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How to prioritise employee upskilling during COVID-19 and beyond

We are in highly uncertain and challenging times – times that none of us could have predicted. It is precisely because of this unpredictability that leaders and managers must start preparing now for what is likely to be a very different tomorrow.

As our CEO, Alistair Cox has discussed, part of this preparation involves investing in the development of your most important asset – your people. “This crisis is temporary, we will get through to the other side and the world could look quite different when we do. It might not feel like a priority right now, but it’s those companies that spend time and resource in investing in the training and development of their people now, that will likely emerge at the other end in the best possible situation.”

Investing in upskilling, then, not only enables organisations to position themselves strongly as we work our way through this crisis – 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 has already brought significant change to the world of work, and is likely to continue doing so. New business models are likely to emerge in response to the prolonged need for social distancing. Meanwhile, customer attitudes, priorities and expectations may also evolve – it’s likely that we won’t all do business or shop in the same way in the long term.

    Your organisation or team, too, is likely to look quite different once this pandemic is over. By thinking now about your team’s future skills requirements, you can plan ahead and be in a better position once the worst of the outbreak has passed.
  2. Employee motivation. Prioritising upskilling can help to instil motivation and morale in your employees during these extremely difficult times. Doing so will highlight to your team that you value their development and are committed to helping them achieve their career goals, despite current challenges.
  3. Adjusting to the ‘here and now’. Many organisations have had to completely pivot in order to adjust to the exceptional circumstances of COVID-19, with some roles changing drastically as a result. For instance, perhaps your team members are currently having to fulfil certain tasks that they’ve never done before. While this may represent a significant challenge, they are gaining new skills to help your organisation cope with current challenges. Upskilling, then, can benefit your firm’s productivity and bottom line right now, rather than just in the future.

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, post-crisis, 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.

    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, with some of your workers beginning to return to the office and others still based at home. 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 or developing particular skills 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 the pandemic.

In short, just because your business is presently dealing with the immediate impact of the coronavirus crisis, you should not overlook investing in the skills of your staff. Doing so can help your organisation cope with today’s fast-changing and uncertain corporate landscape.

To return to 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

Jane McNeill, joined Hays in 1987 as a trainee recruitment consultant in London and is now Managing Director of Hays NSW and WA.

After two years with Hays Jane began managing her own office and quickly took on larger and more diversified teams of people and responsibility for a region in the UK.

In 2001 Jane arrived in Perth , Western Australia and shortly after took over as State Director for WA. After six years of significant business growth she was appointed to the Hays Australia & New Zealand management board in 2007.

In 2012 Jane moved to Sydney and now oversees Hays’ operations in New South Wales with board responsibility for Western Australia.

Jane has an MA in Psychology from Edinburgh University.

Follow Jane on LinkedIn

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