The Reskilling Challenge: How to Gain New Skills in a Post-Pandemic Economy

Written By: RIch Mesch

January 12, 2021 – 5 min read

I recently had the good fortune to host a panel discussion with a group of industry experts, who provided their insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic was going to change our work environment. Tammy Ganc of McKinsey observed:

“People are going to be returning back to work after this crisis but they’re not going to be able to just flip their book open and pick up where they left off. It’s not even the same book, the story has changed. To get comfortable with the new story, we’re all going to have to really go back to page one.”

According to two recent studies, that prediction is proving true. Upskilling and reskilling are two of the most important talent management challenges today. What’s the difference between the two?

Upskilling is acquiring new skills or growing your capability in current skills. Reskilling is similar but is focused specifically on doing a new job, or doing a job that has changed significantly. For this discussion, we’ll focus on reskilling, since a big part of the challenge is how changes in the world have affected the skills necessary to do our jobs.

Why are we talking about reskilling now? According to The State of Skills 2021 Report:

  • 60% of employees say that COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis have accelerated their need to acquire new skills
  • In industries like Technology and Telecommunications, that number is nearly 80%

Lest we think this is something unique to the pandemic, it’s been a concern for a while now. According to the 2019 PWC CEO Survey, 79% percent of CEOs worldwide were concerned that a lack of essential skills in their workforce is threatening the future growth of their organization. Much of that was driven by the rapid changes in technology.

Development opportunities are harder to find at work amid the global health and economic crisis. Nearly half of workers (46%) say their employers have reduced upskilling and reskilling opportunities during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, roughly half of global organizations are focused on upskilling and reskilling in 2021, according to the LinkedIn Learning 2020 Workplace Learning Report.

I have seen that skills challenge in my own work with the Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences industry.  The business has historically been face-to-face, whether in a doctor’s office or at a healthcare conference. Sales specialists educate health care providers on the clinical effectiveness of their products, and medical science liaisons discuss the disease state and therapeutic options.  But in today’s world, most of these conversations are virtual. This requires an entirely new skill set. And while things could conceivably go back to normal once the pandemic is over, most Life Sciences professionals believe they won’t—virtual visits, at least to some extent, are probably here to stay. And this “temporary” new skillset will become a permanent part of the job description.

Why is reskilling an issue for companies?

  1. After months of working differently, team members will need to exercise skills that they may have lost touch with.
  2. Many ways of doing business have changed forever; there will be no return to the way things used to be. We will all need to rethink our skill sets as we settle into the new normal.
  3. For many organizations, 2020 was a year of keeping afloat, not a year of moving forward. Opportunities for growth, for career advancement, and exploring new opportunities have been limited. Expect that unmet need to explode in 2021, as people try to make up for the lost time.

So how can organizations prepare for this onslaught of reskilling?

  1. Retaining and growing talent is key. The research shows that companies fell behind on providing reskilling opportunities due to the pandemic. In a post-pandemic world, the organizations that provide opportunities for increased skills, increased contribution, and increased career growth are the organizations that will attract and retain top talent.
  2. Learning Frameworks drive new behaviors. The reason so many reskilling initiatives fail is because they are based on ideas rather than behaviors. Great ideas are absolutely necessary, but new skills require the ability to behave differently. An effective Learning Framework focuses on learning over time, applying what you learn, and receiving coaching and feedback to increase your level of proficiency.
  3. Learning Paths are critical. One size most definitely does not fit all. Your reskilling audience is clamoring for a roadmap to where they want to be. Providing clear learning paths (and flexible, build-it-yourself learning paths) will help drive employee growth.

2020 was rough on most of us, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. 2021 demands that we no longer focus on keeping our heads above water, but on growing and thriving in the new realities of the marketplace. The good news is that our team members are anxious to gain new skills and contribute more. Are we ready to support them?

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