What Companies Get Wrong About Reskilling

Jun 3, 2020

Thanks to the effects of AI and automation, an estimated 375 million workers may need to switch jobs by 2030. These changes will surely reshape the working world, but the outlook isn’t all doom and gloom. Companies can have some control by proactively preparing their workforces through “reskilling (learning new skills for a new position) or upskilling (learning current tasks more deeply).” Unfortunately, although business leaders and employees alike are well aware of the impending digital revolution, most executives have not yet started such preparations or are simply getting it wrong. ReWork recently chatted with Vikita Poindexter, the owner of Poindexter Consulting Group (a full-service human resource consulting firm), and asked her  to explain the crucial missteps that organizations are taking and what they should be doing to prepare their workforces for the future work scene.


They Don’t Identify their Needs

Poindexter says the number one thing companies get wrong when attempting to broaden or improve their employees’ skills is that they don’t know what their specific needs are: “Oftentimes we forget that the employees already have a considerable amount of knowledge. So before you just jump into reskilling, you really need to identify the need, the goal, and how we get there.”

One way a company can identify its needs is to use technology-based tools to take an inventory of what skills their employees currently have, which in turn lets it see what gaps need to be addressed. (Such gaps may not always be obvious: many organizations think they need to improve their workers’ technological capabilities when in reality they should prioritize the critical-thinking skills that will become increasingly valuable as AI replaces repetitive, predictable tasks.) Employers can also use these tools to develop individual “learning journeys” to help workers prepare for shifting roles or completely different jobs.


They Wait Until They See a Decline in Skills

Another way companies miss the mark is by not being proactive. Instead, Poindexter says, they take action only when they see a decline or a large gap that needs to be filled. When this happens, it’s usually a function of not remaining engaged with employees at every level: “When we’re at a point where we must retrain or reskill, it’s often because we haven’t done our due diligence and taken an analysis of what’s going wrong.”

So how can companies get ahead of potential setbacks? One solution is to implement a continuous review process (or tune up the company’s existing review process) to open up the lines of communication. Poindexter also suggests sending out company-wide questionnaires to ask employees for their candid thoughts about where they think they are in terms of skill sets and what areas the company needs to address. She also recommends that companies invest in new skilling, a new process in which “AI-based adaptive learning systems [are used] to accelerate workforce development through personalized lessons, coaching, and feedback.”


They Fail to Get Employees Involved

Lastly, Poindexter says, companies make a big mistake when they don’t get employees involved in the reskilling process from the beginning: “Companies are reskilling and then telling workers ‘this is what the expectation is’ without soliciting their buy-in. Oftentimes, it’ll backfire, because you’ll start getting resentment from employees.”

To gain employees’ trust, Poindexter suggests that companies convene focus groups to weigh in on the strategic process of retraining before the implementation phase begins. The makeup of the groups will depend on how large the company is but should reflect the interests of every team. Therefore they should include people from each department (one from marketing, one from IT, etc.) and represent all positions and pay grades (minimum-wage workers, mid-level team leaders, senior-level managers, etc.) within the organization.

With those who are managing this task, these groups should discuss goals and what reskilling processes should look like. Focus group members should feel free to communicate each department’s concerns and provide suggestions for moving forward. At the same time, when the reskilling or upskilling process starts, those in upper management and the C-suite should regularly check in with every department so that all employees feel visible and valued. Once they have a reskilling plan and employee buy-in for it, companies should keep workers engaged by offering a combination of both classroom-style training as well as independent online courses to appeal to different learning styles.

Tomorrow’s business landscape will look very different from the one of today. In order to remain competitive, companies will need workers who have the new skills and capabilities that this landscape will require. Rather than wait until they have no choice but to address that need, companies should take a proactive approach and start making those preparations now.

Published by CornerStone, the ReWork blog is a guide to the changing talent-management industry and helps executives and HR leaders succeed in the new, technology-driven economy.

Written by: The ReWork Editors

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