Reskilling is now a frontline reality

Reskilling has been a popular conversation topic in human resources and business operations for the past two years. But it’s never really been … real.

Analysts like to make predictions about the future of work and how it will impact people’s jobs. Last year, many focused on the importance of employee development as a driver of business innovation and differentiation. With automation and artificial intelligence becoming more commonplace, the workplace would quickly evolve. Employees had to start getting ready … 

  • 50% of the tasks people do today can be automated (McKinsey 2019)
  • Demand for human skills will grow across all industries by 26% in the US and 22% in Europe by 2030 (ManpowerGroup 2019)
  • 90% of organizations are in the process of redesigning jobs (Deloitte 2019)
  • 54% of employees will require significant reskilling in just three years (World Economic Forum 2019)

Then, the pandemic hit. And all bets about the future of work were off. Instead of the predicted 54% over three years, every employee had to reskill immediately to keep up with their organizations’ operational changes as they worked to keep people safe and productive. The global health crisis has accelerated the pace of change in ways that no one could have foreseen. According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

But this skill transformation isn’t just about corporate employees shifting to remote work. Reskilling has become essential on the frontline. As businesses continue to adapt how they operate, they’re moving people into the positions they need most to support customers. This means L&D teams in retail, grocery, sales, contact center operations and other frontline-focused industries are reimagining their practices so they can quickly cross-train employees to handle new tasks—or jump into entirely new roles. 

Here are three real-world frontline reskilling examples.

Cross-training into contact centers

Financial services are essential. While many bank branches reduced their hours early in the pandemic, most did not close. Location visits declined, and contact center calls spiked. Banks continued to hire, but they couldn’t get new people in place fast enough to meet the unprecedented demand. In response, financial services training teams have instituted cross-training programs to shift idle bank employees into work-from-home contact center roles. They’re taking advantage of existing employee knowledge but applying it in new ways. This approach is helping them accelerate contact center onboarding so people are ready to go in a matter of days (not weeks). This process is also setting the stage for a new normal—financial services employees with diverse skills and multifaceted roles—as customers adopt more virtual services in the future.

From stocker to shopper

According to Bain & Company, 4% of grocery spending took place online in the weeks leading up to the pandemic. Now, it’s close to 15%. Lockdowns and health concerns pushed consumers to explore technology-enabled options for feeding their families, and grocers responded by accelerating their click-and-collect operations. Before March, these services were viewed as important steps in competing against the likes of Amazon and Blue Apron. Now, they’re critical for business survival. Some grocers have partnered with companies like Instacart to implement pick-up and delivery services. But many have done it themselves, rapidly upskilling store associates to fulfill and deliver online orders.

The hybrid retail associate

Retail has been hammered by the pandemic with spending down 16.4% and 2.1 million jobs lost in April. Businesses that have pushed through have quickly expanded their omnichannel capabilities. Buy online, pick up in store purchases across all segments surged 248% at the end of May compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Even as stores reopen, retailers are working to expand digital buying options and future-proof their businesses against disruption. Retail associates are now returning to work in hybrid roles. They’re upskilling to support both in-store and online sales. In some cases, associates are splitting their shifts between the sales floor and a makeshift, back-of-house contact center.

 

Every company is working to find their next normal. While innovation is likely to emerge from this disruption, uncertainty can also lead to cost reductions. Managers will have to keep pace with ongoing business change while also doing more with less. If they want to put the right people in the right places and build resilience, organizations will need to install the right mechanisms to continuously reskill their frontline teams. 

Reskilling is now very real on the frontline. Are you building a frontline reskilling program for your business? Check out our proven practices for reskilling and cross-training as well as other critical frontline topics, such as compliance, communication, and onboarding, as part of Your Action Plan: Building a Resilient Frontline Workforce

Be safe. Be well. Be kind to the frontline.

JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

Looking for more information? We’d love to talk.