The New Skills Lifecycle: Rewriting Learning for the Post-COVID Era

It all begins with a simple shift, in seeing learning as a cycle—moving from the traditional assembly line of building and delivering learning to providing a holistic approach to upskilling that truly builds and measures.

Until recently, how businesses react to change (particularly technological change) has been rather slow. It used to be about half the rate of personal adoption. Of course, the COVID_19 pandemic and global shutdown changed all of this. Overnight, business leaders suddenly had to invest in technology and processes that support remote working and social distancing. The result is an acceleration of digital transformation (two years’ worth in just two months) and a critical need to rewrite the learning playbook.

The Critical Need for New Skills

Whereas previously 54 percent of the workforce was expected to need significant upskilling by 2023, this number likely will have grown because of the acceleration. Plus, we have to consider the shifting of roles and market demand. People in the travel and hospitality industries, for example, have had to quickly shift to other sectors or more in-demand positions. New roles  also have been created in the form of contact tracers, temperature testers, video meeting specialists, and face mask makers, to name but a few.

Introducing the New Skills Lifecycle

To respond to this, organizations must ensure their people have the right skills for their current projects, are building new skills for future demands, and that they can be easily redeployed based on those skills. That requires a different approach to learning—one that’s more agile and responsive compared to traditional, in-person, and classroom-based tactics. Enter the new skills lifecycle, which consists of four stages:

1. Align

2. Benchmark

3. Curate

4. Develop

Alignment with Business Goals

Alignment with the business strategy is more vital than ever. Business leaders are focused on survival and learning must get on the same page to equip people with the skills needed to withstand sudden changes and pivot. Learning also feeds directly into market capitalization—research suggests that a significant percentage of market capitalization in public companies is based on intangible assets such as employee skills.

Therefore, working hand-in-glove with other senior business leaders will underpin the importance of learning in your organization and its revenue-generating potential. It also makes it easier to justify and retain your learning budget. As Chris Holmes, director of Global Learning and Development at Booz Allen Hamilton, explains, “If learning is integrated as a part of a shared outcome, then the need to ‘advocate’ for training investment can be a very different conversation.”

Learning and Talent leaders must focus on what the business needs to win—then work to align their people and skills to achieve those objectives. Survival depends on it.

Benchmarking to Understand Your Baseline

The second phase of the skills lifecycle involves measuring the skill sets of your employees. Creating this data allows for a robust analysis that can improve decision-making and speed in your people operations. It unlocks further opportunities with internal mobility, optimizing recruitment (and expenses), and informing your upskilling strategy so it delivers the best returns.

Simply put, you cannot leverage an unknown asset. Benchmarking enables you to understand the skills people have now, forecast the skills they will need, and give them the tools to develop where there are gaps. You can combine this with your business needs to understand the skills you will need to achieve your goals within the next three to five years. Then you can find the middle ground between the skills your business needs and what people want to learn.

Curating Tailored Learning Content

The third phase is curation, which pares down the glut of available learning content into something that’s relevant and valuable to your people. This makes it more compelling. It also will improve the application and memorization of that knowledge. People want to learn things that will make their work lives better—and we’re biologically hardwired to forget things that have little use in our day-to-day. So if your learning content isn’t (work) lifechanging, you’re wasting your learning investment on knowledge that’ll be forgotten as 75 percent of information is forgotten within six days.

It’s also worth considering curation in the face of budget cuts. Even before COVID, 77 percent of CEOs were considering “operational efficiencies” to drive revenue growth (a.k.a, budget cuts). Now, with recession looming, this will be higher. Curation means higher returns and better use of diminishing resources. It’s also cost effective. Instead of spending $30,000 on developing one hour of e-learning content, you can curate learning pathways filled with (often free) online resources such as eBooks, podcasts, videos, and articles.

Developing for the (Uncertain) Future

Development for today’s challenges, as well as tomorrow’s opportunities is key. It also must be consistent, as your market position will be hindered for decades if your upskilling efforts are put on hold during this difficult time.

Everyone in your organization—not just Learning or HR—is responsible for development. It is a business-wide, board-level priority. As we have seen, jobs and demands can change in an instant. With further disruption on the horizon, don’t expect this to stop any time soon.

Your people must be ready with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive over the coming months and years. A mindset of continuous upskilling will serve them throughout their careers, amid all the uncertainty.

This doesn’t require a huge outlay of resources or time. It all begins with a simple shift, in seeing learning as a cycle—moving from the traditional assembly line of building and delivering learning to providing a holistic approach to upskilling that truly builds and measures.

Sarah Danzl is head of Communications and Client Advocacy at Degreed, an upskilling platform that connects learning to opportunities. For more information, visit:

Sarah Danzl is head of Global Communications and Client Advocacy at Degreed. She has been actively involved in the learning space for 12 years, leading marketing and communications efforts in both corporate and startup capacities. When she’s not developing new content, she can be found experimenting with new recipes, getting involved in a local nonprofit, or walking her two pitbulls at the base of the Rockies in Boulder, CO.