Rapid Reskilling And Upskilling At Scale

Rapid Reskilling And Upskilling At Scale

Investment in workforce reskilling and upskilling becomes an essential business strategy to perform in the current and the continuum.


Even as the debate around skill gaps was getting louder and the leaders’ agenda was dominated by the evergreen topic of addressing the skill gap, the business world was pushed beyond years by the unforeseen manifestation of an unseen virus. The future of work has now become our present.


Unexpectedly, the envisioned future has become the reality today, much faster than anticipated. Thanks to the gifts that God Almighty has bestowed upon us humans, we are equipped with the adaptability to think through and act with a sense of urgency. Have we not done well? When we look back at the last two years, we can applaud ourselves for the resilience and value-based initiatives we have demonstrated. Undeniably, the Leadership and the HR fraternity have empathetically contributed at a significantly higher level. Empathy has become the most talked-about word, and leaders across the board, have demonstrated its power. Mark and park this power-packed word ‘empathy’ as we move further.


Traditionally, we have always conditioned our minds to look at training courses to plug the gaps pertaining to reskilling and talent development. But, how about large-scale upskilling, wherein you enable the entire workforce to operate at the next level? I do see many organisations still defaulting to the traditional approach, irrespective of whether the goal is upskilling for better performance now or reskilling for future-readiness. Despite the delayed push by the government to return to office for commercial interests at large, the new found meaning in work by today’s workforce, the new world of hybrid work is here to stay for sure. In view of the speed and ever-increasing knowledge transformation, the need for swift upskilling at scale has risen exponentially and by far eclipses its traditional reskilling counterpart.


Thanks to relentless disruption, the nature of work is perpetually changing. Jobs are being massively transformed by technology, new roles are being created constantly and business goals are rapidly shifting. Researches from the likes of the World Economic Forum and other renowned advisories have been amplifying references to the ‘skills crisis’, ‘reskilling emergency’, and the ‘upskilling revolution’. At the same time, we must not forget the Great Resignation. It will be wrong to be equated with the resistance to return to office calls, rather, it is perhaps an outburst of bottled-up march towards freedom.


One of the metaphors that we deciphered was to value the things that were taken for granted during the cruel learning period aka ‘COVID’. If we are to list out the success factors even when we drastically altered the way we were seasoned to work, ‘Empathy’ would top the chart. We started to put ourselves into others’ shoes and experienced the workforce as a person as against a pseudo expectation as a worker in a stereotyped office environment.


Some of my reflections on Up-Skilling & Re-Skilling at scale are as below:–


Current Performance & Future Sustenance


Holistic upskilling is absolutely necessary to power performance on the job now and to sustain performance agility as we propel into the future. Leaders need to shake off the longstanding notion that skills can only be developed by undertaking various courses. No, it neither was and nor a utopian answer as we step into the future.


For long, workforce transformation is hinged with the rapid adoption of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven technologies. Such technology trends have altered the skillset required for various jobs and has forced organisations to adapt to newness in their training interventions. COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated fast reliance on automation, remote work and the use of AI. And thus, the investment in workforce reskilling and upskilling becomes an essential business strategy to perform in the current and the continuum.


Right Timed & Bite-Sized


While we agree that foundational skills are imperative, but in a rapidly shifting and digitally disrupted world, they are inadequate to drive agile performance. And, there comes in the need for the right timed and bite-sized learnings that helps the workforce on the go with an easy access to the specific knowledge required to solve problems and instantly upskill in the flow of work. The untapped opportunity is huge and can be seized only when we move beyond course-based competency learning to a model that enables people to realise their true performance potential day in and day out. Upskilling calls for a performance-first learning design, underpinned by seamless access to knowledge in sync with the flow of work. If organisations can take as much learning content out of the course and integrate it with the on-the-job flow, they can drastically reduce the costs and significantly improve business performance right on the go.


Being Up-Skilled & being Up-Willed


During the COVID storm, we experienced how empathy can navigate us to safety. What about empathy as we upskill our workforce? How do we interweave empathy in our learning culture? We definitely need to embed positive learning behaviours as we talk about scaling up upskilling. For me, not only is this about performance deliverables but is also about performance behaviours. Performance behaviours are often reflections of the culture. So, when we speak about upskilling, why not look at strengthening the will part of our workforce. Emotional disconnect can derail any upskilling effort, and as leaders, it is imperative that we deal with human as human; an emotional being. Here, I am not talking about stereotyped team-building activities mostly done during non-working hours. I am challenging you to think beyond petty and failed age-old approaches and embrace empathy and experience the wonders.


Upskilling can leverage the MAGIC within. MAGIC here implies Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact & Communication and can work wonders and provide a clearer sense of purpose of them being a part of a body. Champions have to have the skill and the will, and they are made from something they have deep inside them alongside the foundational skills - a desire, a dream, a vision. But the will must be stronger than the skill.


Diversify Soft Skills & Grow Hard Skills


Remote working does not work in social distancing mode. Most jobs entail collaboration, active listening, problem solving, decision-making and other ‘soft skills’ on an ongoing basis. I am sure that leaders would agree that a diverse and inclusive workplace is a competitive advantage at any given point in time; leave alone the crisis-hit experience. A diverse soft skills base brings in fresh perspectives, boosts creativity, betters products, and augments the quality of services without an iota of doubt. If you are serious about diversifying your workforce, we should collaborate with learning portals and/or institutions that drive diversity and unlock opportunity. This is foundational as diversity in talent is the key to a wide-ranging and updated upskilling approach.


Many organisations are transitioning from a targeted-only learning activity into an essential practice to enhance the growth of every employee, manager and team. This shift requires a change in systems. Organisations that are committed to becoming learning organisations require a learning infrastructure and content strategy that can scale. Today, there are many cost effective yet impactful online avenues for curated learnings that can make our workforce future-proof. Since they are on a technology platform, the workforce has the freedom to break full-semester courses into smaller parts and acquire specific certifications. Many online education platforms give highly subsidised access to thousands of courses from prominent universities that encompasses job-relevant skills through video lectures as well as hands-on projects. This would need some homework to understand proper skills taxonomy and have data about the new skills required to optimise their changing businesses.


Appreciative Culture & Learning Smarter


As the workforce evolution continues, we have to interweave AI technologies and automation increasingly as part of the solution. Culture, technology and performance-first design are fundamental to smart learning. Whether we are giving free space for our staff to pick suitable courses on their own versus deciding on their behalf sets the tone of our learning culture. Added to that, it also counts as to how we as an organisation are able to appreciate our workforce on their learning achievement. The speed of knowledge change has accelerated from decades to days, and here, technology comes to our aid quite promisingly provided we have an appreciative culture.


Performance-first learning interventions will keep us delivering uncompromised results all through the journey. Organisations can set the tone and can continue to highlight a list of meaningful courses from time to time. However, employees must be allowed to pick specific courses, list them in the development plan, and own their learning journey. They are smart enough to do things on their own provided the envisioned skilling journey is co-owned.


As we gaze at a brand-new year, we are compelled to think and devise strategies, as our traditional efforts have not eliminated the skills gaps. This presents us with a dramatic scenario and the solution has to be equally dramatic to survive and thrive. Artificial Intelligence seasoned with Emotional Intelligence can supercharge Upskilling and Reskilling. As a learner, I cannot term my shared thoughts as a silver-bullet strategy; however, we can co-create a few intertwining strategies that concomitantly would put any organisation on the right path.


Wish you a supercharged 2022. Stay skilled and stay relevant!


Jaydeep Das is International Head – People & Culture, Children Believe, a part of ChildFund Alliance that works globally in over 60 countries to empower children. Prior to this, he has provided his leadership to leading INGOs like ChildFund International as Director HR, Administration & IT & WorldVision besides other Corporates at a senior level. Jaydeep has been helping organisations to augment impact through people, purpose, programmes and processes by strategic transformational interventions.


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