Many people are using the current time in Coronavirus lockdown as an opportunity to learn a new skill. Look online and you’ll find a crowd of people searching for everything from the best banana bread recipe to learning a new language or building their practical skills in home-working and side hustles.
Organizations have responded to this, offering free courses, seminars, trials, and other learning opportunities across a host of subjects, from remote work and virtual collaboration to entrepreneurship. Goldman Sachs, for example, has opened up its 10,000 Women program free-of-charge, online to any aspiring female entrepreneur. For Learning and Talent leaders, now is an opportune time to offer new learning opportunities, refine existing ones, and take advantage of the resources available for this limited time.
Much-Needed Mental Relief
Offering learning opportunities now can benefit both worker and employer in several ways. For one, it can be helpful in breaking up the workday when many people are working from home or are furloughed. The time previously taken to commute to work, for example, can be spent engaging with bite-sized, on-demand learning. It can provide mental relief, a distraction from current events that may be a stressor. Likewise, if someone is spending a lot of time at home with their family and homeschooling, then they may be in need of some targeted learning opportunities that make this time better for them.
Career Improvements and Longevity
Plus, millions of adults recognize the value of upskilling. A quarter of working-age adults want their employer to actively offer and be involved in their learning. Conversely, 38 percent of Generation Xers and 37 percent of Millennials say they will need additional training if they lose or have lost their job at this time. They understand the need to retool in order to futureproof their careers and ensure that short-term events don’t cause long-term career detours.
Even when a job shift isn’t immediately in the cards, upskilling can help people become better in their existing roles. This is particularly useful for employers now, given that many organizations have implemented hiring freezes due to current uncertainty. One-third of organizations have stopped actively recruiting. Upskilling existing workers ensures that every person is used to his or her full potential. This can go a step further when combined with internal mobility and on-the-job learning such as stretch assignments. People who are in a low-demand business area currently could spend their time refining their skills and building new ones by working in a high-demand department.
Short-term conditions aside, it’s worth remembering that many changes are still on the horizon in the form of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT). Learning and Talent leaders must respond to today’s challenges, but also consider the long term. The pace of change won’t slow down because of what’s happening today; indeed, you could almost argue that with the world en masse remote working, change has sped up.
It’s an approach that Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell has been taking. Even though it has announced plans to slash its operating costs by $9 billion, it is still prioritizing its digital upskilling program. It believes remote learning provides a way to keep productivity on track during this uncertain time for the 2,000 workers who currently are engaged in the program.
Therefore, leaders must still work to upskill their workers to be ready for the future. Some 54 percent of workers will require reskilling by 2022. That number may well be higher now, as many people will return to a vastly changed workforce—jobs will have changed or may not exist anymore. Upskilling your workers now holds two-fold benefits. Employees can be reskilled for new roles and business areas ready for when business and the economy ramps up again. Simultaneously, it also prepares your workforce for increasing digitalization and automation.
The Need for Focus
However, at a time where every budget is tightening, your upskilling strategy must be laser-focused on your organization’s goals and each worker’s priorities. You must zero in on the skills that are essential to operations now and in the coming months and then offer relevant learning opportunities to people that build these skills. This also will help you get senior sign-off for your learning programs. With a tangible link to the bottom line, your upskilling strategy will become a business-critical priority.
Your targeting also must encompass the type of upskilling people will find useful now. More people are searching for transferable skills such as communication, change management, and leadership, compared to hard skills such as Python, Java, and machine learning. Learning content must be updated for current circumstances, with topics that are useful for maintaining productivity and morale today.
Mobilization and Skills Visibility
Your upskilling strategy also should consider mobilization and improving skills visibility. Now, more than ever, hiring managers must be able to quickly spot skills gaps and where critical coverage and cross-skilling are needed. Your workforce must be readily responsive and able to adapt to market changes. People must be equipped, through upskilling, to move into new roles or work on new projects instantly. That way, if demand changes or someone is unwell, there is an on-demand workforce available to plug the gap.
This also empowers workers to build skills they need to remain relevant and employable. That way, they can develop fulfilling lifelong careers. Most people are also open to learning new skills if they then qualify for a new position, so offering skill-building opportunities at this time will prove a popular move. It also can help build trust between an employer and its workers, as it signals the company is investing in the future of each worker.
Uniting Learning with Business Success
The sudden shift we are experiencing has reinforced the link that must be made between business outcomes, people’s aspirations, and skill-building. Learning is integral to the business and directly connected to the success of a long-term business strategy. Now is not the time to pause your upskilling efforts but rather to refine, improve, and target them. Your people are your organization’s future. Make sure they have the skills that they, and your company, need to navigate uncertain times and take advantage of new opportunities.
Sarah Danzl is director of Communications and Client Advocacy at Degreed, an education technology company engaged in enabling and recognizing professional and lifelong learning and skills. She has been actively involved in the learning space for 11 years, leading marketing and communications efforts in both corporate and startup capacities.