How to prioritise employee upskilling during COVID-19 and beyond

Upskilling is not a new concept. Before COVID-19, employers were investing in upskilling to boost employee attraction, retention and engagement and to gain a competitive advantage when faced with constant technological change.
Today, as some organisations return to growth and others chart their way back to recovery, upskilling is gaining focus once more to ensure teams are prepared for what is likely to be a very different tomorrow. 
As we have previously noted, the half-life of learned skills is now around five years, making upskilling essential for organisations that want to retain valued employees and overcome skills gaps, particularly those surrounding emerging technologies.

Investing in upskilling, then, not only enables organisations to position themselves strongly as we work our way back to economic growth – it also helps them prepare for, and thrive in, the future world of work.

Three key reasons why upskilling now will benefit your organisation

  1. Preparing for the new era of work. The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it significant change to the world of work, and is likely to continue doing so. From hybrid working to evolving customer attitudes, priorities and expectations – we won’t all do business or shop in the same way again.
    While it’s difficult to predict future change, by developing an upskilling focus now, you’ll be able to constantly evolve your workforce’s skills to meet your team’s future skills requirements, regardless of what they may be. 
  2. Employee motivation. Prioritising upskilling can help to instil motivation and morale in your employees as we emerge from the pandemic. Doing so will highlight to your team that you value their development and are committed to helping them achieve their career goals.  
  3. Safeguarding retention. Since early 2021, vacancy activity has increased across New Zealand. At the same time, employees are prioritising development after a year in which many felt their career stagnated. Providing upskilling allows you to show you care about your employees’ development and are prepared to invest in them long-term. This helps to increase employee loyalty and engagement, giving you a solid retention advantage. 

Conduct a personalised skills analysis for each team member

So, we’ve touched on why prioritising the upskilling of your people is important, but how do you go about it when so many other urgent priorities demand your attention?

The first step is to conduct a skills analysis for each team member. This will enable you to identify any skills gaps and consider what skills – such as agile working, resilience or adaptability – will be important going forward.

Follow these three steps to carry out an effective skills analysis:
  1. List the skills that are necessary for success for each role in your team, then rate each person against them. When writing each list, think about how each role might change in the future and what skills will become more important as a result.
  2. Then, ask each team member to rate themselves too, and discuss your conclusions together.
  3. This will bring any skills gaps to the fore, which will allow you to begin focusing your upskilling plan for each team member.

Six ways to help your team build their skills for a post-COVID-19 world

Once you have a clear sense of the current and future development areas for your team, the below six steps will help you to encourage and support your employees through their upskilling:
  1. Research training platforms that you could roll out across your team. Online training is convenient, flexible and often more cost effective than other forms of training. Its relevance, however, has been elevated during this time when many people are working remotely or in a new hybrid working model.

    Although budgets are tight, there is a wealth of free or cost-effective online training resources available, such as Hays Thrive, so research which will be most beneficial to your team. You should also consider webinars and virtual conferences and events.
  2. Give your team time to upskill. While it’s easy to encourage your employees to upgrade their skills, actually carving out the crucial time to do this, when they are already very busy, is imperative. At a time when your business might be having to revise its objectives and your people may have been forced to take on extra responsibilities, they may have more on their plate than usual.

    In addition, your team may be a hybrid one. It’s therefore crucial to support and provide all staff – both onsite and remote – with the tools and time they require to upskill. 

    You might encourage them to prioritise their development, for example, by putting a one-hour block in their diaries every few days to join a webinar or research a particular topic. Or you could assign team members time to work on a stretch project.
  3. Arrange a weekly team call that is solely dedicated to learning and development. It’s crucial to make learning and development central to your team culture and part of your weekly routine, rather than just a one-off webinar here or there.

    One way to achieve this is to hold regular team meetings to talk about what everyone has learnt that week, or maybe what skills they are currently working on developing in their upskilling projects. Perhaps you could ask a different team member to host the call each week, tasking them with giving a quick 10-minute seminar on something interesting they’ve learnt recently?

    Building a team culture of continuous lifelong learning will only help your people to adapt to the changes afoot, and ultimately help to future-proof your business.
  4. Assign each team member an internal mentor. Make the most of the knowhow of your senior colleagues to help your team members upskill. Providing each of your employees with a mentor from inside the organisation can be a great way of giving them the objective advice and support they need to adapt to fast-moving changes and move forward in their careers. The mentor may even, for example, be someone who was once in a similar role, which will allow them to help the mentee identify skills gaps and support their immediate and longer-term career goals.

    In addition, mentor-mentee arrangements could raise internal awareness of your team and the work that your employees do, and help you connect different parts of the business that may not usually cross paths. This, in turn, will give your team members new insights into your business as a whole – thereby helping them to better understand the organisation’s evolving objectives and their part in meeting them.
  5. Set up a group chat dedicated to upskilling. This could be a great place for employees to share links to items and resources that have inspired them lately. Perhaps a team member has recently listened to a podcast, downloaded an app or read a book that they found really interesting and useful? Your employees can also share details of upcoming webinars, TED Talks or virtual ‘lunch and learns’ they are going to attend. This helps to further encourage an environment and culture of learning, in which your team knows that you value their development, and you’re committed to allowing them access to all helpful materials.
  6. Ensure you’re continuing to upskill yourself, too. You mustn’t abandon your own development at this time. After all, learning new things will also help to develop and improve your team as a whole. You might use this opportunity to build some of your softer skills, for instance, such as communication, emotional intelligence or leadership.

Upskilling is a worthwhile investment – for you and your team

As a leader or manager helping to pivot your organisation in today’s environment, you’re probably extremely busy right now. Understandably, then, taking the time to assess your team’s current and future skill needs might not feel like a priority.

However, if you do make upskilling a priority right now, it will pay off – not just for your business, but also by reminding your team that even in these unprecedented times, their development and progression is still of utmost importance to you. Investing in your people during this time will also help you future-proof your business well beyond the short-term considerations of returning to growth. 

In short, investing in the skills of your staff can help your organisation cope with today’s fast-changing and uncertain corporate landscape. 

In the words of our CEO, Alistair Cox: “See this period of adversity and struggle as an opportunity to proactively strengthen the skills within your teams... your employees will thank you for it, because engaging in something purposeful and positive can help them deal with their own anxieties right now….Furthermore, by investing in them now, you are proactively showing them that you are investing in their future.”

About this author

Adam Shapley, Managing Director, Hays New Zealand and Hays IT Australia & New Zealand, began working at Hays in 2001 and during this time has held significant leadership roles across the business including responsibility for multiple specialisms in various locations across Australia & New Zealand.

In 2018, he was appointed to Hays ANZ Management Board and made Managing Director for Hays New Zealand.

Adam is also responsible for the strategic direction of the Hays Information Technology business across Australia & New Zealand including driving growth across Digital Technology, Projects & Business Change and IT Operations & Support.

Follow Adam on LinkedIn

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