Reskilling/Upskilling
19:32

Episode 8: The Realities of Reskilling

Reskilling. Is it more than just a buzzword? How do organizations have to change so they can reskill their employees faster? And how can a renewed focus on frontline reskilling help companies overcome unprecedented disruption?

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Episode overview:

I sat down with David Perring, Director of Research at Fosway Group, for an informal chat on the realities of reskilling in today’s workplace. David shares his insights about how his team has navigated through the pandemic and how other companies can do the same. 

The 80 Percent is brought to you by Axonify. To learn how you can build training for your frontline workforce that actually works, visit axonify.com. If you have a frontline story you’d like us to explore on a future episode, let us know at podcast@axonify.com.

About the Guest(s)

David Perring

David has been a learning professional for over 30 years. Over that time, he has always been at the fore-front of learning innovation and has retained a strong sense of optimism, energy and passion for transforming organisational learning and performance.

Today, he holds a truly unique and privileged position. As Director of Research for Fosway Group, he independently explores the experiences of practitioners and suppliers to understand the realities of what’s happening in corporate learning, talent development and HR.  Inspiring change by sharing what truly makes a difference.

About the Host(s)

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

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.

Episode Transcript

Introduction:

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Introduction:

Episode 8, The Realities of Reskilling. Recorded on Monday, July 6th, 2020.

JD Dillon:

Reskilling. It’s been an HR buzzword for several years. We’ve all seen the headlines talking about the list of skills companies will need to develop over the next several years if they hope to compete, and how there is a growing skills deficit in many industries. More recently, we’ve heard about the skills economy and how organizations are starting to explore this idea of a skills marketplace. But what does reskilling really mean? How does an organization need to change this approach to employee development in order to close skill gaps, especially on the frontline. And how has the reskilling conversation changed as a result of the disruption businesses are now facing. I sat down with David Perring, Director of Research for the European HR industry analyst group, Fosway, for an informal chat on the importance of reskilling. Here’s some highlights from our conversation.

JD Dillon:

What is reskilling? How do you define this concept? This word? What does it mean?

David Perring:

It’s such a big answer. I think we could probably spend an hour talking about this. I tend to think about reskilling in two zones, or maybe three zones really. I think about it as future readiness. So what skills do we need within our work force to enable our organization to thrive tomorrow? So all the things around digitalization of work, things like AI, robotics, what skills we have in our organization to enable us to be a different organization that’s going to survive in the future. I tend to think about it as being like for our operational performance. So what skills do we need to have to execute our job now? And then I think about skills as being the personal skills that we amass. So whether it’s TaeKwonDo, pottery, those sort of mastery type skills as well. And I think the challenge for reskilling is almost a time horizon of what do we need to give people skills so that they can perform tomorrow. But also what skills do we need to perform maybe in a different world, which our organization doesn’t inhabit today. So that’s how I tend to think about it. What about you? How do you look at this?

JD Dillon:

I always connected reskilling to a much more practical idea of how do we help people keep up. Whatever keep up means. So if that means you’re going to make rapid operational change in your business, you have the ability to help people execute on that change, or if you’re going to change the nature of work in your organization, because automation is impacting the nature of work and people do different types of jobs or do their jobs differently, it’s that ability to help them get there. It’s more than a training program. It’s for me, reskilling comes down to the ability to have the right tools, the right mechanisms, the right channels, the right mindset around skill development and employee development. So you can bank as quickly as your business requires you to and not leave people behind or force people to figure it out on their own.

David Perring:

There’s been so much research around here. I think we saw, I saw some things awhile ago from PWC and it was saying skills was the top three item for CEO’s. And then there was the World Economic Forum talking about, these are the top 10 skills, but none of them would necessarily really help you perform a job well, if that makes sense, they are so broad. And I think it’s like saying that label communication or complex problem solving, right? It’s like, I need a little bit more detail in order to make that real. And I think you need to get into, like you say, into the more transactional, what am I supposed to do? What would you say his skill is then?

JD Dillon:

It’s less about, let’s go get that skill and shape programs and specific resources around a particular skill and more about how can we help people develop whatever they’re going to need because the future is an uncertain place. But I think if you then break these vague terms down, I see them more as outputs of skills and capabilities and less the skill themselves. But if you break down and contextualize, okay, creativity in this job requires people to be able to do what? What do you have to fundamentally be able to execute that I can see on the job and I can train towards a certain demonstration of behavior, which then backs further into what capabilities do I need to have? What do I need to know? How do I need to be able to execute my job? And then if you output those behaviors as expected, then it leads to saying this person is able to communicate. This person has what we mean by creativity in this particular workplace. So I think it requires like so many other topics in this field, breaking things down a couple of layers to get to the observable, measurable components of performance, of doing a job. Otherwise we’re just talking about vague concepts. That’s where I struggle with the fluffy side of reskilling. There needs to be much more tactical practical for, I think us to be able to help people develop quickly.

David Perring:

You do have to have one eye on the future and you have to be scanning the horizon. So having the conversation about what do we need people to be able to do well in the future that they don’t do today is probably a really healthy thing. And if it involves some of these broad labels for your view about adding this very practical sense of how to understand what helps people do a great job in that transactional zone. I think that really helps us get much more focused on how we can support them. And I think that really helps us identify a common language for what a skill is and also how we can help people improve it.

JD Dillon:

Can we help people do what they need to do to do their best work every day? And, can we be helping people develop towards the next thing. Whether the next thing is the next role I want to take on, I want to be promoted to the manager of the store, my job is changing and I need to develop a secondary skill set. So that more future facing idea as well. So to balance those, and I think both of them speak to the requirement of learning and development being part of someone’s job and part of someone’s day to day work, whether I’m working towards there’s a new product release and I have to figure out how to sell this product, and it’s part of my day to day job now, or my job is changing and I’m iteratively developing my skills, moving towards that future thing, because I can’t wait for the future to be decided for me to make that developmental leap and the changing nature of the workplace and the world means that I may be working in that direction, but then things change and I need to pivot in a different direction. And I need that level of agility in how I learn and how I do my job every day and not wait for the training program to be fully developed and then maybe to be scheduled away from work and to go focus on that development full time like it’s an academic program. In some cases, that is what is required, depending on what you’re going to try to learn to do. But for the most part, that’s not what learning at work should look like. It should look like how is this embedded and integrated into my day so that I can iteratively develop the knowledge and skill I need to get to that place, whether it is selling this tool more effectively or developing a radical new set of technical skills I need because the nature of my workplace is changing over years.

David Perring:

It’s interesting you say that because I think what we’ve seen and I’m sure other people have seen it in their own working lives is the sense of needing to reskill to do exactly what you said around that pivoting. And I think that sort of sense of people who were in retail and we’ve seen this in the UK and across Europe where people have been in a retail center and then they’ve been offered alternative roles in a virtual contact center. The challenge becomes help people understand what good looks like and enable them to have some of the practice and input that enables them to be like that. And I think that’s one of the interesting points of how do you create the frameworks that give people the reference point to say, Oh yeah, this in terms of what I’m doing, this is the area that I probably need to think a little bit more about honing to be better at doing this particular job. And I think that’s an interesting opportunity for organizations to sit back and think about what really works here.

JD Dillon:

Organizations were not ready for this, right? No one had the plan walking in to the last couple of months, but it’s been interesting to see organizations that were more prepared because they had mechanisms in place. They had already started making a shift away from relying on place in time structured, scheduled training, into a world of, we have resources on demand. We have performance support mechanisms. We have reinforcement and rapid skill development and microlearning type tools in place. And what we’ve seen is people are able to make the shift faster because the channels and tools were there and they pointed them in a different direction in order to do what the business needed to survive and what people needed in order to be able to do their jobs in this world. You just need people to execute differently in order to keep moving while you figure out what is the future of my business and what are the larger potential skill development needs I’m going to require based on where I think I’m going to be 18 months from now. No one knows that answer, but they know that people are going to have to keep up and they’re going to have to keep making changes and they’re going to have to open and close, or they’re going to have to deal with a new compliance regulatory issue that’s going to land as a result of this. So they’re installing or prioritizing the right tools and mechanisms to enable that rapid reskilling and rapid skill development, as opposed to thinking about it as this way off future, I have to invest $800 million in all of these programs that are gonna take months to develop. No, it’s, you have to move now because if you want to open the doors, you have to do something different now.

David Perring:

That’s interesting. All the things you said there, we can endorse through some of the research we did, we did a very tight what’s the impact of COVID on L&D or how has the coronavirus changed L&D. And what we found was, it’s only a small sample, 130 people responded, right. And what they said was people who had already proceeded down a digital learning avenue, found it twice as easy as those who were maybe immature around digital learning. So it’s a bit of a no brainer, right? Nobody’s allowed to come into the office? How do we still educate people at distance who were in our branches but are now at home? The digital learning, it was the only area where we saw people increase their investment. Whereas all the other areas were decreasing around face to face training, a backend admin, right? Quite often what we’ve seen from our conversations with corporates is you almost ended up with a split identity between people who are operationally focused, the people who have to report to the sales director or the operations director, or the technical operations director, and they have a responsibility for making sure people’s real competency is aligned. And the group function, which tends to be a bit more about leadership and management and shaping some of the big training initiatives of culture. And I think that’s a big swing here. And I think that’s an interesting, sort of sense of who’s going to be getting the money in the future. The people who really make a difference. We know that there’s an economic shock coming behind on the backend of the Coronavirus. And I think that’s going to make CFOs start to look very closely at people’s contribution. And if you’re able to contribute to bottom line and show your impact, a transaction values or organizational agility in real time, you’re on a safer ground than if you’re talking about things which are a little bit more open. When we look at the broader HR arena, seeing people talk a lot more about internal talent market spaces, and then variably start to be run by the awareness that organizations have their skills of their people.

David Perring:

And sometimes you have to be careful because it does step a little bit more into the generic things around project management and communication and things like that. If you think about the fluidity of organizations going forward, skills and then knowing what capability you have within automatization becomes even more important because you don’t necessarily want to push the opportunities externally straight away, you need to try and connect with the passions and the expertise of your people. And we’re seeing a lot of growth in that area where people are saying, I need a platform that enables me to say, I want the people who can do this sort of job with these sorts of skills, who’s available and push the opportunity to those people directly. And I think that’s another thing. If you want to sort of almost create this much more resilient and agile organization, you have to take away some of the traditional barriers that said, well, you have to go through a manager to get to apply for that role, to surface these things, especially when you can start to address issues of diversity and inclusion as well. Then you can start to encourage people who may have had an aversion to going into those roles, to go into them and trust in themselves a little bit more. So we’re seeing that whole internal talent mobility and total talent market space started become more important to organizations who want to have a lot more flexibility. So maybe that’s something for L&D people to take away, to think about how do skills and how we work with skills enable us to have a much more fluid organization. If we can activate a much more talent mobility orientated company or culture, something to sort of take away on top as well.

JD Dillon:

And I think it comes back to changing the fundamental question we often ask when it comes down to, there is a performance challenge and a solution that’s needed, and it’s not, what can I help people learn? It’s how can I help people do their jobs better? For me that opens up a much larger toolkit that I can provide where some of it will still be delivery. Some of it’s still going to be instructor led training. Some of it’s going to be sourcing and curating content from the right places. But introducing these ideas of, like you said, practice and reinforcement, making sure people have access to resources, have access to other people as resources, are still engaging in conversation and not feeling like they’re on an Island, because even if we are supplying all of the right resources and we’ve skipped the human element of it, people may still not be able to do their jobs effectively.

David Perring:

Yeah. In the past L&D have had a, almost a, an addiction to delivery. If I’m not delivering content or pushing content out, then I’m not hitting the mark. My key KPI, which is push out content and make sure people are consuming stuff, right. And I think what you’re talking about is trying to surface a much more conversational relationship with the frontline employee as well. So what does work for you at the moment, what is stressing you out? And maybe it is trying to understand that actually having half of the visual cues and the non verbal communication take away, cause people are wearing masks around you, is the thing that makes it really tough to read a conversation or build rapport when you’re now working with a customer. So I think there’s some really interesting angles around actually being much more proactive in how you don’t go to the, the managers to find out what people need to know, but go to the source, right.

David Perring:

Go to the individuals and create a much richer dialogue. I think the other thing that’s interesting is how you encourage people to show that they know in a safe environment, how do you get them to practice? And I think one of the things we’ve seen come up really high in terms of the rankings of things that help people survive or help them cope with the COVID crisis is video. One of the things that’s interesting is to try and switch that focus away from how can I project a video to employees, but to get the employee, to show you how they would do something. So that you can get them to rehearse a little bit and also give them feedback, or whether that’s live or recorded. They can try as many times as they like, right? So that you know that they’re prepared at distance and the way you may not have been able to be in the same place with them. People talk about user generated content. I think that’s almost user generated content for practice. You show me how you’re practicing, let me give you feedback maybe from your peers or me as a manager to help raise the game. So it’s not just about online means passive consumption. So the online is collaborative, but not necessarily just in the zoom sense.

JD Dillon:

Where do you think someone should start? So if I work in L&D or HR, and this conversation resonates with me and I’m facing a constantly changing workplace, we managed to work our way through the beginnings. And now we’re sitting back and saying, how do we move forward? When we know we have an unpredictable future ahead of us, and we’re going to need to figure out ways to help our employees keep up so they can do their jobs. Where do I start this conversation?

David Perring:

My sense is, I think you do need to use some of the time to speak to the frontline people themselves, right? Go through that sense of, so what makes you successful now? Because if the world has changed, the environment has changed. Put the feelers out, have the conversations that we want to learn from what really works and enable the excellence within our business to surface in other places. So do reach out to the frontline. Don’t just go to the traditional stakeholders, so that you’ve got the voice of the customer, ultimately. Find out what they find difficult, the things that they’d like, more support around the things that they’re more uncertain around, and start to engage proactively. Whether that’s through simple surveys, whether it’s also through focus groups, whether it’s through one-to-one conversations, I think it will help you come to terms with what the new reality is.

David Perring:

You then have to segment the problem between, is it a matter of tactical reskilling or is it strategic reskilling, and then you’ve got to create your stories, right? For the people who are tactically reskilling understand what good looks like at a transactional level and help people in their distance learning journey in the shortest amount of time to show that they know and feel competent, they can handle the difficult situation. And on the other side, start to have the conversations with your stakeholders, the senior decision makers to say, what does this business look like in 12 months time? What does it look like in three years time? And let’s understand, are we going to hire in people to take us on that journey? Are we going to get the passion and people within the organization to help us on that journey? Cause I think you have to have a clear vision, as you said, it’s difficult to know what it’s going to be. You got to make a punt.

JD Dillon:

Thank you to David Perring for sharing his insights on reskilling with us for this episode. If you’d like to hear more from David, the extended version of our zoom conversation will be available on Axonify’s YouTube channel. Links to the Fosway group website and their latest research are also available in our show notes.

If you enjoyed this conversation and want to hear more frontline forward stories, subscribe to The 80 Percent on your favorite podcast app. You can also find all of our episodes online at axonify.com/podcast. I hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for another story about how companies are helping frontline employees make a difference in their organizations and communities. Until then be kind to the frontline.

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