The Critical Components to Reskill Your Workforce

Having a robust talent acquisition infrastructure is paramount in today’s economy. But given the pace of change companies also need to have the ability to reskill their workforces.

Today’s economy is ripe with highly skilled workers, but that doesn’t mean organizations still don’t have to invest to constantly reskill their workforces. Thanks to the exponential rise in the advancement of technology, the pace of which has become difficult to keep up with, companies’ ability to adapt and retrain their workers has become a critical competitive advantage.

“It’s not a nicety; it’s almost a business imperative,” said Bill Pelster, a principal at professional services firm Deloitte Consulting LLP, of the importance of reskilling workers.

This renewed need to invest in talent has put great pressure on corporate learning and development functions, forcing them to be increasingly aligned with business strategy and flexible in their ability to adapt to new conditions. “The historical role of the L&D organization is undergoing just as much of a transformation as the client-facing side of the business,” Pelster said.

Most important, a company’s learning and development leaders will have to lead conversations around looking ahead to what skills the company will need and then acting ahead of that demand, Pelster said. Moreover, in becoming more agile to meet that demand, they will likely have to rely on outside partners rather than creating all content in-house.

Learning should also integrate with other talent management functions, Pelster said. If employees are gaining desirable skills, performance management must then reward them. Leadership development and succession planning should also keep up with reskilling.

Reskilling integration should also include a focus on career development, said Phyllis Millikan, senior vice president of career management for ManpowerGroup’s Right Management, a research and advisory firm based in Milwaukee. Companies should have the resources and tools to help employees make decisions around their career progression. Without including these components in reskilling efforts, there will likely not be enough buy-in or engagement.

“Alternatively, if you’re not creating that opportunity, those employees are moving out of the organization,” Millikan said.

What should reskilling look like?

Reskilling programs need to be high-tech and high-touch, Millikan said, meaning they should include both technology and in-person components to be successful while also accommodating of multiple learning styles.

Deloitte’s Pelster said that the practice of “microlearning” is advantageous when reskilling workers. Rather than hosting daylong in-person courses or lengthy virtual seminars, a company’s learning function should develop and share 15-minute videos that are granular in what they teach. This will make reskilling more digestible and efficient.

Especially when the effort is widespread throughout an organization, employees should have time away from their work to absorb what they learn, said Kieran Luke, general manager of credentials at General Assembly, a global education company specializing in in-demand skills. If not, many workers will feel overstretched, which could make them more likely to quit. Ideally, employers should dedicate time to pull people out of a job and have an updated role ready for them after completing training. This forces employers to take that extra step of defining the new roles and having more targeted training for employees, Luke said. It also signals to employees that their employer is fully investing in their new abilities.

Luke added some best practices to consider when reskilling talent:

  • The process should start with a strong message from the C-suite, stating where the company and industry are going and that it’s best to invest in our skills to be competitive and give staff the best opportunities.
  • Go through a discovery process to determine reskilling needs; then be sure programs tailor to those needs.
  • Quantify the growth that is possible from an investment in reskilling programs. For example, with additional skills on internal teams, there’s more value to products and services, and therefore clients will be willing to pay more.
  • Take advantage of existing frustration in teams that lack the necessary skills and manpower. This can fuel the success of programs.
  • Motivate staff to self-select into these programs. Do so by sharing examples of how people grew their careers by reskilling.

Who should go through reskilling?

Knowing which segments should be targeted for critical reskilling is an important step in the process. In many cases, Right Management’s Millikan said leaders should first identify which teams or groups of employees are most motivated to learn.

Once those employees are identified, companies must prioritize based on the business strategy. First, identify the skills the organization lacks and needs. Then, determine how much time it would take each group of employees to learn new skills, Millikan said. Finally, what’s the sense of urgency? If critical now, select the employees with the smallest ramp-up time, so they can transition most efficiently.

Ultimately, the role of the C-suite is to demonstrate the importance of reskilling, Millikan said, so “all levels of leaders need to be engaged in the process.” If not, momentum will wane, while a job’s necessary skills continue to evolve.

“This is our new reality,” Millikan said. “We need to pay attention to this, and we’ll need to pay attention to this from an ongoing perspective.”

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email