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Three Steps Forward: The Transformative Power of Upskilling and Reskilling for a Full, Post-COVID Recovery

Post-COVID Recovery

The whiplash of a faster-than-ever technological uptake is hitting every sector; businesses are accomplishing year-long goals in a matter of days. In a report titled ‘The Quickening,’ McKinsey researchers show that the rate of e-commerce penetration across the US represented an incredible 10 years of growth in 3 months time. The same kind of progress can be seen across almost every operation.

But as always, progress brings new challenges, and the challenge of rapid digital uptake is growing at a similar pace. The exponential powers of technology set up a one step forward, two steps back situation; while companies walk further into their future, their teams are being left further and further behind.

‘Faster than we could plan for, roles have shape-shifted, enterprise needs have transformed, and operational training has been rendered obsolete by the introduction of new solutions,’ says Pablo Listingart, Founder and Director of ComIT. ComIT is a non-profit organization that offers no-cost training for relevant IT skills tailored to local industry needs. ‘A gap grows between the company and its loyal employees. And before we take any more steps forward, there’s a dire need for workplace learning, training, and upskilling to undergo the same kind of innovation; otherwise, the result of all this progress will be a slow decline.’

Problem and Solution, Defined

The skills gap existed before the pandemic, but has, like many things, picked up speed. In a 2020 McKinsey Global Survey,  87% of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. But less than half of respondents had a clear sense of how to address the problem.

Luckily, technology will always work in tandem with humans who can interpret, alter, and impact the way in which it delivers value to the organization. But re-skilling and upskilling is an important part of that age-old cycle, and it requires the proper investments. 

One Step at a Time

Learning in the workforce takes shape in three phases. The first phase begins with assessment: company leaders establish their goals and how they can best be met, prioritizing digital investments and the skills needed to implement them. Then, team leaders assess those skills as they stand, developing a roadmap to connect the dots between the team’s present and desired skill set. 

Next, the planning turns to action, and the company invests in the right learning resources.  Self-study, informal learning, and e-learning are on the rise, allowing employees the time and freedom to tailor their experience. Team leaders can offer open educational resources (OERs), which are free, open-source textbooks, worksheets, videos, and software to help professionals locate themselves in their own learning journeys. In addition, coding schools and boot camps, in which students can learn new and relevant tech skills in a short period of time, are effective alternatives to traditional education. New low-cost and no-cost options exist on the market; post-COVID employers can offer valuable resources without over-stretching their still-recovering budgets.

The final step is to bring all new knowledge into the day-to-day operations. Ideally, teams reflect on their learning experience, managers learn from their insights, and employers work toward the creative architecture of more cross-functional teams. The result is a never ending cycle, an ongoing process of ingesting new knowledge and integrating the skills learned previously. 

Miles Ahead

Companies who engage in that cycle see this incredible forward trajectory. Miles ahead of their industry peers, they’re propelled forward as leaders in the post-COVID space. Training gives teams the resources they need to maximize a company’s return on digital investment. The result is exponential; Accenture projects that companies with digital fluency are more than five times more likely to see rapid revenue growth in the next three years.

Training isn’t just a growth-force, it’s also a cost-save. SHRM estimates that the average cost of hiring a new worker in the U.S. is $4,425. Coupled with lost productivity during the onboarding stage, the time elapsed between the role’s opening and the role’s fulfilment, and the fractures to corporate culture that can result from high turnover, upskilling and reskilling development has the clear upper hand. 

At a higher level, reskilling and upskilling can transform entire industries.Sectors that have suffered from low-wage growth and COVID-related complications could reap incredible benefits; health and social care could add $380 billion in additional GDP through upskilling by 2030.

But by far, the biggest beneficiaries are the employees. Without these ongoing learning opportunities, the lifespan of a skill is now only five years. In an ever-evolving market, upskilling keeps workers driven, motivated, and included in the larger project of the workforce. A recent Amazon study found that one-third of American workers in the study population, with some training and new skills acquisition, have the potential to access higher income occupations that are forecasted to grow in the future. This includes 33 million low-income workers, all of whom are invaluable in the task of sharing an equal recovery. A great economy is one in which its stakeholders are engaged, contributory, and growing; to this end, training is the best path forward, a journey well-worth taking.

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