Lindsay Witcher is the vice president of global practice strategy and solutions at Randstad RiseSmart. Opinions are the author's own.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a detrimental impact on our nation's workforce, causing the unemployment rate to soar from a 50-year low of 3.5 percent to 14.7 percent in April 2020 at the peak of the pandemic. With a new administration in place, COVID-19 infection rates decreasing, and three vaccines now being distributed, the conditions are ripe for an economic recovery. However, a key ingredient to restoring job growth and adapting to the new, post-pandemic world of work must begin with prioritizing reskilling millions of individuals to close the growing skills gap and prepare workers for the increasingly digital economy.
Thankfully, a variety of stakeholders are trying to address the issue head on. Earlier this year, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce highlighted during his annual State of American Business speech that ensuring a successful and speedy economic recovery hinges on reskilling American workers. States like Pennsylvania have emphasized the need to retrain individuals to support nationwide recovery efforts by integrating reskilling programs into their recovery plans and awarding millions of dollars in grants for workforce development initiatives. Some states like Ohio are also working directly with employers to facilitate reskilling by reimbursing employers that pay for employees to earn credentials.
A global survey conducted by Randstad RiseSmart found that 68% of HR professionals whose organizations undertook skilling initiatives in 2020 said they ask or require employees to reskill to meet changing business needs. And a study by Chief Learning Officer found that 81 percent of respondents expect their companies to adopt new training methods in 2021 — underpinning the importance of upskilling and reskilling among employers.
It's clear that HR professionals and employees — as well as governments — agree that upskilling and reskilling add value to an organization and the economy as a whole. Yet there are still skeptics who question the utility of learning and development initiatives. Before your organization launches its own training program, it's important to debunk a few reskilling myths.
Myth #1: Employees are resistant to training programs
Much of the hesitancy around instating reskilling programs stems from employers thinking it will not be worth the investment if employees are not willing to participate. However, this is simply not true. RiseSmart's global skilling survey found that 55% of employees surveyed wanted to learn new skills or refresh existing ones, and 94% of employees that participated in skilling initiatives in 2020 said they either fully or partially put their new or refreshed skills to use in a meaningful way.
Employees are keenly aware that stagnant skills will not contribute to career advancement in today's rapidly evolving world of work and being proactive about learning new skills can give them a competitive edge. The thing that is often missing for employees is the connection from the learning to their long-term career success. If companies can make this piece clear to employees, they are much more likely to be engaged and enthusiastic about undergoing the process.
Myth #2: Once employees learn new skills, they'll seek out new opportunities elsewhere
Many organizations are looking to reskill their workers but are concerned that newly upskilled talent could end up leaving the company for a competitor and taking their skills with them. The truth is that employees value organizations that invest in their career advancement. A LinkedIn Learning study found that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if their employers invested in their career development. Similarly, RiseSmart's survey found that 43% of employees who participated in skills training in 2020 say they wanted to learn new skills to advance in their current role, and 30% said they learned new skills to advance internally, rather than land a job elsewhere. It's clear that reskilling is not only beneficial to meeting business demand, but can also help boost overall talent retention efforts.
Furthermore, it's a growing social responsibility of companies to ensure they are keeping their workforce skilled and employable whether they stay at the company or not. In Europe, legislation is common that requires employers to ensure they are not releasing workers into the job market who do not have current skills, and while the same legislation is not present in the U.S., there is a movement toward the voluntary commitment of employers to ensure the same.
Myth #3: Companies should prioritize skilling opportunities for team leads, managers and high-potential employees
Currently, reskilling isn't evenly distributed, with a majority of organizations (65%) offering skills training to team leads and managers. This is leading employers to miss opportunities to identify and grow skills internally rather than seeking external hires. If all employees at every level are provided access to skilling opportunities, organizations are better able to uncover new talents, hidden gems and, potentially, future leaders. Promoting internal talent mobility through reskilling and upskilling opportunities is also more cost-effective than hiring and onboarding new talent.
With democratized skilling, employers will also benefit from developing an inclusive and agile workforce with a growth mindset that is better prepared to adapt to change and ensuring access to these resources is equitable.
Myth #4: Teaching tech skills should be top priority for organizations
The fourth industrial revolution and the impact of automation has been an area of focus for employers, leading many to think that talent will need specialized skills such as IT, AI and coding. While IT and software skills are certainly important, 67% of HR leaders said employees took courses on soft skills, such as improving communication, collaboration, and leadership skills. The most common skill needed for the future is adaptability (32%), followed by communication (31%) and problem-solving (23%). With this in mind, organizations are quickly realizing that soft skills will play a critical role in the workplace of the future.
Reskilling will continue to be a key focus for employers, HR leaders, governments and American workers this year as we work toward stabilizing our economy. This is why it's important to set aside myths now in order to ensure your organization keeps its talent updated on the necessary skills to remain agile during this period of rapid of change.