For many organisations, upskilling and reskilling has become a business imperative. Figures from Udemy Business show that in 2020, there was an unprecedented spike in the demand for upskilling globally. While some of this can be attributed to the pandemic and the urgent need for many workers to pivot into new roles, there is also a growing recognition on the part of organisations that skilling is no longer just a nice-to-have.
Udemy's 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report identified six major trends in upskilling:
Much greater value placed on self-mastery skills
The need for remote collaboration skills, including communication skills
A shift from computer literacy to data literacy
A growing demand for data automation skills
The evolution of technical roles to become hybrid and multi-skilled
An urgent ongoing need for cybersecurity skills
How are these trends playing out within organisations? In June, HR and L&D leaders from around Southeast Asia came together at a virtual roundtable hosted by People Matters and Udemy Business, to share perspectives and best practices. The discussion surfaced the need for strategic long-term planning when skilling the workforce, and the components of such a plan.
Approach skilling with a strategic talent plan
Roundtable participants agreed that in order to have a competitive workforce for the future, right-skilling is critical. As an example, they cited a recent survey by McKinsey which found that over 75 percent of executives believe that reskilling can meet half of their present talent needs. Organisations therefore need to develop and implement a strategic plan for reskilling their workforce. Within such a plan, organisations must:
Understand what skills are truly needed
To successfully reskill their workforce, organisations need to carry out what the participants described as mindful skilling. Dhilip Kumar Raju, Head - Workforce Management, Immigration & Compliance - Asia Pacific Geography, TCS, said: “Building a workforce for digital transformation league of present and future requires 'mindful-skilling.' To enable this, I believe in 3 Vs – Visibility, Velocity, and Variety.”
Organisations must understand which skills they truly need, which are relevant today, and which will be relevant in the near future and to the business strategy.
They need to carry out a structured assessment of the existing skill gaps and determine what to focus on. For example, skills might fall into the categories of technical, cognitive, or behavioural, each with their own application in the business model.
Have a performance and rewards component
The objective of upskilling or reskilling is to meet business goals, and it should be recognised accordingly. A sound talent strategy will have clearly defined performance measurements and corresponding rewards, and learning should be included in a total rewards strategy.
Have the support of leadership
Leadership support is critical in any skilling strategy. Without the sponsorship of someone who can make the cost and management decisions, the plan will not succeed. For example, there must be support at high levels to implement a total rewards strategy, or to set up a capability-building academy within the organisation and ensure that it is utilised.
Saakshi Wadhwan, Senior HR Business Partner, OD & Transformation, Standard Chartered Bank, put it this way: “Leadership support is vital to ensure colleagues have the time to learn and also the opportunities to apply what they learn. We have established a network of global business leaders to actively sponsor learning hours, learning content, while also ensuring it serves our business strategy to build a sustainable culture of learning.”
Implement the plan with people's needs in mind
Once a strategic plan is formed with the support of the leadership, organisations need to consider the following when implementing that plan:
Deliver learning in an agile manner
Learning should be made demand-based, rather than being compliance-driven. Training programmes should be customised to learners' needs and made easy to access, any time, anywhere. Such an approach means that people are able to learn as and when the knowledge is required, such as during a project that calls for new skills. One useful tool is “nano learning”, where learning is broken down into bite-sized pieces that can be delivered on demand.
Encourage peer learning and sharing
To help motivate people to learn, organisations should encourage peer learning, whether in the form of mentoring arrangements or simply setting up platforms where people can share what they have learned with co-workers and assist each other. As Preneet Bindra, HR Head Asia Pacific, Alcon, put it: “A more interdisciplinary approach to navigate internal/external complexities.”
The use of technology can be helpful here, but the discussion also raised that organisations should be mindful of the technology adoption curve.
Create the conditions to promote motivation
Most importantly, organisations need to create an environment that is conducive to learning. They must give employees time and space away from work, to get into a frame of mind where knowledge can be absorbed. And during work itself, people should be given the freedom to experiment and apply what they have learned.
“Right-skilling is not merely science,” said Janan Goh, Head of Talent Management, Mah Sing. “In fact, it is an art and the goal – a masterpiece.”
Finally, don't be too quick to retrench
Roundtable participants frequently raised the point that in today's competitive talent market, it is difficult to get the skills an organisation needs, and this makes it risky to simply lay people off. Skills that do not appear relevant today might suddenly become important later. Instead of simply letting employees go, organisations should look into alternative employment options, whether this takes the form of offering flexible hours or shifting to a sub-contracting model.
“The reality is that no organisation is immune from the impact of skill gaps,” observed Jeremy Stewardson, Director, Enterprise Sales - APAC, Udemy.
“We as L&D professionals have a real responsibility to try and address those challenges from within our organisations, because it's simply not feasible to hire our way around it.”