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Reskilling employees in the post-COVID-19 world

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a marked shift in how businesses operate in India and abroad. Organizations are grappling with the significant changes in their work environment as most employees now work from home and remote operations are becoming a necessity. The massive disruption brought on by COVID-19 has also led to some companies having been shut down temporarily, while others are laying off or furloughing employees to keep themselves afloat. It suffices to say that this disruption has impacted employers and employees alike. Reskilling has been identified as one of the major ways in which organizations can respond to the present challenges posed by the coronavirus onslaught.

The relevance of reskilling the workforce in present times

In view of the present uncertainty, companies have to make sure that they are prepared to adapt and learn new competencies and practices along the way. For instance, with remote working being adapted as a long-term strategy by many companies, employees need to learn new skills to work in a digital environment. For example, they will need enhanced digital skills to handle the tools used for remote project management, collaboration, internal communication, file sharing, etc.

Similarly, with restricted travel and disruption in supply chains, many organizations will move their production units closer to home. This will bring about a need for reskilling of their local workforce with manufacturing-related skills. Already companies like Telstra, Optus and Virgin Media, who have offshore units in India and the Philippines, have mentioned their plans to recruit locally in their home countries. Similarly, countries like France are preparing to relocate their strategic industries back to France.

For employees, it is a matter of survival. According to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index survey in April 2020, nearly 64% corporate respondents are planning to focus on learning new skills. Hard-hit Industries like travel and hospitality have witnessed a slowdown. Its employees will have to reskill themselves to adapt and stay relevant in the post COVID-19 world. Institutes like the Indian School of Hospitality has launched courses for hospitality professionals on topics such as sustainability, coding for hospitality etc in order to reskill them with emerging skills. Thus, with new challenges on the job front, it has become inevitable to reskill oneself. Consequently, reskilling or upskilling have become buzzwords in the virtual hallways of modern corporations.

For organizations, reskilling employees will lead to developing a workforce that is prepared to tackle multiple cross-functional challenges and work according to the blueprint for the new normal. It also provides structure and purpose to their home-bound workforce. It will help their employees tide this crisis better and give them the confidence to work according to the fresh set of rules in the post-COVID-19 era. It is also a way to perpetuate the sustainability of the organization and ensure it thrives amidst competition. That explains why it makes sense now to spend more than ever on the learning programmes.

Let us look at some of the ways in which reskilling can help organizations to counter the COVID-19-induced crisis –

Helping employees be more productive

With the COVID-19 pandemic adjusting the business model of many companies, upskilling or reskilling is the way forward to drive more value into their business. By building new skill sets in the existing workforce, organizations can enable employees to evolve beyond their current roles. Major organizations are already crafting strategies that aim to hone crucial skills in employees such as their digital skills, cognitive capabilities, social skills, and emotional skills.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked the adoption of a fully digital environment to compensate for the lack of face-to-face workplace interaction. Therefore, organizations will now expand the capabilities of their existing resources to perform in this digital environment. Furthermore, remote working provides more autonomy to employees as they are free to manage their own time and are more independent in general. This puts stress on their time management skills. They also have to rely a lot more on their ability to work without any face-to-face interactions or a quick help from the person sitting next to them. Therefore, time management, problem-solving, decision-making, and innovation become critical skill sets required to take on the rigour of a newly evolved business model. Similarly, the strengthening of social and emotional skills will also be needed to help build cohesive teams in spite of the physical distance between them.

Many conglomerates have already rolled out well-thought skill development programs for their employees. FMCG player ITC has enrolled more than 4000 employees as part of their web-based learning programmes that the employees can apply for. After a thorough process of testing and discussion, these employees can take up the desired course where their performance is regularly monitored.

Similarly, Hindustan Unilever has launched #HULLearnsTogether, an initiative that caters to the unique learning and well-being needs of its employees. The programmes offered under this initiative are based on the interests and upskilling priorities of the employees and include courses led by the internal leaders at HUL combined with different external resources and partnerships with experts. For example, the company is providing courses for its team leaders enabling them to handle remote teams.

Build a business for the future

In order to gain mileage in the post-COVID-19 world, organizations need to be early adopters of futuristic skills and technologies. Adopting the work-from-home phenomenon, and the technology that comes with it, is one such step. Already companies are looking at work-from-home as a long-term strategy. According to Gartner survey, 3 out of 4 CFOs plan to turn at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce into a permanently remote working workforce. This scenario poses a challenge to team managers who will need to learn how to lead their teams virtually. Similarly, sales and customer service representatives will also need to get used to handling customer queries and sales meetings through virtual tools. All of this requires training on digital adaptability, social and emotional skills, and resilience.

For businesses to move forward into the future, their workforce would need major upskilling in areas beyond their work domain. As employees stay socially distant with their teams and colleagues, the development of interpersonal skills is essential to maintain the organizational culture and employee engagement. For example, FMCG major Marico is upskilling its employees under four parameters namely individual needs, learning needs, preferences, and aspirations. The unique factor is that in addition to the above parameters it is also integrating learning tracks on decision-making in crisis, leading with resilience, leading with empathy etc. The company understands the value of interpersonal skills in the present crisis.

These skills will facilitate a healthy work environment in spite of the uncertain scenario. It will infuse positivity, lead to good team collaboration, and facilitate greater job satisfaction in employees. Hence, reskilling the workforce in parameters such as empathy, emotional well-being, and crisis management is critical in the present times. This can be done through different learning methods such as training, mentor-mentee programs, team projects and even blended learning activities that will combine online learning resources coupled with group discussions between colleagues using virtual classrooms.

Reduce hiring costs with the creation of cross-functional teams

Employees who continuously learn and upgrade their skills are in a better position to grow with needs of the dynamic environment of their organization. Indian banking giant State Bank of India has announced its plan of cost reduction post the COVID-19 pandemic. While continuing the work-from-home regime, the organization aims to reskill its workforce and improve staff productivity by taking measures such as redeploying its admin roles to sales roles within the company. The organization would save around Rs.1000 crore from this exercise. Organizations across the world are of the view that upskilling can create agile and cross-functional teams which will cut down the cost of hiring more employees. Cross-functional expertise will also lead to a highly collaborative and communicative work culture.

With reskilling being one of the key areas of focus for the companies in post COVID-19 world, we are already witnessing several organizations launching reskilling programmes for their employees. It is worthwhile to note that these organizations are investing large sums of money and more time on these reskilling initiatives. This showcases the importance that reskilling has in the strategic plans for these organizations.


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