How to do more on the frontline with less
Retailers, grocers, telecommunications companies, restaurants and more businesses are struggling to attract and retain the frontline workers who keep their doors open, both virtually and in-person. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were over 11 million vacant roles in January 2022 yet even with so many job openings, employers are still facing challenges when it comes to finding and retaining qualified workers to fill the spaces across their frontline.
And with 82% of employers reporting a large skills gap, it’s become harder for the workers that are on staff to meet customer expectations and demands as they continue to change thanks to the lingering effects of the pandemic and the rapid pace of digital transformation.
During AxoniCom LIVE 2021, David Boyes, President of Today’s Class, joined Axonify’s Chief Learning Architect, JD Dillon, for a session all about how making continuous learning a seamless part of the workday can improve your operational agility game. Through cross-training, reskilling and upskilling your frontline workforce, you can set them up for long-term success and do more with less—especially necessary when faced with a talent shortage.
It’s never too early to start closing the skills gap
According to RedThread Research, half of the global workforce will require reskilling in the next 3 years, meaning it’s time for organizations to build out, or refine, their long-term skills strategies or risk falling behind as the gap widens.
Organizations in a variety of industries have already started:
- Retail giants like Amazon and Target are investing in their employees’ professional development by funding college and university tuitions
- Banks are creating hybrid roles which sees employees splitting their time between supporting customers in the branch, from home or at contact centers
- Grocers are shifting front-end cashiers into fulfillment roles due to more demand for self-service checkouts
“I believe everybody recognizes that development is necessary, but they haven’t had a good way to make that connection all the way through the process and see it come out the other side in terms of financial and customer benefits,” says Boyes.
“Traditional learning models have challenges in terms of how that’s done. But in our experience, people have devalued skill development because they don’t know if it works. And then the downstream impacts of not making that investment of training can hit you in a number of ways, whether it’s poor employee retention, performance or overall impact to your customers.”
These workplace changes aren’t just top-of-mind for managers. It’s a workers’ market and prospective hires are no longer going to settle for jobs that don’t meet their safety, flexibility and opportunity needs. The proof is in the numbers: employees who see good opportunities to learn and grow with your company are 2.9x more likely to be engaged and ready to maximize business results than those that don’t.
Keep up with the pace of change
Traditionally, organizations have had to pick one or the other when it comes to completing tasks or training for new skills. Should you get your people to check the boxes on their daily duties? Or take them away from those duties, and the customers that need them, for intensive training and development as part of an upskilling strategy? But Boyes says the future isn’t that binary.
“The advancement of technology is opening the door for us to look at things in a different way. It’s not that people leaders don’t care about skill development, but it’s not an easy decision for them to make,” he offers.
Given the pace of change and labor force disruption we’ve all faced over the past 19 months, there have been more opportunities to explore a variety of training solutions and leader perceptions are changing.
“The idea of what training is varies,” Boyes adds. “I think for a lot of folks it’s ‘I went to this training, I completed it, I checked the box, it’s done’. Or they fill out a great survey about the course, but it’s been difficult to pin down if they actually learned something and if they can apply what they’ve learned. I don’t believe it’s because people didn’t want that, but that they didn’t know it was possible. A lot of the discussions that we have with customers or prospects is really changing their perceptions about what’s possible when it comes to training.”
Build the skills that matter today—and tomorrow
How to maximize time spent training—without disrupting operations
If you’re in charge of designing, or investing in, a quality frontline training program that enables employees to stay informed with minimal disruption, Boyes suggests starting by focusing on training relevancy.
“In the transportation space, that might look like building programs that are aligned to the type of vehicle they’re working on. From there, we try to focus on experience levels, get a feel for where people are to make sure their 3-5 minutes of daily training time impacts the business. We don’t want to be training somebody on advanced electrical systems if what they do is change tires. A lot of it, for us, comes back to the appropriate content based on audience.”
The same is true when training for transferrable skills across multiple roles.
“If you build an entire program explicitly for every role, it can get hard to manage. There’s a lot of stuff to get people through. But when we break it down to more granular pieces, you’ll find there are common skills like customer service and safety practices that you can build that are consistent across the organization.”
“This approach is better aligned with how people actually learn, because no one can consume large volumes of information and retain it all long-term. And the natural by-product of that is it also fits better into the day-to-day work experience. So instead of saying, ‘Let’s pull you out of the operation for four hours of training’, we can say, ‘Let’s align development with how you actually learn, focus on the skills you actually need do it, in five minutes a day.’”
Building teams with maximum agility while offering meaningful opportunities for your employees doesn’t have to be a trade-off. Rapidly reskilling, upskilling and cross-skilling your frontline is possible with a solid strategy and training support. That way, you’re taking steps to future-proof your business so your employees are better equipped to handle whatever comes next.