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Reskilling in the Digital Age

Reskilling in the Digital Age

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Reskilling is the process of retraining existing employees for a different role, usually when their current role becomes redundant.

Reskilling has become increasingly important as automation and AI becomes commonplace in every industry.

The number of jobs predicted to be digitized or automated in the next 10 years ranges from 300 to 800 million, with McKinsey’s Global Report estimating that 75 million jobs would be digitized between 2018 and 2022.

As the digital revolution accelerates and technology evolves more quickly every year, corporations are facing tough choices: reskill, retrain or replace redundant employees.

Employees are also facing uncertainty, not knowing if their skills will be relevant or useful as technology invades more and more areas of work.

Reskilling is therefore becoming an increasingly urgent priority for all organizations, and the majority of professionals will be faced with transitioning to one if not many completely new roles within their careers.

From an employee’s perspective, there is reason to be concerned about job insecurity.

In 2018, 35% of American corporations said they would choose to replace employees with out-dated skills, rather than retrain them.

However, there are major advantages to reskilling existing workers.

Why Is Reskilling Important?

Importance to Employer

Retraining the workforce will not only save an organization money, but helps with employee retention, motivation and engagement, as continued learning plays a huge factor in job satisfaction.

Creating a culture of learning and adaptability in the workplace better prepares an organization for immediate, as well as future skills demands.

If employees have reskilled once, they can retrain again.

Importance to Employee

And there are employee benefits too. Paying for professional qualifications outside of the workplace can be prohibitively expensive, and it is often best to seize paid training opportunities from within employment.

Reskilling within an organization can lead to a more exciting, diverse career path, create progression opportunities and uncover hidden skills.

Reskilling an employee is an investment on behalf of an organization that should bring tangible returns.

There are steps to take to ensure an employer recognizes your potential, is aware of your lateral skill set, and is willing to make that investment in your development and growth.

How Is Reskilling Different From Upskilling?

Reskilling is the process of retraining existing employees for new roles, usually when their current job function becomes redundant or can be taken over by a machine.

Different from upskilling, reskilling retains the existing workforce and helps employees identify and follow divergent career paths by providing them with full training to meet new skills demands.

Upskilling trains employees to improve performance in the same or similar job function.

In upskilling, an employer provides training that enhances or adds to an employee’s existing skills, speeds up their working processes and consequently adds value to an organization.

But that employee stays in the same or similar role to the one for which they were recruited.

When a role is automated or digitized, an employer may choose to reskill or retrain their workforce, examining their adjacent skills, re-examining their potential and addressing an organization's challenges with a fresh approach, but retain the same team who already uphold company values and are familiar with and committed to their mission.

Reskilling in the Digital Age
Reskilling in the Digital Age

What Are the Benefits of Reskilling the Existing Workforce?

1. Reskilling Is Cheaper Than Hiring

Hiring and onboarding employees is a lengthy, expensive process.

As colleges and schools are not producing work-ready candidates, oftentimes new recruits will require some level of on-the-job training to undertake a new role.

Reskilling or retraining existing employees, therefore, represents an investment with worthwhile returns to an organization and should address an emergent skills-need faster than hiring new talent.

2. Reskilling Helps to Retain Talent

From a manager’s or supervisor’s point of view, reskilling creates a culture of continued learning and therefore engagement.

Reskilling improves employee retention, satisfaction and overall productivity.

From an employee’s point of view, opportunities to refresh or embrace new challenges provide fresh motivation and engagement opportunities.

3. Reskilling Prepares an Organization for Growth

Retraining employees who already understand and are committed to a company’s structure, culture and mission is another great reason for a company to retain and reskill its workforce.

By reskilling existing employees, organizations invest in the long-term retention of staff and empower themselves to prepare for fast-changing skills demands.

If employees are willing to learn and adapt quickly, an employer creates a workforce that can not only address an immediate reskilling need, but also meet future, emerging skills gaps as they arise.

4. Reskilling Can Help Attract New Talent

Motivated people seek out organizations that will provide them with learning and development opportunities, and are known to have a culture of continued learning.

Even though millennials are known for job-hopping, the majority still value career development highly and will seek out employers who can provide this for them.

People in their mid to late careers will be looking for long term roles, and therefore roles within which they will have the opportunity to shift or grow as professionals without destabilizing their lives with a big change.

Who Are Strong Candidates for Reskilling?

1. Self Starters

Self-starters are the first employees to be retrained, and it will pay to show your employer on a day-to-day basis that you are willing to learn and have a can-do attitude.

Your employer should want to harness your motivation and develop your talent and understand that if they fail to provide career development strategies, that their employees are likely to seek development opportunities elsewhere.

2. Those Who Take Initiative

Good training happens on-the-job, as the immediate application of a new skill is the biggest factor in its retention.

A strong learning and development strategy will integrate opportunities for upskilling whilst working.

However, it is also possible for employees to take initiative and seek to continually improve their processes and acquire new tools, strategies and skills whilst working in their existing roles.

3. Great Time Managers

Learning takes time, so it will also be important to demonstrate to your employer that you can manage your schedule well if you wish to reskill and shift to a new role in your current workplace.

If you can balance learning with existing responsibilities, you will demonstrate that you can take on more work, or potentially train for a new role whilst still fulfilling your existing commitments.

4. Tech-Savvy Individuals

Most emerging job functions, in the wake of automation, will require some proficiency with technology.

Those who feel comfortable with digital tools will also be the most useful to organizations as work continues to change.

Whilst some work will become automated completely, more roles will evolve by integrating digital systems that have to be manned.

So, get ahead where you can by learning new software or tools, taking time out to ensure you pick up these things quickly, and asking for help or further training where it is needed.

What Are the Challenges of Reskilling?

Taking a Long-Term View

As automation, artificial intelligence and digitization rapidly outrun the development of training programs, it is difficult for an organization to know exactly how they will need to reskill their workforce.

As an employee, it can be tough to stay motivated and follow a career plan when the nature of work is changing so rapidly.

Equally, it can be difficult to identify areas of professional development that are worth your while investing in.

Large organizations particularly will have learning and development strategies.

It is possible to speak to your supervisors, managers and human resources teams to find out what plans there are in the pipeline for reskilling in your organization and look for opportunities for retraining in this way.

Technology Moves Faster Than Training

Technical skills have a half-life, and making the investment to train an employee for a new role now does not guarantee that that role will not then be automated or require new skills very soon.

A good example is word processing – five years ago, proficiency in a word processing software package would be essential in all office roles.

Now, most software packages have been displaced by cloud and browser-based applications that address new demands, have different functionality, and require new learning or training for employees to make the best use of them.

This is even the case for highly-specialized design, programming and 3D modeling software, and the rate of innovation in software tools shows no sign of slowing down.

So, in all workplaces, an ability to quickly adapt to changes and innovations in digital tools is essential.

As an employee, a great strategy is to get ahead of the game. Use your spare time to research new software that is relevant to your current role, and get to grips with it.

Speak to other teams in your workplace about new projects or developments they have had to learn or are about to be reskilled in.

Identifying Required and Hidden Skills

Reskilling is not a process of asking employees to start at the bottom of the ladder in a new field.

Employers will be looking to make the best use of their employees' full skill sets to address quickly changing demands, and so will be looking at the full picture of their skills pool, including all their technical, specialist and soft skills.

Your employer will be looking to identify hidden abilities when they evaluate who to reskill – take time to evaluate what you can do that you do not currently make use of in your current role, and find ways you can evidence these or integrate them with your work.

Creating a Culture of Growth

Encouraging workers to learn can be challenging, especially workers in their mid or late careers.

But creating a talent mobility culture not only increases motivation and retention amongst staff, but it also means that an organization is preparing for any future shift in skills demands by cultivating a willingness to learn amongst its team.

Retraining and Developing Soft Skills

As the demand for digital skills grows, and more and more work is becoming remote, there is a real risk that communication and teamwork within an organization will break down.

The challenge all organizations are currently facing is to ensure that soft skills are not eroded by increased use of screens, and to identify and cultivate a workforce who still value communication and teamwork, even when working primarily with technology.

Changing HR Infrastructure

The standard cycle of performance review for an employee is one year, and assessing employee performance can be a time-consuming process.

If skills are likely to lose relevance quickly, then organizations must create more frequent opportunities for performance evaluation, and therefore implement reskilling and training opportunities that address these rapidly.

From an employee perspective, it will pay to take time to assess and evaluate your personal development frequently, and raise any concerns you have about your skills gaps well ahead of any annual reviews.

Not Knowing the Impact Automation Will Have

In 2018, two in five companies in the US admitted they lacked a good understanding of how automation might affect their future skills needs.

This is understandable, as so much traditional training has little evident impact, by making no clear pathway to new work, that companies might hold-off on creating reskilling opportunities until jobs have been displaced by digitization for long enough for that impact to be evaluated.

Strategies for Reskilling

Organizations need to grow their learning and development strategies rapidly to meet the reskilling demands of the coming decade.

To address their company’s training needs, most large organizations will use a combination of:

  • Work shadowing and secondments
  • eLearning
  • Industry courses and qualifications
  • Training events
  • Coaching

Now remote working is the norm, many companies have now embedded remote learning into their training programs, and as a consequence, blended learning (a combination of in-person training and self-directed learning) is becoming more and more common.

Shadowing or mentoring is also a strategy some organizations take when reskilling employees for new roles.

The most effective learning strategy is to learn on-the-job, as the immediate application of new information to a task is key to its retention.

As an employee, demonstrate your willingness to learn by reaching out to HR and asking about reskilling or training opportunities, or look at departments within your organization that are being expanded and ask to shadow them.

In your own time, look for short courses and eLearning opportunities in new areas that you can undertake at home in your spare time so that when the time comes to reskill, you can evidence your willingness to learn and your interest in areas outside of your current role.

Final Thoughts

Reskilling the workforce is an inevitability for all organizations as digitization and automation of job functions take hold.

Traditional, linear career paths will become rarer, as it is becoming less and less possible to stay in one job as new careers and roles emerge.

Lateral career integration, where an individual shifts sideways to a new role in an organization, will demand that workers reskill several times throughout their careers, or be left without a job.

It is therefore important to seek out employment in companies with strong cultures for growth and learning, where reskilling will be possible as your career progresses.

When looking for new roles, find out about the company's culture around learning and development. Check if other employees at that company have stayed in one role for the duration of their career or if they have undergone retraining.

If an organization has a high staff turnover and a reputation for making redundancies, it may be worth looking for roles in companies that have cultivated a culture of growth, and are proud of their reskilling and retraining opportunities and investments.

In your current work, position yourself as a self-starter and someone who is willing to learn.

Not only will this put you ahead of the game for reskilling opportunities within your current organization, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you can shift and adapt to new skill demands.

This in itself is likely to be as important as any existing skills you bring to the table as the continual reskilling of the workforce becomes an imperative, not just an advantageous choice, for large corporations.


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