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Upskilling Your Tech Team: The New Normal in A Digitized Landscape

In the years between 2014 and 2016, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) broke out in Central Africa, spread out to the Western region, and infected an estimate of about 11,000 people. The public health crisis meant that businesses had to limit their operations, people were advised to stay home, and medical workers were tasked with tracking down the sick. In the midst of disorder and distress, one company in West Africa dared to ask: How can we adapt?

In McKinsey's report, the unnamed company drafted and executed a strategy to help its employees adapt to the evolving demands of customers. By identifying which skills were considered critical and non-critical to the company, they ran training sessions focused on improving team flexibility and performance.

As one example, truck drivers learned how to operate excavation equipment. This move to upskill existing staff not only solved retrenchment issues, but it also allowed the company to smoothly change their business model by the end of the pandemic.

In January 31 of this year, COVID-19 cases surpassed Ebola's numbers as the virus spread globally. And as we draw closer to the final quarter of the year, the daily lives of people worldwide have undergone drastic changes to protect those most susceptible to the virus.

As many countries continue to change how we deal with social interactions, hygiene, and healthcare, more companies have to ask: "How can we adapt?"


Digitization and Disease

In the last decade, the term "digital disruption" has circulated the web to point towards the exponential evolution of technology. Markets, cultures, even young generations, are shaped by these disruptions, which are paving the road for all of us to become digital citizens.

According to Statista, around 3.5 billion people worldwide now own a smartphone. Not only is it more convenient to search product reviews, visit websites, and download apps, but it saves more time than when we log onto a desktop device. In response to this phenomenon, businesses large and small are adapting towards digital solutions in an attempt to better reach their audiences.

Last year, discussions focused on the growing number of devices connected to the Internet of Things, developments in green energy and the rise of 5G connections. These are new avenues that businesses can use to connect and engage with their customers.

Until COVID19, companies around the world would have gradually embraced digital integration. But this slow and steady path towards digital integration has become a steep slope, almost overnight. Over the course of the last few months, not only has mobile phone usage gone up, customer behavior has begun to evolve even more.


People are spending more time online. They’re buying products that they normally would purchase at malls and are opting to receive these items on their front doorstep. Contactless and cashless payments are now favored for transactions, company meetings are held online, and medical teleconsultations are becoming a norm. 

As worldwide events and technological trends continue to change customer behavior, there’s a growing demand for new skills. In response to this, companies need to help their workforce adjust to this newest evolution to the business landscape.


Upskilling vs. Reskilling

Depending on your industry, your people, and your adaptation to digital tools, training or retraining your people can mean different things:

  • Reskilling happens when the skills of your existing workers are no longer relevant because of technology. You need to train them for an entirely new set of skills and, potentially, transition them to a different, more relevant role. This requires a bit of foresight for those in leadership, as it’s crucial to identify which skills are more important in the face of technological innovation.

    IBM’s Career Transition Centre was one of the successful reskilling strategies that ran in 2018. In anticipation of 10 million new jobs that digitization will create, they launched a program to help employees recognize how technology can affect their career and pursue in-demand skills.
  • Upskilling, on the other hand, is a process that positions employees for additional responsibilities that are still within their area of expertise. This is more common than reskilling, as new digital tools and skills needed to help companies better engage with customers emerge in the market. An upskilling report from the Netherlands can provide a clearer picture. Denkwerk reported last 2019 that 50% of the state’s citizens needed to hone their digital skills—some of which include familiarization with advanced MS Office features, blind typing, and basic programming.

    While most of them were familiar with MS Office’ software, organizations and schools needed to train people to maximize the tool’s potential.

Creating upskilling and reskilling strategies for your company can help your key stakeholders remain agile and competitive, particularly in these times. If you’re unsure where you need to start, here are three things for you to consider:


1. Invest in addressing the skills gap

In a survey done by West Monroe, over 60% of the employees think that their current skills will be outdated in the next 3 to 5 years. When asked how long their training could take, 35% mentioned that it could take up to six months, while 10% said that they would need more than a year. Suffice to say, every company goes through unique situations thus, needing commitment and deliberation from everyone involved.

Upskilling or re-skilling may start as an industry initiative, a department-wide plan, or a large-scale plan to lessen layoffs. Despite the differing motivations, the situation speaks the same truth—lifelong learning and innovation should be prioritized over preserving a specific job. How that lifelong learning should be planned and carried out depends on you.

Gather your key stakeholders (i.e. executives, investors, participating companies, employee representatives, etc.) and run some diagnostics: How confident are business leaders in their staff mobility? Which departments are saturated with talent, and which ones need more? What skills does each stakeholder need? Investing your time, attention, and research for these topics is the first step.

Once the skill gaps have been determined, it’s time for the company to financially invest in this strategy. Going back to West Monroe’s study, 58% of employees believe that their employers will invest in their skills development. Have your company managers spearhead efforts by being the first to set an example.

Let’s take a look at Amazon’s reskilling plan announced last July 2019. As most of Amazon's processes are transitioning to automation, the corporation invested $700 million in retraining its US staff by 2025. While this is extremely beneficial to their workforce, it is also helpful to learn from Amazon's mistakes. One of the main criticisms of Amazon's retraining strategy is its lack of input from the workers directly affected by this mandate.

Before implementing your training plans, remember to gather input from your workers. Keeping the whole company aligned on the priorities and giving everyone a platform to voice their thoughts can lead to fruitful and insightful conclusions.


2. Place importance on soft skills

While most companies may invest more in getting the latest tools and integrating it onto their system, digital transformation is more about the people rather than the technology they wield.


When upskilling or reskilling your workforce, you need them to easily adapt to the digital future; future-proofing their potential and yours. While higher education assures us that more people have better IT skills, don’t forget to develop your employee's soft skills. Are they adaptable, curious, and flexible? These traits can help them become interested in new skills once their technical competence becomes outdated.

If you value collaboration, soft skills such as empathy, negotiation, and communication can encourage a more harmonious relationship within your organization. If you’re looking to teach responsibility and accountability, look to develop your staff’s leadership, management, and entrepreneurship skills.

These traits are not often taught in higher education, but they can have an incredible impact on company culture as a whole. Today, soft skills are gaining more attention. In a McKinsey survey, 80% of executives mentioned that when reskilling their workforce, soft skills development is a key element in the strategy.


3. Incentivize learning and development

According to McKinsey's survey, companies that had launched successful reskilling campaigns were able to address skills gaps or improve on their strategy. And those who did not view theirs as successfully are still glad to have gone through the process as they are now aware what they need to improve on when encountering another skill gap.

As you collect data, find out if individual coaching, online courses, or classroom-esque training work best for your situation.

Of course, upskilling and reskilling are not without some discomfort. Change, after all, takes people out of their comfort zones. To support your workforce during your implementation period, make sure to assess how your employees are doing. Test your strategy's effectiveness and implement new models that prove to be a better fit.

It’s recommended that you create a skills development plan for every employee, detailing the steps that are necessary for their personal and career growth. This allows employees to feel responsible for their own development.


Creating a New Normal

The Ebola virus changed the way the Democratic Republic of the Congo dealt with health emergencies. They placed a premium on research and laboratory testing, and community engagement became the heart of their response. If there is any take away from 2016, it’s that what may have worked prior to COVID-19 may not work during or after this crisis.

That’s not to say that you can let go of your retraining efforts once the crisis passes. While all tragedies must eventually come to an end, the plans you implement shouldn’t only focus on surviving the virus.

Place your efforts on bettering your company and your stakeholders in preparation for more opportunities and challenges. By starting today, your reskilling strategies can ensure your organization's recovery business model will pave the way to future success.

Divergence Academy can help turn your current team into a tech powerhouse. Our advanced courses for cloud, AI, and cybersecurity empower strong performers with up-to-date skills so that your company can stay competitive in today’s market.

Learn how you can train your workforce for the future or talk to our team about your talent development needs today!