COVID-19 accelerated what was an already rapid digital evolution of internal business operations and external consumer preferences. As companies digitized quickly, in some cases overnight, to enable a newly remote workforce, employees across industries found themselves navigating a new day-to-day reality—one they didn’t always have the skills to thrive in.
Many companies acted quickly to invest time and energy into upskilling and reskilling their workers. It’s not an easy undertaking. Even before the pandemic, “the need to upskill workers displaced by technology was considered ‘the challenge of our times,’” according to Fortune. But businesses that prioritize the development of their employees stand to benefit from a workforce better suited to maximize its potential and take advantage of new, differentiating strategies and technologies. Upskilling also increases employee retention and morale—a critical consideration given that one in four workers is planning to look for a new job once the threat of the pandemic has subsided, according to Prudential Financials’ Pulse of the American Worker survey.
To be successful in the post-pandemic era, companies must invest heavily in digital reskilling and upskilling for the next three to five years—and constantly evaluate their progress and needs as their industry shifts. In fact, a recent Gartner survey found that 58% of the workforce needs new skills to do their job. The first step is to understand where there are weaknesses in your current processes and skillsets; four key steps can help guide the path forward.
- Understand what upskilling and reskilling looks like for your industry: Upskilling and reskilling look different depending on the extent to which your industry has already digitized. Consider what your industry needs related to upskilling and reskilling are—and how you can map them to your specific digital goals and KPIs.
Healthcare, for example, lags behind other industries in overall technology skills, making it particularly vulnerable to disruption. An estimated 25% of existing tasks in today’s healthcare workplace will be automated by 2030. This future requires a digitally skilled workforce to keep up with the pace of innovation. The healthcare industry cannot afford to look at virtual models of care as a passing trend and will need to invest in reskilling or upskilling their workers to deliver the same quality of care virtually as in person.
In the financial services industry, on the other hand, many companies have already fully embraced digitization. With an increasingly virtual banking experience, financial services companies need to upskill and reskill employees to make the most of technology like blockchain, AI and robotic processing automation (RPA). As brand engagement moves online, financial services marketing leaders need to rely less on local relationships and more on data-driven models and analytics to build personalized member experiences. Financial planners and customer service reps also need to consider upskilling to better support changing customer needs; from deposits and investments to advice and support, financial decisions that were previously made in a bank are now mobile and web experiences, creating new digital touchpoints for the customer and the business.
In retail—the industry perhaps most impacted by COVID-19—companies are doubling down on digital capabilities to deliver a personalized and convenient customer experience. Retailers cannot succeed at their digital transformation initiatives without investing in reskilling or upskilling their workforce; retailers reported in 2020 that nearly 4 out of 10 retail digital transformation initiatives that failed did so due to lack of skills or training, and the challenge has only intensified due to the permanent shift in how people shop.
- Perform a role audit: Identify the top three to five roles in your organization that would most benefit from upskilling or reskilling. Reasons could include impact to business, impact to the customer, time criticality, risks and opportunity enablement
- Map out your organization’s “learning journey:” Understand the current journey your employees take to develop their skills and learn new tools. Where does it begin? How does it end? Where are there bottlenecks that need to be fixed?
- Define your technology future state: Identify the top three to five emerging digital trends or technologies that your business, competitors and industry are prioritizing. What internal tools or processes do you need? What skills and core competencies are needed to leverage these new trends or technologies?
COVID-19 undeniably transformed the business landscape across industries. To succeed in this new environment—whatever it may look like for your industry—will require companies to help their workforce adapt accordingly. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, leaders who take steps now to develop a well-informed strategy and a better understanding of the skill sets needed today as well as tomorrow will be well-positioned for the future.