Upskilling: Do or Die

The general consensus among business leaders is that traditional work will not return to the pre-pandemic commute/work/office structure. To prepare for the new future of work, companies wishing to remain relevant and competitive are turning to upskilling their current workforce. Even before the arrival of COVID, there was an emergence of changing technologies that would impact how and who was doing work in an organization. The pandemic just accelerated this trend.

Think how a MLB farm system works. How do you think the St. Louis Cardinals can consistently compete against the teams that outspend them 2:1? They have a very good development program that begins to build players 2–3 years out before they’re needed. Or, look what Billy Beane did with the 2002 Athletics just by taking a data-centric approach to baseball — a story made famous by Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game and the movie starring Brad Pitt.

Upskilling provides benefits to both the employee and the employer. “70% of surveyed organizations have introduced at least one new technology to increase employee capacity in the past year.” By 2022, 54 percent of all employees will require significant upskilling, according to the World Economic Forum. It’s just smart and comes down to making the best with what you have.

Upskilling, although a relatively new term, is nothing more than making the most of what you have. In this particular context upskilling is providing an existing employee with more advanced skills through additional education and training.

Adapting employees’ skills and roles to the post-pandemic ways of working will be crucial to building operating-model resilience.

Every operational leader with a labor requirement should look first to upskilling their current talent rather than bringing in outside talent, especially with the associated transactional cost (financial and time) of bringing on a new employee. Upskilling is the most cost effective way to fill vacancies and optimize your workforce. Plus, the added benefit of already knowing that employee already fits your culture and has the necessary soft skills as well.

To successfully upskill their workforce, companies need a data-centric talent development strategy that develops employees’ critical digital and cognitive capabilities, their social and emotional skills, and their adaptability and resilience. BUT, a word of caution: don’t upskill for the sake of upskilling. These strategies need to benchmarked against the company’s labor demand profile. Too often, employee development is done in a vacuum, and done more so for the employee’s benefit than the company’s.

The first step for a company is to start now. Proactive employers will map skills and capabilities of their current workforce against the existing and projected unfulfilled capabilities. By leveraging existing technology and top-down leadership support, a company can actually quantify how their current labor supply aligns with their labor demand. Done correctly, they will be able to see how all their skilled labor is distributed throughout the company enabling management to quickly identify gaps and areas of excess. With that data, companies can now accurately measure how far any individual is from each and every job in the company. Here’s a step-by-step process:

Step 1: Validate all the company’s labor demand requirements.

Step 2: Collect all the employee’s skillsets relative to the company’s labor demand profile.

Step 3: Compare your labor supply against the needs of the company to identify matches and specific gaps in skills, certifications, experience, etc.

Step 4: Optimize your work force by reallocating labor assets throughout the organization and develop upskilling plans to migrate current employees from one function into the next.

Assuming most companies have a good handle on their labor demand requirements, Steps 2 and 3 are the most challenging. Historically, HR has always attempted to collect skills information from their existing workforce; however, these exercises usually yield poor results. The predominant problem with this approach is that (a) the skillsets being asked are not related to any of the company’s job requirements; (b) often that data is text-based and eventually ends up in some word-search queryable HRMS database that only HR has access to; and (c) there is usually poor response from employees because of the request comes from HR.

Assuming critical skills information can sufficiently be collected, the second challenge is how to efficiently and quickly compare all the skillsets of your employees against all of its labor requirements? This task usually requires a single person to compare and relate an employee’s skills profile against all the company’s jobs — a 1:1 approach, per se. However, this needs to be done at a one-to-many and many-to-one basis; otherwise, the company will never obtain all the critical data necessary to successful optimize their labor force and develop successful upskilling strategies. In essence, this initiative needs to be done at scale.

The solution to how to obtain the information and how to sort and align is Oplign. Oplign’s suite of applications gives company leadership all the tools that they need to optimize their current workforce at scale and begin to upskill their employees to meet future needs. No longer do you need expensive consulting firms to mess with your organization and leave you with a 100-page deck of nothing. Oplign offers the tools that enable companies to organically improve themselves and prepare for the future of work at a fraction of the cost.

Welcome to the future.

About the Author — Brian was in the U.S. Army Special Operations for over 20 years. Since retirement he has worked for Fortune 500 companies as an operations executive and been a successful entrepreneur. This unique and broad range of experience has lead him to fully appreciate and understand an endemic problem in the labor market and ultimately his decision to help solve that problem. As one of the founding partners of Oplign, LLC, he will change forever how people and companies interact in the global labor market.