Why reskilling and upskilling will be critical to organisational success

Cornerstone OnDemand’s new research highlights the importance of organisations improving the skills of their people in order to face future challenges.
By: | December 4, 2020

As 2020 continues to bring a raft of disruptions to the workplace, leaders need to embrace changes by making skills of the future a reality for all.

When change arises, leaders who can let go of yesterday’s constraints and instead embrace change will see it as an opportunity for innovation, creativity and growth, said Cornerstone OnDemand.

As part of the 2020 Cornerstone Global Research Report titled, A license to skill: Embracing the reskilling revolution, the company conducted two surveys for organisational leaders and employees respectively, where three key insights emerged.

Organisational leaders and employees have rallied around the importance of skills, and leaders feel confident they are on the right path, but there is a catch.

As a new world of work is being shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of upskilling becomes more apparent for organisations as they ponder: Do our employees have the skills needed for the future?

In many Asian countries, including Malaysia, an increasingly aging population also means that the working lifespan will continue to increase. Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad, Minister’s in Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Department (Economic Affairs), recently called for policies that will foster productive employment in Malaysia, including creating more opportunities for training and lifelong learning.

Are workers however, equipped with the requisite skills to reinvent themselves, their roles within their companies, and their careers?

Recognising that skills of the future are critical for success, organisational leaders have increasingly prioritised employee skills development, with Cornerstone’s survey indicating a 20% increase in prioritisation over the last five years.

Skill development means investing in learning technologies such as learning management system (62%) and workshops and instructor-led training (60%). Organisations have also invested in external consultants, expanded L&D staff and implemented initiatives like mentorship programmes and capability academies to advance their skills development focus.

90% of leaders feel confident about their ability to develop the skills of their employees, and 87% believe they are adequately equipped with resources to develop skills. This confidence, however, is not shared by employees.

Only 60% of employees are confident about their organisation’s ability to develop their skills for the future, and only 62% feel well enabled with the resources their organisation provides. Organisations thus, need to bridge the 25%-30% point gap between how employers feel they are equipping their people to develop their skills, and how their employees feel about the same question.

Time is the most significant barrier, with only two out of five employees indicating they have enough time to consume development opportunities and investments in upskilling initiatives.

Leading organisational cultures are always learning, and leaders must build a culture of development, where skills development is not only a core value but is fostered in strong change management practices. It must also be built into how leaders lead, receiving dedicated time and effort, because learning is seen as “part of” the work, not “apart from” the work, said Cornerstone.

Employees are losing hope and they are falling behind

For many workers, 2020 has been a year filled with turbulence and uncertainty. Some have lost their jobs, while others have been compelled to except substantial pay cuts as the pandemic created a crippling financial burden on businesses.

Or, as Jason Averbook, Global Keynote Speaker, and CEO & Co-Founder, Leapgen, described, “people today, are fragile and are living in agile times.” Speaking recently at HRM Asia’s CHRO Malaysia virtual event, Averbook called on leaders to focus on how to make employees feel that they are being valued.

Essentially, while leaders need to develop strategies, deploy and measure them, they also need to ensure they have the right mindset and vision for success, and have employees onboard so that resources can be redeployed in an agile way.

Echoing these observations, the Cornerstone report noted that the acceleration of workplace change has left employees feeling insecure about the future of their skills and roles. 47% of employees feel concerned that their role will change significantly in the next few years, and 30% are concerned that their jobs will not be needed in the next few years. This unease is creating uncertainty and disengagement within organisations, leading to lost productivity, higher absenteeism and greater turnover.

Technology investments also have workers concerned that they will not be able to keep up with the digital and technical requirements of their job, or that they will be replaced by candidates who are more qualified for the new world of work.

Talent leaders need to help employees adjust to digital skills in the short term and then provide more stable career prospects in the long term, advised Cornerstone. 66% of respondents said meaningful work was “extremely” or “very” important when choosing an employer to work for, and 65% said the same for competitive pay.

Leading organisations help their people be fully understood and the best employee experience adapts to people’s needs, listen to their voices, understand their aspirations and values their uniqueness. In this type of workplace, employees are empowered to challenge norms and proactively contribute solutions using fresh, innovative approaches and thinking.

Organisations have a unique opportunity to provide a clear, practical path forward for skills development

Even in the face of radical change in the nature of work and the workplace, organisations can embrace a positive outlook by taking advantage of the opportunities presented by these changes. They can look toward this uncertain future and choose to improve their people development efforts, and thus elevate their people, helping them thrive in their daily work experiences.

In Singapore, a recent survey highlighted that 9 out of 10 employees see an “urgent need to reskill” in order to remain competitive in the job market post-pandemic. Clearly, employees are coming to the realisation that they will need to build on their existing skill sets in order to thrive in a new world of work. How then, can employers help their workforce gain the critical skills that are required?

Casting a vision, developing a plan and implementing technology remain the greatest challenges to developing employees’ skills, Cornerstone identified. Employers wants to develop technology to enable and scale skills development and technical training, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas.

Employees, on the other hand, want to develop a mix of soft and hard skills, including technology skills, leadership, communication and data analysis skills, as well as skills for improving mental and emotional health.

Companies also indicated that soft skills have been most critical to past successes. Employers thus, may look for soft skills when making hiring decisions but look to hard skills when making development decisions. Leaders sense that real innovation stems from soft skills like creativity and curiosity in addition to STEM skills; technical skills can be more easily learned on the job, while interpersonal skills and agility are more difficult to teach.

Leading organsiations are always exploring. An unbound business encourages everyone to imagine and experiment with new ways of working and to encourage growth, build a culture that embraces creativity, curiosity and a beginner’s mindset, Cornerstone concluded.

Click here to read the full report from Cornerstone OnDemand.