Close

Sign up to get the latest news and stories on the future of work.

Subscribe Search

Search form

The employment landscape looks noticeably different today than it did in March. But change started happening well before the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated it. 

Earlier this year, the Human Capital Institute (HCI) and the Cornerstone People Research Lab teamed up to research new-skilling and continuous learning. The goal: To better understand what drives high-performing organizations to success. The research involved examining and contrasting survey respondents’ behaviors, practices and attitudes to explore how they influence retention rate, profitability, and innovation at their respective companies.

The research report, called “The Revolution Is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change,” revealed some fascinating insights, including the need for more nuanced definitions surrounding skilling. In a recent webinar, HCI Vice President of Research and Development Jenna Filipkowski, Ph.D., and HCI Research Analyst MaryFran Heinsch joined me to discuss what we learned from the joint study. 

An Analysis of a Critical Time

The study’s timing this year couldn’t be more significant. The research began in March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up in the United States, and continued until June. Over the span of those few months, over 1000 employees across 260 organizations participated in our survey.

Through this study, we were able to look at the extent to which organizations and their employees were prepared with the skills needed to stay afloat during this time of change. One challenge we discussed is the need to develop skills in areas like cognitive decision-making. Though automation and robotics will start to replace human roles in the coming years, judgment and reasoning are areas where humans will continue to differentiate themselves. HCI’s research confirmed that such soft skills will continue to be crucial.

From here on out, “it really is about heart,” and bringing greater sensitivity and emotional intelligence to the work, Heinsch said. “It’s not just that normal is gone, it’s that normal is going, going, gone. It’s been going for a while, but we hit a moment of punctuated equilibrium.”

The Skills Gap Persists

Among other noteworthy findings were pervasive skills shortages. Half of survey respondents said that external skills shortages, meaning the skills they need are unavailable or hidden in the marketplace, will negatively affect their ability to meet strategic goals. 67% of respondents said that skills gaps in their current workforce would do the same.

Respondents were also asked to select the top three challenges to closing these skills gaps. Balancing long-term and short-term business needs (layering development on top of day-to-day work) took the top spot, followed by lack of funding/budget from the organization and lack of time. 

This lack of time might actually mean that an organization is simply not prioritizing developing employees in a certain way. Often, this corresponds with a lack of understanding which skills to focus on first, as well as inability to differentiate long-term from short-term needs, Heinsch said.

Understanding and Implementing New-skilling at Your Organization 

One of the key takeaways from HCI’s research is that the terminology around workplace skills needs to be more nuanced—especially if organizations want to stand a chance at keeping up with skill demands. 

The term “reskilling” is used to refer to training employees on an entirely new set of skills; often to prepare them to take on a different role. “Upskilling,” meanwhile, means working with employees to improve upon existing skills. And “new-skilling” is a combination of the two geared toward both strengthening existing skills and developing new ones. 

New-skilling action items include understanding which skills are needed, anticipating skill gaps, targeting learning to roles and individuals, diversifying learning modalities, leveraging technology and making learning and development a collective effort. 

“New-skilling is an “emerging practice,” Filipkowski said. “In our research, it’s not like we found a set of organizations who are actively doing this all the time or consistently or very well.”

“But what we do find in the research is that there are people who have a framework for best practices that they are implementing in advance of [upcoming] changes, so that they’re going to be ready. We’re trying to surface new information that’s going to help us prepare for the skill gaps that we’re going to have that we’re not even yet aware of,” Heinsch agreed.

As part of the new report, HCI outlines the framework new-skilling, and it includes six key steps:

  1. Understand which skills are needed now, and in the future.

  2. Anticipate skills gaps and identify skill adjacencies.

  3. Target learning to both roles and individuals.

  4. Make learning and development a shared effort.

  5. Diversify learning modalities.

  6. Leverage learning technology to uncover needs, monitor progress, and measure outcomes.

The time for organizations to start implementing these steps is now, researchers agree.

Ready to get started? For more details on HCI’s findings and a more in-depth look at the new-skilling framework, access the full report now or watch the on-demand webinar here.