The importance of upskilling and reskilling in the aftermath of COVID-19

• 7 min read

There were few stones left unturned when it came to COVID-19. Everything from “how to make your own hand sanitizer” to timelines of the pandemic has been laid out and made searchable.

There’s no way of tip-toeing around it: for many people, job security is on the decline and unemployment is hiking.

An ominous truth that we have had to come to terms with has been that a lot of what happens next to the global economy, the job market, and the world of work is out of our control. With the future of work being so uncertain, the best any of us can do is start anticipating what may come and begin strategically planning our next move. 

Now is as good a time as any to become familiar with employee upskilling and reskilling.

Reskilling is defined as the development of additional skills and new capabilities to help one move to a new role, whereas upskilling is defined as the training that enables one to become better at a job they already perform. We need to understand where the need for upskilling and reskilling is coming from, its importance, and how we even go about it. 

As learners continuously react to the market and gain new required skills, they become an adaptable force that can shift and bend with any changes in your market.

As a result, employees will have a greater wealth of knowledge, become used to problem-solving for what your industry and what the market demands, allowing you to leverage their skills to carry your organization across murky waters.

Economic impacts of COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic, drastic slowdowns and halts in business have quickly necessitated action to keep businesses profitable or even just afloat.

Most industries have taken drastic blows from the global pandemic, and have resulted in Coronavirus layoffs, hiring freezes, and furloughs. Some of the major industries affected include, but are not limited to transportation, hospitality, restaurants, oil, and gas, etc.

At its peak, The New York Times predicted that unemployment in the United States sat at approximately 13%, which was higher than it was since the Great Depression. With millions sick globally, about 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment in March 2020, marking the worst week for unemployment since 1982.

Since then, our new normal seems to change each day, and all of the new information we receive can sometimes make it more daunting to try and create actionable plans. The best we can do during this crisis is to try and optimize our current workforce to the best of our ability and set ourselves up for success when everything picks back up.

Related: How to Scale Your Learning Efforts While Improving the Learner Experience

The importance of upskilling and reskilling your employees

If ever there was a time to set fire to your inhibitions, this is the day. One of the most diligent ways to obtain seniority or job security at a company is to incessantly seek out new skills, bridge any skills gaps, and keep an eye out for opportunities to add value to the business.

If you’ve recently had to implement a hiring freeze to prevent layoffs, how do you continue striving towards success? One way is by upskilling and reskilling your workforce so that your teams can maximize their potential in their current position, or take on new tasks where the business needs support.

The jobs you were hiring for or have had to let go of still need to be done. The skill sets needed for job competencies that have not been hired for yet likely live in your organization already, or just need some skills development to get there. Ideally, you want your people to be able to wear multiple hats if necessary.

For example, if you’re on a hiring freeze but still need business development reps, what’s to stop you from transitioning your junior recruiters over to business development for the time being? It requires some reskilling and peer-to-peer coaching, but you can reassign talent to new positions to suit the business’ needs. Companies survive times like these solely with a workforce that’s flexible, agile, and ready to learn.

Thought leader Beth Steinberg is the VP of People and Talent over at Chime and has hired over 10,000 people in her career, and has also been in the unfortunate position of having to lay off 2,000, as well. With her experience on both ends of the spectrum, she offers a unique perspective in this article by the First Round Review on How to Lead and Rally a Company Through a Layoff.

When it comes to defining skill sets for jobs you need to be done, you may already have a good candidate internally. This is Steinberg’s two cents: “By extracting the skill sets you to need from the person you think might have them, all of a sudden there are many other ways of obtaining the capabilities you need to grow … from a management point of view, these types of options keep your workforce flexible and lean. Also, employee development not only gives you more depth with your existing workforce, but it’s a retention mechanism”.

If you can identify roles that share similar skill sets, you can then identify how to upskill your existing workforce to enable their malleability for the business’ needs and their career development.

Related: L&D Pros – It’s Time to Step up as Strategic Partners of Your Business

How to approach upskilling and reskilling your employees?

This is a crucial time where we need to look inward at our organization and audit the talent that we do have, especially if we’re still dealing with layoffs and hiring freezes. We can maximize the ROI on each person contributing to the business by analyzing their current skill sets and identifying transferable skills. Now is the time to get creative, and here are some ways to do so.

  • Give admins more time back: In times like these, where you need your workforce to quickly onboard and enroll into new roles internally, take out as much of the admin work as possible. Automate your enrollment process for your learners so they can hop in courses that will quickly get them suited up for their new job without a hassle.Now is not the time for your admins to be manually tagging content, enrolling users, and pulling reports. Their time is valuable and should be spent on strategizing to reskill as many people as possible. Enable the automation and personalization of content delivery for your admins and learners with content delivery without the headache.
  • Share ideas: Collaborative learning is more important than ever now that we have fewer people. Sharing best practices are essential during times of layoffs, freezes, and furloughs because you only want to replicate success. Collaborative learning environments enable upskilling and reskilling that’s seamless and intuitive to learners by allowing peers to educate each other.With these fast-paced changes taking place, you want to enable learning in the flow of work. Subject matter experts should be contributing their own content so that learners who need upskilling and reskilling can come in and quickly learn from the best. They can also learn in the flow of work by sharing questions and answers with subject matter experts for a holistic social learning experience that quickly ramps them to where they need to be.Finally, you should also enable learners to contribute and access learning assets using thematic channels specific to their new roles, where formal learning assets and informal ones can be made available depending on the topic and teams for the entire organization. With a sophisticated reskilling program and relevant and easy-to-find content, learners who need reskilling can source what they need with little thought.
  • Embrace mobile learning: Remote learning isn’t just for our kids right now. Professional, adult learners are also glued to their devices. Most say their smartphones never leave their side. Smartphones and tablets play a crucial role in e-learning on the job, especially for those of us in remote work set-ups. These devices are another way to reach your learners and capture your audience even for bites of microlearning. The progressive L&D professional must develop a learning strategy that takes mobile elements into account, especially during times when remote learning is necessitated.People often use Google and Youtube in the flow of work. E-learning shouldn’t be any different—after all, it is just another resource that can be used to craft employee skills. Corporate e-learning needs to be accessible and easy to use so your workforce can rapidly reskill and adjust to the changes happening within your organization. Mobile learning is a way to guarantee that your workforce remains engaged and armored with the tools they need, whether on the go or from home, to help your company continue to succeed.

Related: New Learning Technology Means New Opportunities

Final thoughts: How organizations will rise again after COVID-19

By upskilling and reskilling your workforce with personalized and collaborative learning opportunities, easily accessible cross-training, and mobile learning, you can still achieve ambitious goals with a lower headcount. Learning opportunities such as these will identify your most agile and devout learners who you’ll want to keep around after COVID-19 stops wreaking havoc.

Retaining top talent through hard times is important so that, once the dust settles post-pandemic, you’re able to scale up as quickly as possible with the best talent in tow. Your remaining top talent will be pivotal in helping you quickly restore your organization’s former glory by sharing their knowledge with new employees.

Take this time to look within your organization and determine how to best optimize your current sitting talent. Use this time to begin planning how you can improve the talent development process for when we’re back to business as usual so that your organization can go back to scaling its growth seamlessly.

To get you started, download our Practical guide to upskilling and reskilling your workforce today!