We all know the work landscape is changing dramatically. Less than two years ago we were looking at the lowest level of sustained unemployment in decades, then the pandemic changed all of that and forced everyone that wasn’t laid off to work from home. The new normal has become hybrid work arrangements with HR teams finding their way. As we return to offices we’re seeing more people than ever voluntarily leaving their jobs. And for those that are staying, we need to learn how to reskill and upskill employees.
In looking at more than seven and a half million job listings from 2018, Gartner reported that finance, sales, and IT roles required on average 17 different skills. Today, that number is up to 21 skills, eight of which are new. Finding people that have these skills has become more difficult and for many businesses, unfeasible.
In 2020 Harvard Business Review (HBR) surveyed 75 HR executives and 6,500 employees to learn how companies are addressing the skills gaps they are facing. The research found that two primary methods are employed and neither is very successful.
The first is to react to the needs. As you can imagine, a reactive approach means HR is constantly behind the eight ball in trying to keep up. HBR found that in this scenario, employees are only able to apply half of the new skills they learn. Dealing with the skills gap from a reactive stance is simply too slow to get employees up to speed in time.
The second method HR executives used is predicting what future skills employees will need in the coming year. Since it is nearly impossible to understand what skills will emerge, this method is actually worse than reacting. Employees only applied a little more than a third of the skills they learned.
The research did find a third method that is far more effective, with employees using 75% of the skills they learned. HBR termed it the dynamic approach. It is an empowering style that “embraces ambiguity, makes peace with imperfection, and frees up HR, managers, and employees to move fast in responding to the things they know and can anticipate.”
The study outlines three steps you can implement to help you develop a dynamic approach to reskill and upskill your employees.
Identify Changing Skills Needs
Skill sets are changing so rapidly that you can’t rely on traditional methods to identify gaps. Instead of relying on executives and HR teams alone, include employees, partners, and customers to discuss the skills required in their area of expertise. Bringing in a diverse set of inputs will provide better solutions.
Jumpstart Skills Development
If you think skills development requires a lot of virtual or classroom training, Gartner’s data finds no significant relationship between the time spent in training sessions and the percent of skills used. Instead, Gartner recommends “skills accelerators” to leverage current resources that are good enough (not perfect) to meet skills gaps quickly. HBR outlines examples of what this might look like:
Identifying skills adjacencies — Building shortcuts to in-demand skills by identifying adjacent, stepping-stone skills from skills employees already have.
Training “skills disseminators” to coach peers — Upskilling a select cohort of motivated and influential employees and then having them coach their peers on new skills as the need arises.
Delivering learning to employees when they need it most — Using data to identify and tailor learning delivery to the moments when skills needs arise in the business.
Foster Transparency Between Employees and the Organization
Employees tend to be ready to learn a new skill when asked. According to HBR, that number is 97%. However, companies need to do a better job at communicating how evolving skills needs impact employee roles. At the same time, employees should also communicate their career goals and where they would like to learn new skills with their managers.
The need to reskill and upskill employees are only going to increase, and companies are still learning what they need to do to address skills gaps in an effective and efficient way. For more details on the three steps outlined above, we recommend reading the HBR article. And if you need help creating a culture of reskilling and upskilling, let us know how we can help.