What Companies Get Wrong About Reskilling (and Why New Skilling Could Be the Answer)
FEBRUARY 21, 2020
An estimated 375 million workers may need to switch jobs by 2030 due to the effects of AI and automation.
While these changes will surely reshape the working world, it’s not all doom and gloom. Companies can take some control by proactively training their workforce: "In the new world of work, we may not know for sure which jobs will be destroyed and what will be created, but one thing is clear: Everyone, whatever their age, will at some point have to spend time either reskilling (learning new skills for a new position) or upskilling (learning current tasks more deeply)," the MIT Sloan Management Review reports.
Although business leaders are well aware of the impending digital revolution, they have either not started the process (a recent survey indicates 67 percent of executives think it’s important to learn new skills to work with AI, but only 3 percent plan on investing in training and reskilling programs) or are simply getting it wrong.
We asked Vikita Poindexter, owner of the Poindexter Consulting Group, a full-service human resource consulting firm in Temecula, California, to explain the crucial missteps that organizations are taking and how they can get it right.
They Don’t Identify their Needs
How, exactly, can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re at skills-wise? Poindexter says the number one thing companies get wrong when attempting to reskill is that they don’t know what their specific needs are.
"Oftentimes we forget that the employees already have a considerable amount of knowledge," says Poindexter. "So, before you just jump into [reskilling], you really need to identify: What is the need, what is the goal and how do we get there?"
One effective way companies can identify their needs involves using technology-based tools to take an inventory of what skills their employees currently have, which will, in turn, help employers identify what gaps need to be addressed. And these gaps may not always be obvious: Many organizations think they need to improve their workers’ technological capabilities when, in reality, they should be prioritizing critical-thinking skills (a vital human skill in an era when AI will be replacing repetitive, predictable tasks).
Employers can also use these tools to provide individual "learning journeys" to help workers prepare for a shifting role or a completely different job.
They Wait Until They See a Decline in Skills
Another way companies miss the mark is waiting until they see a decline or a large gap that needs to be filled as opposed to being proactive, Poindexter says. 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," she says.
So how do you get ahead of potential setbacks? One way is to move toward a continuous review process (or tune-up an existing one) to open up the lines of communication. Poindexter also suggests sending out company-wide questionnaires to candidly ask employees where they think they are in terms of skill sets and what areas the company needs to address.
It’s also a smart idea for companies to invest in AI-based learning systems to create personalized lessons, coaching and feedback that will allow their workforce to be far more agile in the future. This iterative process of continuously discovering and learning skills is a practice known as "new skilling."
They Fail to Get Employees Involved
Lastly, companies make a big mistake when they don’t get employees involved in the process from the beginning, Poindexter says.
"Companies are [reskilling] and then telling workers ’this is what the expectation is’ without soliciting their buy-in," she says. "Oftentimes, it’ll backfire because you’ll start getting resentment from employees."
To gain their trust, Poindexter suggests convening focus groups to weigh in on the strategic process of retraining before the implementation piece begins. The makeup of the groups will depend on how large the company is but should reflect the interests of every team. To do this, include a representative from each department (one from marketing, one from IT, etc.) and ensure that all positions and pay grades—from minimum wage workers to mid-level team leaders to senior-level managers—are represented.
These employees should be discussing goals and what the processes of reskilling should look like with those who are in charge of managing this task, Poindexter says. Focus group members should feel free to speak out and communicate what each department’s concerns are and provide suggestions for moving forward.
As for those in upper management and the C-suite, it’s crucial they regularly check in with every department once the reskilling or upskilling process starts so that all employees feel visible and valued.
Once they have a plan and employee buy-in, Poindexter says, 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.
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