Our society’s intellectual capital may well depend on deepening our understanding of how to effectively design and implement upskilling initiatives. Below are six key action steps. They are typically conducted in the following sequence, so that each may build on those that came before.
1. Analyze the situation and define the initiative. Every situation is unique. Some upskilling efforts may begin as regional initiatives, driven by government leaders; others might start within a single enterprise, such as an automaker with assembly-line workers who may be facing layoffs. All will have some elements in common: a commitment to lifelong learning rather than the preservation of specific jobs, support for individuals undergoing change, and a reasonable time horizon, generally nine to 18 months, for the first round of activity.
Begin by convening candid dialogues with key stakeholders such as senior executives and HR leaders of participating companies, employee representatives, government officials as appropriate, and representatives of academic institutions or training resources. How confident are business leaders about their own company prospects and the potential mobility of their staff? Which industries are looking for talent and which have overcapacity? What types of skills are needed — purely technical skills, skills broadly oriented toward digital acumen, or soft skills such as team leadership and effective communication? How supportive of this effort are labor unions and regulators? Where will the financial and educational resources come from to support this initiative?
The initiative must coordinate decisions and actions on several levels at once: the individuals seeking better work, the organizations losing jobs, the businesses in need of skilled workers, the city or regional government, the local colleges or other education groups, and the community as a whole. To keep these activities aligned, a core group of sponsors and a project leadership team must manage the initiative and organize communications. There is also generally a technological component developing innovative, digitally enabled methods for gathering data, assessing skills, and facilitating lifelong learning.
Set quantitative objectives — for example, increasing the retention rate by 70 percent in a single company or involving 15 percent of the companies in a region. Indicate the desired return for the government, the company, and the individual. Also set non-numeric objectives, which articulate the positive future state and motivate people. These could include past or prospective case studies describing how the initiative makes job automation less risky, how it helps fill jobs that have been chronically vacant, and how it increases community spirit.
2. Design a skills plan. Many past reskilling efforts provided inadequate training and aimed it at the wrong population. Take a more focused approach. Base your priorities on the types of jobs that will be affected most by new technologies, the employees who are most at risk, and the businesses that have the most to gain.
Off-the-shelf analytic workforce planning tools can help you estimate the impact of new technologies on particular companies, the savings that automation will generate, the types of new skills that will be needed, and the number of months or years that it will take for these changes to happen. Customize your training accordingly. Depending on your strategy, you might specify technological training in robotics, materials, energy, or another specialization. Design each course within an overall upskilling initiative to focus closely on these strategic goals; you want your internally trained people to become as competent as those you might hire from outside, and to do so as quickly as possible, given the increasingly rapid pace of technological change.
The local companies’ HR functions should lead the way in implementing this step. In addition to managing the training and skill development process, this group can make sure that diversity is honored in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, and mix of professional and working backgrounds. Connect with organizations such as Women in Digital Empowerment, Girls in Tech, and Fit4Coding to find role models in the community who can help encourage workers to accept the challenge of learning unfamiliar skills.
3. Assess and advise individual employees. Some form of individual transformation will take place for participants, sometimes taking them out of their comfort zones. A considered assessment program that includes personal coaching and advice can go a long way toward assuaging employees’ fears and helping them move to a better position in the end. Quantify the skills of prospective employees, measure their career achievement, and ask about their personal and professional aspirations.
For each participant, create an individual skills development plan, defining the steps and training necessary to address the new job requirements or even make broader changes. For example, a bank employee could use this exercise to flag his or her intention to completely switch careers and be employed outside the financial industry.
Ideally, individual workers should feel they are in charge of their own process. In the French upskilling initiative CompteActivité, which was championed by President Emmanuel Macron, individual control is central. A law passed in August 2018 created an individual training account, in which workers can accumulate “training funds.” Employers provide €5,000 or €8,000 ($5,600 or $9,000) for nonqualified and qualified workers, respectively), over a 10-year period. The program also incorporates certification of approved training providers. This collaboration, in which workers manage their own development on their personal time, while employers provide funding and guidance, empowers both sides.
4. Match jobs and engage workers. It’s rare to find the perfect match right away; make use of IT systems that quantify the skills gap between the candidate and job requirements. Consider using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to broaden and deepen the talent pool — for instance, by identifying potential candidates for difficult-to-fill positions who would never otherwise think to join an upskilling initiative.
Employee engagement goes beyond individual coaching. There should be positive communication with supervisors, transparency about the project and its implications for employees, encouragement to ask for help when needed, strong support for the workers’ upskilling decisions, and standardized rules for all personnel advisors. Individual, independent personal career advice helps employees focus on their new direction and reassures them that it will work out. Finally, workers’ data privacy should be protected, and this should be a core element of the software design. This will influence the workers’ willingness at the beginning of the project and their resilience during its execution.
When an employee is matched to an upskilling program, write up a formal sign-off confirming the plan and commitments. A secured transition to the new job — with a contract or letter of agreement between the worker and future employer before the start of training — further builds engagement. It also significantly increases the employee’s commitment to the training process and the organization’s overall return on investment.
A growing number of online job-matching tools exist to help identify the skills that people already have and those they want to build. These apps gather data that can be used to improve the overall program, keep HR executives and job training leaders apprised, and match people to the right opportunities.
You can also use technological resources to broaden the number of individuals involved and help them prepare for upskilling engagement. PwC’s own digital fitness app, for instance, is used within the firm to identify the level of expertise that employees have in artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and other relevant technologies. Individual and group incentives encourage people to not only upgrade their skills, but develop their own software-based tools and contribute them to the enterprise.
5. Select training and providers. The quality, value, and efficiency of the training experience affect every aspect of the upskilling initiative, from its costs (which rise dramatically if employees can’t meet their new job requirements) to employee outlook and motivation. The quality of curricula is particularly important when the training involves advanced technologies such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, smart warehouses, or digital fabrication (see “The new digital curricula” ).
When recruiting training providers, be explicit in communicating the purpose and objectives of the upskilling initiative, including the particular skills that will need to be developed. In selecting professional programs, your key criteria are market recognition, track record, and the trust built in the past through placing graduates in new jobs.
The Sheffield Skills Bank uses an innovative online skills assessment tool and has a roster of training providers that work to very specific skills objectives and guarantee quality and cost value. Since March 2016, more than 2,000 people have joined this program, and another 10,000 are in the pipeline.
The Sheffield training model is fully oriented to local needs. Instead of purchasing courses from a catalog, companies in the Sheffield district can make a precise request to the Skills Bank, which launches calls for tenders, and gets directly involved to ensure that training solutions closely satisfy the local requests. The initiative has supported several hundred businesses with about 100 master classes, each typically requiring a two- to nine-month period of training. Subjects have been tightly focused within the broad areas of marketing and sales, technology, and finance.
6. Administer the project and monitor results. Upskilling is challenging for everyone involved, especially employees. Bring together the HR departments of relevant companies as administrators, and use digital HR tools to keep track of activity and results. Without a comprehensive IT system, it is almost impossible to follow hundreds of workers in a variety of companies and locations. The system must track, for example, who attends which program and what specific training each worker is receiving at any given time.
Set up a communications team, publishing success stories on a multimedia platform, and communicating the benefits to the broader community and to the media. Showcase individual employees as role models. Set up opportunities for workers to communicate with one another via support groups, informal meetings, and online platforms. Workers will want to compare notes, for instance, on how they motivate themselves during the long program, how they catch up with classwork after an absence, and how they can show solidarity for a fellow trainee who has family or health issues.
Be very careful with personal data. Upskilling initiatives collect sensitive information related to people’s capacity for learning, motivation, health and family issues, and willingness to continue to work with the current employer. Explain who has access to what information for what period of time. Every company and government agency must credibly guarantee to workers that their personal data is safe. Use encryption and other privacy-oriented technology to keep this promise.
Upskilling and prosperity
If this approach to upskilling seems exceptionally complex, that’s because it is addressing an exceptionally complex problem. Many people in the current workforce were educated between 1970 and 2000, when technologies that are ubiquitous today did not exist. The Internet was in its infancy. A college degree was enough to put just about anyone on a good career path. It was assumed that people would be able to easily acquire new skills through vocational or on-the-job training in the future. Those assumptions no longer hold true. As the digital transformation of the global economy continues, high-tech skills will become a passport to a secure job.
The scale of the problem, and the consequences for economic prosperity, also add to the urgency of the issue. One group in Europe is calling for a “New Deal for skills,” with a level of investment similar to that of the Marshall Plan. But efforts on an enterprise and local community level should not be ignored. If businesses wait until they feel the pinch — until they can’t find workers who understand the required technology — it will be too late.
All the elements for success already exist. The challenge is putting them together. Researchers such as Carol Dweck (originator of the “growth mind-set” concept) have shown that adults of any age can learn new skills, and that when people are aware of this principle, they become more capable of lifelong learning. There is still a tendency in many circles to underestimate the capacity of human beings to master the digital skills they need; with the right tools and practices, however, it has been shown that people can meet this challenge. When enterprise leaders recognize this, and take advantage of community-based and technological innovations, they can create a model for prosperity that should last the rest of the 21st century.
Communicated by PwC Luxembourg
Publié le 09 septembre 2019