What it means to train employees in times of a pandemic.
At the start of 2020, news portals were oversaturated with information surrounding the support for a remote working society. Later in the year, as the Covid-19 pandemic remained burdensome across the globe, many employers and organisations were left to announce remote first policies. A year on, countries navigate the pandemic and create regulations in light of current research. One result of this is an evolving working society rapidly adapting from its comfortable practices.
A Short History of Remote Work and Upskilling
Remote work, previously known as teleworking, was a career perk rather than the working norm prior to the pandemic. Indeed, working remotely was a common option for employees working in flexible organisations, typically spending at least one day a week working from home. However, the sudden influx of video conferencing software and other remote supportive tools led remote jobs in Malta and abroad as the currency of work, and it is likely to remain so even when the pandemic remits.
Upskilling compliments remote work due to its adaptability toward technological influences. This is because nowadays, skills training is largely devoted to digital and analytic skills. As technology advances, so too becomes the need for employers and employees to familiarise with novel tools. Those organisations that choose not to fall behind an ever-growing digital gap, and further lose a competitive edge against companies willing to adapt.
The pandemic left employers the responsibility to consider skills training to adapt with increasingly changing times. For example, one survey found that 42% of employers invested in upskilling efforts after the Covid-19 outbreak. The same survey found that 91% of companies and 81% of employees reported upskilling training improved their levels of productivity. Covid-19 undoubtedly accelerated the adaptability of organisations, leaving upskilling an important workplace priority.
Closing the Digital Skills Gap
During the pandemic, there seems to have been a want for employees to upskill. In a research report conducted by PwC (2021), 77% of employees are ready to train new skills including reskilling. 74% of participants believed training to be a personal achievement, as a means to grow within the company. Similar to the previous survey, the pandemic displayed the adaptability of workers to work from home whilst maintaining high levels of productivity.
Nevertheless, PwC also found that accessibility to upskilling is not available to all employees. In their study including 32,500 participants, revealed that positive perspectives regarding skills training were present according to workers with access to training opportunities. Their study revealed a further disparity between workers of different educational qualifications. 46% of postgraduate degree holders reported available training opportunities, compared with 28% of employees who only possessed school-leaver qualifications.
The above presents a need to upskill employees and attend to the digital divide between organisations. Employers and leaders alike must provide further opportunities for employees to reskill and employ inclusive strategies to do so. In summary, it is important to upskill employees for the following reasons:
• Increase in productivity and engagement,
• Increase in communication and improved employee morale,
• Increase employee retention as employees want to grow within organisations, and
• Reduce hiring costs as a result.
The Leader’s Position
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to address the skills gap between organisations, especially skills related to digital and technological training. Although efforts now revolve around remote work, leaders and organisations should actively prepare for long-term training developments that will sustain their workforce well beyond the pandemic. Bick et al. (2020) identify three core issues relevant to upskilling and remote work: strategy, skills, and social responsibility. The below adapts their recommendations alongside current research.
The first core issue, strategy, addresses the holistic perspective leaders must apply in order to think long-term about upskilling. The main premise is to follow market trends and understand what novel tools can be applied to an organisation and drive business value. Aligning strategic vision with current trends allows leaders to also review present disparities that exists between organisations and adjust their current practices in response.
Upskilling and reskilling are certainly ways to address the skills gap, however companies need to keep in mind what skills training is appropriate for their workforce. Organisations can assess their current working skills, understand future requirements, and work to align these as training develops.
Primarily, leaders should prioritise their current talent and apply skills training where needed. For a remote workforce, e-learning platforms can provide a working tool to support employees to skills train as they work from home. A dedicated team made up of coaches and support members can assist this training and communicate the needs of employees throughout the learning process. Different organisations will have certain resources available, and it is up to the company to determine how they use them.
It is however possible that at times, talent is scarce, and leaders begin to consider hiring external support. With remote work being generally positively accepted in the working society, employers are more open to outsourcing talent, a journey that Castille Labs offers across an array of IT jobs. In line with rapidly adapting to the pandemic, organisations are more forthcoming to novel available options that align with business values.
3. Social responsibility
As briefly mentioned above, organisations have grown more aware of their communal footprint and are holding themselves accountable to learning how their actions may affect other communities. This is referred to as the social responsibility organisations maintain in their decision-making. Leaders are often responsible for altering the course of their company culture and values and are able to relay priorities that represent external considerations.
Being mindful of the Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations are contributing to efforts beyond their traditional occupational means. This includes charitable donations to frontline workers, the forerunners in keeping the pandemic at bay however possible. Internally, organisations are supporting employees with flexible arrangements and providing resources that support a home environment. Generally, leaders should consider their own organisational needs, and communicate these to employees in order to foster a beneficial working culture.
Summarising the Way Forward
Upskilling and reskilling offer opportunities that benefit employees and employers in numerous respects. In light of Covid-19, there seems to be further need, and want, to train new skills and retrain older ones to upkeep morale. Surprisingly, the pandemic has not seemed to hinder productivity in relation to upskilling. The onus is on leaders to support their employees and external communities to facilitate a positive working environment for the years to come, including for when the pandemic finally subsides.
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