As Businesses Prepare For The Future Of Work, The Need To Upskill And Reskill Workers Becomes More Essential
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that about 9.3 million people in the United States were unemployed in May. Meanwhile, as of the last day of April, 9.3 million jobs in the country were sitting open. That second figure marked a series high for the Jobs Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report, which the BLS launched in December 2000.
Looking at these numbers, you might think employers have an ample labor pool, so why so many open roles? One factor is that many of the millions of people looking for employment don’t have the skills and experience required for available jobs — especially roles requiring new and advanced skills.
CFOs and other senior executives looking to build a highly skilled workforce to support the business in the post-pandemic recovery and beyond should keep these two words in focus: upskilling and reskilling. Stiff competition for professionals with in-demand skills isn’t likely to ease. So, it’s likely you’ll need to invest more in growing at least some talent in-house.
The Repercussions Of Not Prioritizing Upskilling And Reskilling
A contributing factor to the dynamics of the current hiring environment is the slow progress many employers made beforethe pandemic to upskill and reskill their workers. So, when the pandemic hit and further accelerated automation and digitalization, critical skills gaps in the workforce became even more obvious in many organizations.
Many employees who lost their jobs during the pandemic because they lacked up-to-date skills are now among those facing challenges in the hiring market. But even before that, many workers had been struggling to stay relevant in a work environment that was becoming increasingly more automated.
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Research from the World Economic Forum (WEF) finds that half of all employees around the world need to upskill or reskill by 2025 to embrace new responsibilities driven by automation and new technologies. That figure doesn’t include all the people currently unemployed, according to the WEF.
Their findings also suggest that if the current pace of workforce upskilling doesn’t pick up, it could take decades for today’s employees to be ready for the future of work — which by then won’t be future. No CFO or other business leader can afford to wait that long to nurture their talent to build a highly skilled workforce that will help the business meet both current and future challenges.
A Starting Point: Assessing Digital Literacy
Many companies will find that first increasing their employees’ general digital literacy is necessary to lay the groundwork for more advanced skills-building. According to research from the National Skills Coalition, about one in three U.S. workers have few or no digital skills, even though roughly half of those workers are in jobs that require moderate or complex computer usage. That same research finds that, not surprisingly, business leaders highly value workers who possess a broad and flexible base of digital skills.
What baseline skills should workers have if they want to be employable, and contribute effectively to their organization, in the digital economy? A 2019 report from the Markle Foundation’s Rework America Alliance initiative offers a useful framework for companies seeking to increase the digital literacy of their employees. The framework includes problem solving using technology, interaction with computers and mobile devices, the use of basic technology tools such as office productivity software, data security and safety, and data ethics.
Even employees with advanced digital skills can benefit from a refresher course in these areas. Ongoing training ensures workers stay current with the latest tools and best practices, including in critical areas like cybersecurity and data privacy. Stepping up technology skills training for the whole workforce could mean the difference between an organization that moves forward and one that is falling behind.
Invest in Upskilling Or Reskilling? (No, They’re Not The Same.)
Upskilling and reskilling can help you identify and develop high-potential, in-house talent. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they’re different efforts:
Upskilling is the process of enhancing or expanding an employee’s skill set so that they can be a more productive contributor to the business. Upskilling usually involves continuous learning, and it’s often vital to an employee’s ability to advance in their career and take on more responsibility.
When workers upskill, they learn new abilities and grow their competency in areas that are important to their role or department, both immediately and over the long term.
Reskilling is about equipping employees with new skills that will allow them to take on a new position in the company that’s entirely different from what they’re doing now.
Say you, as CFO, are looking to increase automation in your department, what will you do with the valued employees who no longer need to handle certain manual tasks that were once core to their role? You might help them build skills in big data analysis. Or you could provide them with training to work with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, which are quickly becoming essential to everyday finance operations. You are, in effect, repositioning these employees, so they stay relevant.
In a recent report from LinkedIn Learning, 59% of learning and development professionals said their organizations are prioritizing both upskilling and reskilling programs this year. That’s a 15% increase since June 2020, according to the report. You’ll likely need to do the same to meet the various needs of your employees.
Some options for delivering reskilling and upskilling opportunities include e-learning provided in-house or through platforms like Degreed or Coursera, virtual mentoring arrangements and peer-to-peer learning, or financial aid to support other relevant external learning. Offering an array of options helps to ensure every worker who is able to evolve into a future worker for your business — and wants to do so — can.
Keep in mind that your company’s efforts to reskill and upskill its workforce will likely need to be ongoing if you want your business to continue recruiting and retaining top talent. According to a recent report from Citrix, 82% of employees and 62% of HR directors said they believe that workers will need to reskill or upskill at least once a year to maintain a competitive advantage in a global job market.
Consider Other Company Objectives When Developing Skilling Programs
CFOs can help lead the charge in creating reskilling and upskilling programs to build a stronger workforce for today and tomorrow.
Consult with other senior leaders, from the head of human resources to the board of directors, to pinpoint current skills gaps across the organization and think critically about what the business needs, from a talent perspective, to achieve its objectives. What are your plans for digital transformation? What are the general technology and hiring trends in your industry and what are other leaders doing to adapt to them? What types of skills — both technical and nontechnical — are your competitors trying to recruit?
As you consider questions like these, do so with a focus on inclusion. Research shows that job losses due to the pandemic have disproportionately affected minorities, women, younger workers, and workers with lower educational attainment or income. Reskilling and upskilling will be essential to preventing further job erosion among these groups and will help those still employed or now reentering the workforce to succeed in an increasingly digital workplace.
Don’t forget about remote team members. If your business, like many, intends to maintain a hybrid workforce post-pandemic, you’ll need to ensure remote workers have access to professional development opportunities that are the same or on par with what employees in the workplace can access.
While upskilling or reskilling current employees isn’t likely to address all of your organization’s hiring needs, these efforts will let you maximize the resources you already have. Investing in employees’ skills and knowledge also helps to build a positive company culture, which can reduce turnover. It will also allow your business to raise its reputation as a place where people can grow their careers and engage in meaningful professional development.