Since the onset of COVID-19, your business may be experiencing an ongoing struggle to fill empty job roles. Upskilling your workers could provide the key to a more enduring workforce.
In October last year, SEEK reported the highest number of job adverts posted in their 23-year history, and a decline in applications per job. COVID-19 has caused seismic shifts in the workforce landscape. Shock waves affected normal chains of supply and demand, and contactless operations accelerated businesses into the digital age.
One of the biggest fallouts has been a severe shortage of workers. One worldwide survey found that 43% of participating executives saw the talent shortage as the biggest obstacle to overcoming future innovation.
If your search for workers seems endless, now is a good time to consider upskilling to fill vacancies, especially if you’re changing the way you do business.
It takes time and money to invest in skill development, but the benefits are likely to bring satisfying returns.
1. Retain your existing staff
The reality that it’s a jobseeker’s market at present means your existing staff might be eyeing better offers. You may be competing to keep your workers. The good news is that nurturing aspects of the work environment that bring job satisfaction and engage your workers is possible.
Flexibility within your business for employee growth in skill and responsibility makes you a more attractive employer. In workplaces with high turnover rates, like blue-collar industries, research shows that pay is not always the most important factor in job seeking. A positive working environment and opportunities for growth can be a greater attraction. Another study showed that training with the aim of advancement helps keep blue-collar workers engaged.
2. Get your good workers back
Of those who lost their jobs, a global study in 2020 showed low-paid workers with low education were hit the worst. Lack of digital skills limited these employees from working remotely, which was a common job requirement at that time. And, of course, being at a physical workplace meant increased exposure to the virus.
If you’ve lost employees due to a halt in business services or production, upskilling could help valued staff rejoin your workforce. As we move into a digital age where technology and automation are changing the nature of work, it’s essential that we close skill gaps in digital knowledge. Training may create opportunities for your employees on the bench to be part of that upgrade.
Increasingly, blue-collar executives see technology as a key to impacting the future. With your lowest educated staff at the highest risk of losing their jobs, providing them more control of technology and automation could reduce their vulnerability. Besides digital skills, improving reasoning, creativity and social skills (including growth in emotional intelligence) would enable them to support your business through higher quality jobs.
3. Meet your industry’s changing skill needs
Many job adverts following the onset of the pandemic included a number of transferrable skills. Soft skills like ‘communication skills’, ‘basic customer service’ and ‘team work’ were desirable as workplaces were thrown into tumult.
‘Both employees and employers are starting to realize the value of transferable skills, and those who take the time now to upskill, research and execute a well-thought-out career strategy will likely benefit in the years to come.’
- Jelena Radonjic, Forbes Councils Member
The source of the skill set you need within your business may be right in front of you. It may require a shift in how you assess your existing employees’ skills. Building on their transferrable skills can better align them to roles that are in demand, and show them their potential. As the digital age snowballs, McKinsey & Company suggest that the main new skills needed will be:
Digital skills: being able to operate in a fully digital environment to enable remote working
Higher cognitive skills: innovation, creativity and problem-solving for managing changing work environments
Social and emotional skills: ability to navigate professional relationships as teams connect online
Adaptability and resilience: heightening self-awareness, self-confidence and mental wellness for increased resilience through new experiences.
1. Strengthen capabilities
It’s tempting to cut learning budgets in uncertain times, but history shows these are, in fact, the times to invest in skill development. Not doing so simply delays the inevitable. A US Training Industry report during and after the Great Recession of 2008 showed a significant drop in training spends between 2009 and 2010. However, spending surged in 2011, only returning to pre-recession levels in 2012.
Skills within a business are like a muscle. They need ongoing exercise to be strengthened. A talent shortage stretches existing skills and there’s a need for workers to be more flexible. Evaluate the strengths and capabilities you already have in your business and consider how you can invest in your people to update or build on their skill set, and meet business needs in the process.
2. Work out your essential skill set
As new industry needs emerge, businesses develop different skills and roles to keep up with the changes.
Take the construction industry, for example. Research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2004 showed that in daily work processes, teams alternated between paper records and electronic systems. As a result, only 30% of a construction worker’s time was spent actually building. Time and billions of dollars were wasted in fragmented processes needing constant cross-checking.
Today, construction sites look different. Digital hubs and technology assist physical and procedural tasks. However, not all blue-collar employers have made technological changes to streamline tasks and increase productivity. Top workers are not going to hang around outdated systems, Today’s blue-collar workers expect technology to assist them in operations.
By mapping out essential future skills and roles, your business can optimise on changing technology. The challenge for the employer is to consider how emerging skill sets will change everyday work tasks and behaviours at work, and to close the gaps in essential skills.
3. Engage workers through a culture of learning
Once you know what skills your business needs, it’s important to have your employees on board to help drive the change. Keep communicating changes. Nurture proactive participation and commitment to learning by including your team in identifying skills that would streamline their work or help meet new demands.
When learning methods are accessible, you’re likely to get better participation. Here are some points to consider in your development program:
For workers who have lower education levels, video and audio formats are preferable
Ensure language translation is available when your workers are from diverse backgrounds
Personalise learning pathways acknowledges different competencies and learning styles between individuals
Take training a step further: encourage reflection on how to apply learning to daily work life
Open channels for feedback on training and upskilling processes
4. Nurture organic skill growth
In-house skill sharing through buddy shadowing or peer-to-peer learning can build skill sets on the job. Include workers in senior meetings or communications to enable observation and learning of new skills. Encourage staff to try out new skills with the support of workers who already know how.
Exchanges of ideas between so-called white-collar and blue-collar workers within your business can be motivating. It allows appreciation and recognition of one another’s work and helps employees move forward together.
5. Back up career development with policy
Effective transformation of any business must start at the top and involve all the C-suite functions. Strategies and policies around upskilling help to firm up a workplace culture that values learning. Policies spell out how values translate into actions in everyday business operations. For example, how a culture of learning is supported through a compensation and benefits scheme, and whether the company will hire trainers to avoid burdening employees with additional training responsibilities.
When the value of skill growth plays out in daily business activity, not only are your employees better equipped to withstand challenges, but you show employer authenticity to prospective job candidates.
In the bigger picture, by upskilling and keeping your workers, you’ll be doing your part in restoring the post-pandemic economy. But there are multiple lasting benefits for both your workers and your business too.
Career progression not only supports business operations with ongoing improvement of skills but protects vulnerable workers and fuels job satisfaction. Workers with career growth prospects are more engaged and less likely to leave. Not only that, but with continuous skill growth in your team, you’ll boost work standards and productivity. Upskilling to align with digital advances not only increases output through streamlining processes, but better prepares your business for future disruptions.
Whether you’ve lost staff or have difficulty finding job candidates with the right skills, focusing on employee skills training can strengthen the resilience of your workforce and your business capability in a changing work environment.
Developing policies that support a culture of learning helps maintain a motivated and loyal workforce with the flexibility to adapt. Upskilling may be the catalyst that turns you into an employer of choice in a competitive market.