In the face of rapid technological advancements and evolving industry demands, organizations are increasingly recognizing the critical role of “reskilling and up-skilling” their workforce. Reskilling involves training employees to acquire a completely new set of skills, enabling them to transition into different roles within the company. This approach is particularly vital in mitigating the risks of automation and digital transformation, which can render certain job functions obsolete. By investing in reskilling programs, companies not only safeguard their employees’ careers but also retain valuable institutional knowledge and foster a culture of continuous learning.

Up-skilling, on the other hand, focuses on expanding an employee’s existing skill set to enhance their proficiency and adaptability in their current role. It’s about staying abreast of the latest trends, tools, and methodologies that can drive efficiency and innovation. For organizations, up-skilling is a strategic move to build a more competent and agile workforce capable of meeting the challenges of a dynamic business environment. It’s a win-win situation where employees feel valued and motivated, and companies benefit from the increased productivity and competitive edge that a skilled workforce brings to the table. Together, reskilling and up-skilling are essential components of a proactive talent management strategy that prepares organizations for the future of work.

To know the challenges and strategies on Talent reskilling & upskilling in the tech world of work, the People Manager spoke with Ms. Sonica Aron Founder of CEO-Marching Sheep, Board Member-Gender at Work India Trust, TedX Speaker, TV Panelist & Inclusion Champion

Q. What strategies do you believe are most effective for industries to identify the reskilling and upskilling needs of their workforce?

Ans. There are some key considerations to consider when determining the reskilling and upskilling needs of a company’s workforce. These include:

A) industry changes at a macro level. For example, if there is a trend toward eco-friendly products, then is our sales team trained on highlighting the eco-friendly attributes of our offerings?

B) Change in organizational strategy. For example, if a company decides to consolidate its operations and focus on products in one stream, for example, health care, then is the workforce aligned in terms of mindset, skills, and competencies.

C) Change is a process or way of working. For example, extensive adoption of technology and digitization will require technical training. Changes in organizational structure might require nurturing more managers. These help identify the skills and competencies that a company needs to succeed.

Then comes the question of people. The best way to identify skill gaps is to have a constant conversation with your workforce, Have authentic conversations around performance, aspirations, learning styles, and career paths. Regularly talk to employees about their current challenges and what skills they feel would make them more effective.

At the same time, stay updated on industry trends and upcoming technologies. Look for mismatches between the skills your workforce has and the skills your business will need in the future.

By combining internal and external perspectives and business and employee needs, one can arrive at a robust learning framework.

Q. How can organizations create a culture that encourages continuous learning and development among their employees?

Ans. Learning should be seen as a route to growth and fulfilment, not as a chore or a tick mark. A lot depends on how learning is positioned and offered in the organisation. If it is seen as a mandatory number of days to be completed to please the HR or L&D function, then it will serve no purpose. However, if the learning framework enables people to be better at their work each day, and addresses their growth aspirations, then they will be naturally drawn towards it.

Offering a variety of learning options, from online courses to facilitated workshops to mentorships to coaching. Different people learn differently, so cater to these preferences. Second, empower employees to take charge of their own development and hold them accountable. Recognize change in behaviour or applied learning! Publicly acknowledge and reward employees who actively pursue learning opportunities. This creates a positive reinforcement loop, motivating others to follow suit.

Q. In your experience, what are the key components of a successful reskilling/ upskilling program within an industry?

Ans. In my experience, three key components make a reskilling/upskilling program truly successful within an industry:
Customized interventions: The program should be designed with specific industry, company life stage, participant demographic, and learning needs in mind. Off-the-shelf, canned, generic programs might not equip your workforce with the specific knowledge and tools they need to thrive in your industry.
Engaging Delivery: Learning shouldn’t feel like a chore. Make the experience interactive, participative and enjoyable. Keep the audience at the center. Consider incorporating a mix of engagement formats like games, role plays, video debriefs, case studies, etc. This caters to different learning styles and keeps employees engaged throughout the program.
Post session engagement: Learning is an ongoing process that does not end with an intervention or a session. Think of ways and means in which the key learnings can be emphasised and reinforced, such as bite sized microlearning, post-session dilemma coaching, etc.
Application opportunities: Don’t leave employees hanging after the training. Help them see how the newly acquired skills can be applied to their everyday work. Provide opportunities to practice and integrate the learning into their current roles or potential future positions. This reinforces the value of the program and motivates employees to actively use their new skillsets. For this, HR and people managers have to partner and collaborate.

Q. Can you share insights on how technology is shaping the approach to workforce training and development?

Ans. Technology is revolutionizing the way we train and develop our workforce. Here are a few exciting ways in which technology is enhancing the learning experience:
Accessibility and Flexibility: Gone are the days of mandatory, in-person training sessions. Online learning platforms and mobile apps offer employees the flexibility to learn anytime, anywhere, at their own pace. This caters to busy schedules and diverse learning styles. Also, virtual and online programs allow for people to take sessions from anywhere.
Personalized Learning: Technology can personalize the learning experience. Imagine AI-powered platforms that assess individual skill gaps and recommend tailored training modules. This ensures employees focus on areas where they need the most improvement, maximizing the effectiveness of the training.
Immersive Learning: Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are making training more engaging and realistic. Imagine practicing complex procedures in a safe, simulated environment before tackling them in the real world. This immersive approach can accelerate skill development and boost confidence.
Integrating technological elements with human facilitation can amplify the learning experience and outcomes significantly.

Q. What role do you think leadership plays in driving the reskilling and upskilling initiatives in an organization?

Ans. Leaders are role models, and also set the tone of the organisation. If leaders encourage a learning culture, appreciate their team members who invest in upgrading their knowledge, skills, and show a commitment toward their development, then the team will follow suit. Leaders participate in learning initiatives themselves, inspiring others to do the same, giving the message that learning is a continuous process. However, if leaders and people managers do not nominate team members for learning programs, or nominate and tell team members to mark attendance and leave half way, then the message down the line is that learning is merely a tick mark activity of no other significance.

The second area where leaders show their commitment toward learning is providing resources and budgets for training programs. In companies where the first headcount to cut is the L&D function, or the budget to be slashed is the L&D budget, it depicts the short term vision of its leaders. There are other ways of optimizing costs, like cutting down on non-essential travel, mandating everyone to travel economically, irrespective of seniority.

Q. How do you assess the return on investment for reskilling and upskilling programs?

Ans. It’s not always easy to quantify some benefits, but here are some methods to consider. For that, it is essential that the organisation be clear about which metrics it wants to improve, and it should be able to provide a baseline measure of those metrics.
Also, both the organisation and the learning partner should evaluate the other factors that might influence those metrics other than the learning intervention and factor in the impact.
Once both the client organisation and the learning partner arrive at the metrics and factors to be measured and monitored, the frequency and tracking mechanisms should be agreed upon. The numbers by themselves at times might be misleading. It might seem that there is no impact of the learning intervention, but qualitative assessment might show otherwise. This is where monitoring of the other impacting factors is critical. For example, an intervention for developing people managers on psychological safety might be working very well; however, it might not be showing in terms of increase in productivity. This could be due to external market conditions, competition activity, a change in product mix, etc.
Also, look at multiple metrics. So it is possible that in the above example, productivity numbers might not have increased, but attrition might have decreased. By conducting a pulse survey, one could also get a sense of engagement index.

Q. What challenges have you encountered when implementing reskilling and upskilling programs, and how have you overcome them?

Ans. A lot depends on the appetite of the leadership team. Typically, the constraints that are presented include: not the right time (we are in the middle of a lot of change, or it is appraisal time), lack of time (we cannot spare our team members for a learning program for more than 2 hours or our team members will not sit for more than 2 hours, they have too much to do), Or we have very tight budgets this year, or we have internal teams to take care of learning.

Many times, these are gatekeeper responses for organisations where there is an unwillingness to change, or to open themselves to something new or different.

The solution is to not push anything to anyone. But to engage in authentic conversations. And if you do find an area where you can be of assistance, offer a solution. Many times, the allure of the benefit of the solution is strong enough to get the conversation going.

The second level of challenge is put forward by the audience or the participants themselves. Not showing up, showing up late, showing up without having done pre-work, showing up but leaving mid-way, or not participating. Here, the facilitator’s methods of engagement are key to overcoming the situation.

Q. How do you tailor training programs to cater to a diverse range of skills and learning styles within the workforce?

Ans. Today’s workforce mimics a diverse society: multigenerational, multiple ethnicities, different backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, learning styles, and growth aspirations. Hence, one size does not fit all.
The key to designing a versatile intervention is to conduct a thorough diagnostic and to partner with the client in the co-creation.
The second is to not be wedded to what you create. Be nimble about having to think on your feet and modify while facilitating to meet the learning needs of your audience.

Q. Looking forward, how do you anticipate the needs for reskilling and upskilling will evolve, and how should industries prepare for this?

Ans. The future of work is a whirlwind of change, and the need for reskilling and upskilling will only intensify. Here’s why:Advancements in automation, AI, and robotics will reshape industries at an ever-increasing pace. The skills needed to stay relevant will be constantly evolving. Jobs themselves are becoming more complex. While some repetitive tasks might be automated, future jobs will demand a unique blend of technical skills and soft skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration. The traditional one-career-for-life path is fading away. Employees will need to continuously learn and adapt throughout their careers to stay competitive.
So, how can industries prepare for this dynamic future? Here are some key strategies:

Foster a culture of continuous learning. Encourage a growth mindset within your organization, where employees are empowered and celebrated for their ongoing learning and development.
Invest in robust learning frameworks that enable people to learn and grow.
Collaborate with educational institutions. Partner with universities and colleges to develop customized training programs that address the specific skill gaps within your industry.
Empower your workforce. Provide employees with the resources and support they need to take ownership of their learning journeys. This includes helping them identify their skill gaps and pursue relevant training opportunities.
By proactively preparing for the evolving skill needs of the future, industries can ensure they have a highly skilled and adaptable workforce, ready to thrive in the face of continuous change.

Q. Your concluding words on how industries can ensure reskilling and up-skilling to meet the challenges of a changing workforce

Ans. In conclusion, the future of work demands a workforce that is agile and continuously learning. By prioritizing reskilling and upskilling initiatives, industries can bridge skill gaps, boost innovation, and empower their employees to thrive in a dynamic environment. Remember, investing in your workforce isn’t just an expense, it’s an investment in the long-term success and competitiveness of your organization. Embrace continuous learning, and empower your employees to take charge of their development. By fostering a culture of growth, you’ll equip your workforce with the skills they need to navigate change and lead your organization towards a bright future.

About Marching Sheep:
Marching Sheep, a global HR consulting firm, was founded in 2013 by HR veteran Sonica Aron.
With game-changing innovations and solutions, Marching Sheep, has played a crucial role in transforming the Bespoke Learning Interventions, Diversity and Inclusion, Employee Health and Wellness, & OD Consulting landscapes.

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