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Emily Weissang

How to Develop a Reskilling Culture - The Ultimate Guide

Are you prepared for a digitally transformed future of work that demands new skills? Let's look at how to start building a reskilling culture in your organization.

Here’s something to wrap your head around: if you started counting at the rate of one per second, it would take you over two and a half years to count to 85 million. It’s a huge number.

Indeed, it’s basically beyond our capabilities to imagine what 85 million of anything actually looks like. 85 million umbrellas; 85 footballs; 85 million whatever - you name it. 

And that’s just physical things. What about something more abstract… like 85 million jobs?

85 million jobs?!

That’s the number of jobs that the World Economic Forum predicts will be pushed out of the market by 2025 thanks to technological development. Ouch.

It sounds dire, but the good news is that the World Economic Forum believes that the number of jobs created will more than make up for the losses. But it isn’t as simple as people going from one job to another. And that's why the World Economic Forum is calling for a "reskilling revolution" - because these are going to be jobs that require vastly different skills.

Reskilling is set to become the watchword for the future of work. In fact, we’re all going to have to develop our reskilling muscles if we want to make the most of the opportunities of the future. 

So, to start you off in the right direction, this article is going to clue you in on the "Why?" of reskilling, before moving into the "How?". We'll share some tips to help you develop your own professional skills, and advice on how to build a culture of reskilling in your organization.

Buckle in, we have a lot to go through.

What is reskilling (and why does it matter)?

On an individual level, reskilling refers to acquiring entirely new skills to suit the needs of your career. It may be motivated by many reasons, such as the wish to transition into an entirely different career path which requires different skills.

However, others may find themselves needing to reskill into order to respond to technological changes in their field. It is this second scenario that is going to become more and more common in the next few years. And it matters because the impact is going to be profoundly wide-reaching. Digital transformation is going to affect every sector, but are we ready for it?

New skills vs. Old sectors?

Currently, there is an imbalance in the skills that people have and the skillsets that the job market is creating opportunities for. This is only getting more pronounced as technological development accelerates.

New specialisms and professions are opening up, and yet there are not enough people in the workforce with the skillsets required to join these sectors.

This skills gap not only means that opportunities will go unfilled. These sectors will also be prevented from reaching their greatest potential because they will be under-resourced.

The flipside of this is that, while opportunities are expanding in some sectors, they are contracting in others. This is particularly the case in sectors where new use-cases for automation and artificial intelligence are being deployed all the time.

Even many traditionally aspirational high-skill jobs, such as accountancy and auditing, are facing declining demand. A decade or so prior, these professions would have been associated with high job security. But now, the long-term outlook is less certain.

Good news for data scientists, but what about people with more traditional administrative skills?
Good news for data scientists, but what about people with more traditional administrative skills?

But the public's awareness of what skills are desirable is not keeping up with the pace of change. Recent research conducted in England found that over 75% of parents actually feel uncertain giving their children career advice, because they feel overwhelmed by how fast the job market is changing.

Exciting new positions are being created in abundance. But people need to know which skills to nurture in order to access these opportunities. Many existing members of the workforce will need to reskill, and people newly entering the workforce will need to ensure that they are prioritizing skills that are relevant.

Reskilling vs. Upskilling?

Upskilling is another item on the agenda that, along with reskilling, is touted as a solution to the skills gaps caused by rapidly changing new technology.

Upskilling involves keeping up with technology changes in your industry, responding strategically by developing the competencies that reflect the needs of your sector. This might be a "writing on the wall" situation - where you can clearly see that, if you don't work on new skills or expanding existing skills, you will struggle to compete against the best talent in your field.

Attending regular CPD and training workshops, undergoing mentoring and coaching, and studying for industry-specific certifications are all examples of upskilling opportunities.

Reskilling is more comprehensive. It prepares people for entirely new roles - including roles that may not even exist yet. This is particularly urgent for people whose existing skills are likely to become obsolete.

Some jobs are likely to go entirely owing to automation; some sectors might not vanish but may require far fewer people. In these cases in particular, it will be necessary to reskill employees so they have the competencies necessary to access a different job.

How many people will this need encompass? Well, McKinsey have estimated that 15% of the UK workforce falls into this category and will require reskilling completely. And this is bearing in mind that the UK is already a largely service-based economy with a significant number of so-called "knowledge workers". This percentage will be even higher in economies that are more dependent on manufacturing.

Why are companies currently failing at reskilling?

If reskilling is so vital to the future of a thriving, technologically adept business sector, you might expect that more companies would be driving reskilling initiatives forwards. At present, however, this is not necessarily the case.

In a recent global survey of executives and managers, 87% said they were encountering 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.

Perhaps this is hardly a surprise when you consider that, out of 500 CTOs and HR Directors who were asked in a UK study, more than half felt that technology was evolving too quickly for them to understand where they should prioritize long-term training goals.

This may be why so many organizations still regard hiring as the best way to fill the skills gap. While they lack confidence in planning for emerging or future skills gaps, companies are able to hire reactively when a new need becomes unmistakable.

This is also reflected in how companies are spending their HR budgets: investment in recruitment still outpaces learning & development.

However, in the rapidly evolving landscape of work, filling a skills gap might not be so simple as hiring new talent. If few people are being reskilled and trained by the organizations they work for, the talent pool for specific, in-demand skills will remain small. Competition for people with the most desirable skills will therefore be fierce.

Who is responsible for reskilling the workforce?

Let's take a wide-angle view for a moment and consider society as a whole, not just the economic spheres. From the way we socialize, to the way we gather information about almost anything, digital trends are changing how we do it.

Here's just one example: as every year goes by, sales of print newspapers shrink more and more. But the number of people who get their news from social media is going up every year.

This is to say that digital transformation is overhauling every sector of society. The future of work that evolves within this new world is just one side of the coin.

With societal trends that are seeing such rapid changes, the scope of the response required is both enormous and vastly complex. Though many executives believe that businesses should lead the reskilling revolution, it seems infeasible to expect businesses to take total responsibility for this enormous social project.

However, where businesses really can and should make a difference is in research and thought leadership: companies need to do a better job of articulating the skills that they are going to need in the future. 

We are beginning to see this impulse from some of the key drivers of digital change. Microsoft, for instance, has partnered with UK universities to author a report on the digital skills gap in the UK. Likewise, Google has actually established its own reskilling resource - the Digital Garage learning platform, focusing specifically on in-demand digital skills.

What are the benefits of reskilling your employees?

Being on the back foot never helped anyone. If your industry is evolving in a certain way thanks to new technology, you can either put your head in the sand, or sit up and pay attention.

On a macro level, this is the greatest argument for reskilling your workforce: if you don't, you will be left behind. Far from being able to enjoy the benefits of the evolutions in your sector, you will lose out.

Let's take, for example, one business function that is experiencing major change thanks to digital transformation: customer experience.

Developments in the worlds of big data, AI, automation, and UI and UX design mean that customers have increasingly high expectations of a smooth, personalized digital experience. But these are not changes that existing customer support specialists will be able to absorb overnight. These technological developments require new skills to navigate, and a rethinking of how these functions operate.

But if you try to implement drastic digital change without investing in training and skills, it can go very wrong.

After all, who is going to have the best customer retention - the company with a well-crafted, frictionless customer experience that is easy to navigate? Or the company that sends too many automated emails, and has a buggy app that freezes when a customer is entering their payment details?

In addition to future-proofing and "damage control", other benefits of reskilling your employees include massively boosted employee morale and retention.

If employees feel like they are stagnating, they are more likely to leave for a position elsewhere that offers better growth opportunities. But if sufficient paths for growth exist in their current company, they will be more inclined to stay put.

As CEO of LinkedIn, Ryan Roslansky, put it:

"At a time when talent is the number-one commodity in business, companies can’t afford to remain stuck in old mindsets... Organizations slow on the uptake will be left behind and forced to deal with unsatisfied and unmotivated employees and significantly less innovation overall."

How do you prioritize reskilling?

Now we've established the business case for reskilling employees, how can we take the concept and bring it into reality? In order to create reskilling programs that work for your company, you need to prioritize. The best way to do this is to conduct a skills gap analysis.

Reskilling initiatives will never be "one size fits all". A skills gap analysis will help you craft the strategic response that best suits your company and sector by identifying particular areas of risk or opportunity.

And if you are already managing your employees' skills through a resource management tool, performing a skills gap analysis is easy.

In Runn, for example, conducting this kind of gap analysis will take you seconds, as the Skills dashboard will give you all the information necessary to keep tabs on the competencies within your organization. Not only can you see which employees are tagged with certain skills, but you can see how proficient they are in that skill thanks to the "Levels" marker next to the skill property.

Simply searching by the desired skill will reveal whether or not you have a team member who has that skill, and how adept they are in that skill. This can also help you to see where some additional upskilling and training resources may be needed.

You can find out more about skills management in Runn here ➡️

How do you implement reskilling?

To establish reskilling initiatives in your organization, there are different approaches you can take. But what you want to avoid is making it feel like a chore or burden.

Remember, we said that employees who feel that they are growing and learning are more likely to have high morale? You don't want to jeopardize that by making learning and development feel like another performance metric.

Beside, some skills (particularly soft skills) are hard to quantify - they can take time to learn, and there's no exam your employees can take to prove progress.

The best way to develop more versatile employees and implement reskilling in your company is to create a culture that celebrates curiosity, initiative, and learning. If you can bake a genuine enthusiasm for learning new skills into your company culture, you are more likely to see positive outcomes from your reskilling programs and strategies.

Needless to say, this is going to look different in every organization. For example, at Runn, everyone gets one day a month to spend on professional development. This means that our learning is ongoing, but it doesn't become overwhelming.

For us, this works well. We put a great value on flexibility, so it makes sense for us to give people the time to structure their own learning. We also work remotely and asynchronously - so in-person, synchronous training workshops would not be the ideal fit for us.

Our guide will give you some more ideas on how to create a culture of reskilling in your organization:

How to build a culture of reskilling (infographic)

1. Ring-fence dedicated time for learning

If you want to create a learning culture, you need to show that you are taking things seriously by making time available specifically for reskilling initiatives.

2. Create a forum for sharing achievements

This could be a Slack channel, or perhaps a monthly "show and tell" meeting in each team. Either way, you should make space to celebrate the progress your people are making!

3. Identify skills your organization is lacking

For skills development programs to be strategic, you have to know which skills your organization is lacking to begin with, or which new skills your workforce is likely to need shortly down the line. This is where the skill gap analysis will be helpful.

4. Celebrate "growth mindset"

Teachers have known for a while that having a "growth mindset" strongly correlates with student success. But this attitude doesn't lose its magic as soon as you leave school. Adults with a growth mindset are also more likely to bounce back from challenges and to see failure as a learning opportunity. In a world of work where reskilling and upskilling will be ongoing priorities, a growth mindset is going to be extremely helpful.

5. Implement a (non-invasive) way to track skills

Rather than checking in constantly to see how upskilling is going for your staff, or requiring them to constantly be taking new certifications, find a way to centralize that information.

6. Connect people with the resources they need

Many employees actively want to spend time on their professional development, but they need the support of learning materials and training programs. Make it happen by providing them with these resources.

7. Align digital transformation and HR goals

Before designing a reskilling program or starting to train employees in new skills, get everyone on the same page and agree on the specific needs you are trying to address.

8. Let individuals customize their learning plan

To create a truly thriving learning culture in your organization, your employees have to buy-in to the changes. They are far less likely to do this if they feel that they are being shoehorned into learning something that doesn't interest them. But if you give people some agency and choice over what their development plan involves, they are more likely to be invested.

9. Understand that reskilling and equitable opportunities are connected

One of the benefits of reskilling is that it can help people make the most of gainful opportunities. However, the opposite is also true: if people do not have access to continued training and education, they will lose out.

It's not hard to see how this could quickly become an issue of inequitable outcomes. Unequal access to reskilling opportunities will lead to a less diverse workforce - and we have an ethical obligation to make sure this doesn't happen.

10. Embrace the fact that it's a marathon, not a sprint!

We're now in an age where the world of work will be characterized by the rapid acceleration of new technology - and it isn't slowing down anytime soon. The process of reskilling and upskilling is going to be ongoing throughout everyone's careers.

It's not a race to the finish line, partly because there is no finish line. We need to embrace learning at a sustainable pace, so we don't burn out or feel like we are constantly chasing after moving goalposts.

Wrap-up: every day is a school day!

It's clear that we're going to have to make some big changes in the coming years. And that realization can be pretty overwhelming. Where do we start when there is so much potential opportunity - but also so much risk - on the horizon?

Well, whenever you're facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge, it's often best to start off by taking small, practical, tangible steps. Starting to track your employees' skills, for instance, would be a measurable and pragmatic place to start.

From there, with a clear oversight of existing skills in your workforce, you can start to plan what works best for your business strategy.

A playwright once said that "If you don't think about the future, you cannot have one." In business, this is undoubtably the case. We have to be bold and prepare to meet the opportunities that are coming our way. If we can do this, our future will certainly be bright.

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