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If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it's that re-skilling your team is always a great idea.

The case for re-skilling your team (instead of firing and replacing them)

In the early days of COVID-19, Ford stopped making cars for the first time in its history, producing masks and medical gowns instead. At the same time, talent leaders there fast-tracked the rollout of virtual learning initiatives—quickly infusing asynchronous learning into an L&D portfolio heavy on in-class, instructor-led training.

They weren’t alone. Team leaders around the world made similar moves, adapting to remote work and other fresh challenges. Verizon, for example, quickly reskilled thousands of retail workers for customer service roles, avoiding painful layoffs at shuttered stores. 

When companies invest in workforce development, they’re not just making a bet on the future health of their organizations. They’re also giving employees a path to career advancement—which in turn can help companies retain them.

And yet, companies around the world are pulling back on upskilling―despite the fact that six in ten workers say the pandemic and resulting economic crisis are accelerating their need for new skills. Nearly half (46 percent) of all workers surveyed say their current skills are becoming obsolete. Many say they’re likely to leave their jobs for something more promising if their employers don’t invest in their development.

Even before COVID, there was a pressing need for initiatives that invest in people’s continuous learning, identify and fill skill gaps, and keep people employable. In my opinion, upskilling aligns the skills of employees to that of their company’s business strategy, which is critical to creating real business value.

At Degreed, I lead a global team of nine people (and growing). Next to being kind, a good teammate, and customer-focused, there’s only one thing more important―that we are constantly upskilling. It’s become ever-more vital during COVID because our business and specialties are changing quickly, we haven’t seen each other in more than a year, and our team is located around the world.

At the team level, we host a co-worker from another business unit once a month to learn about their work and team. I recently hosted an outside consultant for a series of weekly meetings in which we brainstormed strategies for becoming more aligned among ourselves and practicing saying “no.” 

On an individual level, I’m always encouraging everyone on my team to take time to grow themselves both in their role and personal lives. Degreed gives each employee $100 a month of flexible spending money for growth which is one of my favorite benefits. Recently, I’ve had people on my team learn new skills in SEO, data science, advocacy, storytelling, leadership, writing, critical conversations, radical candor, and more.

As a manager, I view supporting my team’s development as an integral part of my job. And at Degreed, I’m proud to be far from the only one who thinks this way and makes it a priority. For upskilling (and a career mobility program) to succeed, managers need to play a pivotal role. According to Degreed chief talent officer and co-author of The Expertise Economy, Kelly Palmer, “The manager is the role that actually makes or breaks whether this will be successful.”

Organizations that are most successful at developing their employees cultivate managers who connect employees to the right people and resources at the right time, according to a 2019 Gartner study. These managers boost employee performance by up to 26 percent and more than triple the likelihood that their employees will be high performers.

I grew up a Girl Scout. And thanks to Girl Scouts, I learned the value of building diverse skills early on. The Girl Scout motto has always stuck with me: Be prepared. I love this quote from the 1947 handbook (emphasis added): “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed. Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency.”

Building a culture of upskilling takes time. Getting managers involved is a hurdle. But these are challenges, not roadblocks. If you’re upskilling all the time, that’s being prepared. Helping people be the most well-rounded they can is how we will stay ahead of disruption.

Sarah has been actively involved in the learning space for 12 years, leading marketing and communications efforts in both corporate and startup capacities. She currently leads the Communications, and Client Advocacy teams at Degreed. When she’s not developing new content, she can be found experimenting with new recipes, getting involved in a local nonprofit, or walking her two pit bulls at the base of the Rockies in Boulder, Colorado.