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Don’t undercut upskilling – 2021 recovery hinges on skills

In just a few months our work and personal lives were upended. As we prepare for 2021, it’s time to embrace those changes. To come to terms with and make the most of the new world we are living in. To achieve this on both a personal and business level, we need to have the right skills.

In just a few months our work and personal lives were upended. As we prepare for 2021, it’s time to embrace those changes. To come to terms with and make the most of the new world we are living in. To achieve this on both a personal and business level, we need to have the right skills.

Indeed, the pandemic and lockdown have drastically accelerated the need for new skills. Six in ten workers and managers say that the pandemic increased their need to acquire new skills. Digital adoption has been fast-forwarded by five years due to the pandemic and global lockdown. Increasing the UK’s (already wide) digital skills gap. 

Upskilling and recovery
Yet, despite employees’ desires to upskill, many organisations cut upskilling opportunities in 2020. Half of global workers say that their employers have cut learning investment in the wake of the pandemic. Which is understandable, given the other pressures facing business and HR leaders. Survival was, for many months, the only task on the C-Suite’s to-do list. But now we need to move on. Recovery will be hindered if organisations continue to de-prioritise upskilling. 41% of workers say that a lack of confidence in their skills leads to them taking longer to complete tasks and 22% feel that their work is of a lower quality.

Furthermore, longer-term performance will be affected if upskilling stalls again this year. More than 90% of the UK workforce will have to be upskilled or retrained by 2030 to be equipped for greater automation in the workplace, artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies.

Achieving more with less
Still, the unfortunate reality is that many organisations are slashing budgets and learning budgets are often one of the first to be cut. Therefore, HR and learning leaders need to find ways to upskill their people in the most cost-effective fashion, with the greatest ROI. The answer to this conundrum lies in skill data.

Evolving skills
The skills needed by your business will continuously evolve. They also change depending on an individual’s role, business function, industry, country and, of course, any changes to your business strategy.

For example, the top ten skills currently needed in 2021 (globally and across all industries) are ranked as follows:

> Advanced IT and programming
> Leadership and management
Communication and negotiation
Entrepreneurship and initiative-taking
Project management
Advanced data analysis and mathematics
Critical thinking and decision making
Adaptability and continuous learning
Technology design and engineering

Yet, break this down by country and some different trends emerge. The UK places more emphasis on project management instead of communication, for example. Meanwhile, in Germany, there is a higher need for leadership and negotiation skills. France ranks creativity as its third most endangered skill and in the United States, this is replaced with advanced data analysis and mathematics. 

If you break the data down by sector, another picture emerges with healthcare requiring more people management skills (which is unsurprising, given the teamwork involved in tackling the pandemic). Financial services need more critical thinking and decision-making skills (especially to navigate the global recession) and, after a tough 2020, retailers are seeking greater creativity.

Skill data needed
Having this granular detail on what skills are most critical to the business now will help you prioritise resources. It can also help organisations spot opportunities to share and redeploy talent – an important retention strategy that became popular in 2020 instead of lay-offs. Trade body Airlines UK, for example, partnered with social care company Cera to redeploy cabin crew as carers. Similar skill sets (caring for others, working under pressure, and working nights) made reskilling cabin crew as short as ten days.

Understanding learning preferences
Skill data can also be complemented with insights on how individual workers prefer to learn, when, and the kind of content that’s most being consumed. Everyone learns in different ways. Nearly 4 in 10 workers prefer user-generated content to share knowledge and learn from their peers, for example.

Understanding your workforce’s preferences will increase engagement and stop resources from being wasted (69% of UK employees find training content to be boring and disengaging). Another bonus is that a lot of learning content is now offered for free or low cost. Offering workers access to a TED Talk, article series or book might be more tailored to their needs and a bottom-line saving for your business. 

Making learning actionable
The next step in improving your cost-efficiency is ensuring that the skills learned are actually used and retained. Most of what’s learned is forgotten if it isn’t put into practice. The forgetting curve shows that within an hour, people will have forgotten around half of the information they just learned. This rises to 70% within 24 hours and 90% within a week.

Reinforcement, application, and practice are key. Workers must have opportunities to put their skills into practice – if not through daily work, then through stretch assignments, volunteering and mentoring, redeployment, or teaching others. Again, skill data has a use here, by helping project (and volunteering) managers find people in the organisation with the right skills for a task.

Delivering the best results
Effective upskilling has always been a tall order for HR and learning leaders, but it’s needed now more than ever. Using skill data, leaders can become laser-focused on the upskilling that will deliver the most value to individuals and the organisation. Helping your business and people meet the opportunities and challenges ahead in 2021.

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