An action plan for upskilling your workforce


I’ve written a few times in the Workplace of the Future blog about the importance to enterprises of investing in upskilling their employees. Helping your current workers gain new skills is a great way to bridge the talent  gap that makes it so hard for digital transformation efforts to take off.

But upskilling requires a lot more than paying for your employees’ Udacity courses. And honestly, upskilling is not something you should be passively outsourcing anyway. Rather, your upskilling strategy should dovetail with your overall business strategy. What are the specific technology and soft skills needed to keep your organization competitive?

Over at strategy+business, Laurent Probst and Christian Scharff lay out a “strategist’s guide to upskilling” that includes a six-step action plan:

Analyze the situation and define the initiative

“Every situation is unique. Some upskilling efforts may begin as regional initiatives, driven by government leaders; others might start within a single enterprise.” … “Set quantitative objectives — for example, increasing the retention rate by 70% in a single company or involving 15% of the companies in a region.”

Design a skills plan

“Base your priorities on the types of jobs that will be affected most by new technologies, the employees who are most at risk, and the businesses that have the most to gain.” … “Customize your training accordingly. Depending on your strategy, you might specify technological training in robotics, materials, energy, or another specialization.”

Assess and advise individual employees

“Some form of individual transformation will take place for participants, sometimes taking them out of their comfort zones.” … “For each participant, create an individual skills development plan, defining the steps and training necessary to address the new job requirements or even make broader changes.”

Match jobs and engage workers

“There should be positive communication with supervisors, transparency about the project and its implications for employees, encouragement to ask for help when needed, strong support for the workers’ upskilling decisions, and standardized rules for all personnel advisors.”

Select training and providers

“The quality, value, and efficiency of the training experience affect every aspect of the upskilling initiative” … “When recruiting training providers, be explicit in communicating the purpose and objectives of the upskilling initiative, including the particular skills that will need to be developed.”

Administer the project and monitor results

“Use digital HR tools to keep track of activity and results” … “Set up a communications team, publishing success stories on a multimedia platform, and communicating the benefits to the broader community and to the media. Showcase individual employees as role models.”

I’m really just skimming the surface of the strategy+business article, which is full of great advice and is worth reading in full.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “An upskilling initiative sure sounds like a lot of work and a lot of money.” And you would be 100% correct! However, transformation by definition requires transformative processes; incrementalism and budgetary foot-dragging simply won’t cut it in the rapidly changing digital age. Drastic change calls for drastic measures that enable organizations to meet present and future challenges.

As Probst and Scharff write, the payoff for upskilling initiatives “can be immense in economic results, overall quality of life, and increased opportunities. Not only do people move to new jobs, but the jobs are better and less likely to be rapidly automated out from under them.”

In the long run, aligning workers’ skills with the needs of the economy — that is, the needs of organizations that drive economic activity — is the best way to guarantee economic and societal stability.

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