vertical ladder through more traditional upskilling programs. On the other, there is the horizontal lattice approach, especially among smaller companies, where employees go wide and learn new skills for roles across the organization. This helps the company by building redundant tribal knowledge that you can count on, while it also is great for individuals because it helps them to cultivate skills that are valuable for their careers.

The takeaway here is that learning is a continuous, never-ending process. Leaders should work to promote a culture that fuels growth and encourages curiosity.

Conclusion: Prioritize L&D

Historically, when things get tough, the first thing that gets cut is the learning budget. That’s not going to work this time around. Protect that budget over everything.

The single biggest challenge companies face right now is having to adjust quickly. This means you have to quickly identify the skills that are going to make you successful, and then you have to see if you can find the skills within the organization, build the skills, or go out and get new skills. Time is of the essence.

Once you decide on a course, you have to move quickly. If you don’t pivot to a different type of business or modification, you’re going to go out of business. That’s why an L&D budget isn’t a matter of “nice to have.”

Protecting the L&D budget is mandatory. Experiential, agile learning is how companies will survive the pandemic.

Doug Stephen is president of the Enterprise Learning Division at CGS, which has grown to more than 7,500 employees across North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, delivering business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services to customers in 45 countries around the globe. CGS clients span across such industries as fashion, apparel, healthcare, retail, financial services, hospitality, technology, and telecommunications, among others.