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Human capital development

Upskilling your workforce during the COVID-19 slowdown

Even before the current crisis began, many organisations began to see the need to improve the digital capabilities of their employees. Having a digitally literate workforce is a huge advantage in the modern business landscape – a fact that today’s remote work processes have made even clearer. Organisations that focused on constantly improving the skills of their employees prior to the pandemic have been able to shift to the remote work model much more smoothly and have been far better equipped to weather the ongoing storm.

Many companies are currently seeing a downturn in business activity. Of course, the main imperative during a time of economic uncertainty is to secure the cash needed to ensure short-term business survival. But organisations should also take this time to upskill their employees.


Building talent from within      

While it’s possible to hire new people to address skills gaps, this often isn’t a winning strategy – especially in the midst of a pandemic. New employees take a long time to acclimate to the organisation and its processes, and even if they have the right skills, they may not be the right fit for the team. What’s more, the skills they do have will likely need updating soon anyway: The most recent Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum notes that 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling by 2022.

Oftentimes, a far wiser investment than hiring out is to train your existing workforce of trusted employees. Addressing the digital skills gap is not a one-time event; it’s a never-ending process. For that reason, an affinity for learning and a commitment to the organisation’s long-term goals is far more valuable than virtually any isolated skill.

To enable employee improvement, organisations must offer career development and advancement opportunities, while fostering a culture of continuous learning. This positive culture of improvement will ensure that employees are actively engaged, and able to quickly acquire new skills when the need arises.

As is the case with most other organisational endeavours, clear communication is the key to success. While this can be trickier when much or most of the workforce is operating remotely, leaders can still reach out to employees through digital means to find out what skills they are missing and how best to train for them. Creating a roadmap with a clear path forward that includes both short- and long-term goals will ensure that everyone is on the same page.


Staying motivated

Good leadership is essential to the success of upskilling efforts. But employees will also have to motivate themselves. Upskilling is just as much their own responsibility as it is the company’s. In addition to engaging in the organisation’s professional development initiatives, employees should be encouraged to seek out upskilling opportunities on their own.

Especially in times when business is slow, employees should be allowed to develop their skills and seek out new certifications. They should then be given opportunities and platforms to share what they learn with their co-workers. This arrangement has the twofold benefit of spreading new knowledge throughout the organisation while giving co-workers a chance to connect with each other.

Furthermore, employees can be granted some time to work on projects of their choosing, even if they aren’t directly related to their usual tasks. Google famously allows its employees to devote 20% of their time working on side projects for the company. While there has been some controversy about whether the company actually gives its employees that much time and freedom, there is no controversy that the strategy has produced some excellent results. Gmail, Google Maps, and Google News all started out as side projects.  

Of course, it isn’t necessary to fully adopt the Google approach, but allowing employees to work on cross-departmental projects that interest them encourages innovation and teamwork, while breaking down silos.


Setting up for future success  

While these are trying times indeed, organisations can make the most of an unfortunate situation by building up the online infrastructure that will serve the upskilling needs of the company for years to come. Setting up internal online courses, webinars, and team-based projects should be among the top priorities while business is slow.

When the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic passes and business picks up again, the organisations that made the most of the downtime will be in the best position to capitalise on the opportunities that come with the eventual recovery. Moreover, they’ll have the systems and infrastructure in place to address any future skills gaps. These capabilities will continue propelling them forward on the path of growth and prosperity, long after the crisis has ended.

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