Reskilling Yields High Returns for Both Businesses and Economies – a Win-Win for All

Over the past decade or so, as landlines became increasingly obsolete, telecom giant AT&T faced a massive human capital challenge. It needed to replace its existing technology, and shift from a wireline to wireless network, but few in its workforce (now at 280,000) had the skills to operate it.

To address this, AT&T launched an ambitious initiative, Workforce 2020. This, which is still underway, not only brought in new talent, but began reskilling the tens of thousands of current employees whose jobs were becoming obsolete. Described by Fortune as “what may be the most ambitious retraining program in corporate American history,” and by Harvard Business Review as a “radical talent overhaul,” the program’s components include tuition assistance, creation of customized programs and degrees with educational organizations, in-house employee training, and coaching/mentoring programs.

While most organizational talent shortages are miniscule compared with this, companies that have them can still take a page from AT&T’s book.

But are they? Yes and no according to The Future of Jobs, a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum. Although most companies surveyed considered reskilling an important part of their future workforce planning strategies, not all actually prioritized it. Those that did, noted the WEF, were much more likely to take action.

A more recent report from the WEF, Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All (January 2018), further makes the case for why they should. Not only does reskilling have high returns for both businesses and economies, it significantly improves prospects for those facing job loss. With adequate reskilling, according to the report, most at-risk workers would find good jobs in emerging or growing occupations. Without it, it states, only two percent would have an optimal opportunity to transition to new jobs, while 16 percent would have none at all.

The ABCs of reskilling

So step one for companies considering employee reskilling is to a) determine its benefits to all parties involved, b) establish their requirements and c) commit to actually meeting them. Internally, this can consist of deconstructing jobs to determine the skills each requires, identifying the workers most likely to have them, and providing targeted training via various methodologies and systems.

For the latter, experts say, companies should ideally bypass traditional L&D methods and replace them with more employee centric solutions, as these enable faster learning. Also, a multifaceted approach is often the most effective, as jobs/learning styles are all different and one size doesn’t fit all. Examples of training options employers can utilize include on-demand modules, virtual reality, collaboration tools, online content, and in-person instruction.

To increase training effectiveness, some also advocate microlearning, which takes minutes, not hours, and is more focused, efficient, and digestible. Additional recommendations include giving employees time away from their regular jobs to train, rather than adding it to an existing workload, and rewarding them for gaining new skills. Companies that don’t do this may find that training initiatives backfire, as overstretching employees can decrease engagement and retention.

Working with external resources

Another step in the reskilling process can include collaboration with external organizations. Although the measures noted above may be enough for some companies, others have benefitted greatly by working with community colleges, universities, and trade schools to provide training. These partnerships typically consist of specialized programs targeted to the company’s requirements, which can run the gamut from biotechnology to wine production.

Companies can also work with industry partners to assess future needs and combine resources, which may improve the overall quality of the talent pipeline. On a broader level, additional steps can include supporting legislation and government policies that enable greater access to education, particularly in underprivileged communities.

This approach not only benefits individual organizations, but communities as a whole, by providing both direct and indirect employment and establishing standards for new skills and job requirements in a rapidly changing world.