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How to reskill a post-pandemic generation

Giving staff new skills is critical for success.

Matt Withers

YuLife wellbeing
Credit: LIAV BILYA via Twenty20.

How can tech help employers reskill and upskill for the future? Unleash Your Potential

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought huge changes to our lives – but in many others simply put rocket-boosters under tectonic plates which were already shifting.

The move from the high-street to internet shopping. The film industry’s shift from the cinema to the sofa, through the likes of Netflix. And in the world of HR and L&D, the urgent need to reskill.

Even in the long-gone pre-pandemic days the urgency of reskilling was growing.

In 2017, McKinsey estimated that as many as 375m – 14% of the global workforce – would need to learn new skills as a result of the way technologies such as AI were transforming work.

A more recent report by the same firm, from May 2020, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has made this question more urgent.”

This massive rethink of the way we work was perhaps illustrated most sharply back in December 2019 when Joe Biden, with tongue part-lodged in cheek, suggested miners retrain as coders, saying:

“Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well.”

Joe Biden

But the BCS, the UK’s Chartered Institute for IT, says that only 22% of those working in the country’s IT industry were older than 50, suggesting a desperate need to reskill older members of the workforce.

Identifying NEW skills

So as the world pivots to a post-pandemic “new normal” how can HR teams make sure the workforce adjusts?

What skills are valued as many organizations go through rapid digital transformation?

And what tools and methods are businesses using to evaluate the skillset of their workforce and how they fill the gaps?

“Covid-19 has acted as slingshot for companies’ digital transformation.”

James McLeod, VP of EMEA at analytics platform Faethm

McLeod continues: “When the pandemic struck and the combined pressures of economic downturn and challenges like mass remote working emerged, many organizations had to accelerate the implementation of technology solutions to improve efficiencies, save costs, and simply keep the lights on.

“For many workforces this transformation included the rapid implementation of new technologies designed to make work more seamless, but which will likely have left some workers with elements of their role now automated by these tools.”

HR leaders and teams, says McLeod, clearly have a crucial role to play in preparing organizations for the “new normal”, particularly around the automation and augmentation of work.

“Using technology, the HR function can identify jobs that are at risk of automation and require reskilling, and act accordingly to avoid costly redundancies and rehiring processes,” he says.

“This includes creating bespoke skill pathways which identify employees’ current skillsets and automatically recommend training plans to help them retrain in transferable skills, and transition to new roles via a “job corridor”.

“Doing so can not only help retain valuable talent, but also improve HR teams’ efficiency, and ensure they drive tangible financial value within their organizations.

James McLeod, VP of EMEA at analytics platform Faethm


Nicky Hoyland, CEO of UK-based work technology business Huler, told Unleash that the skills gap was constantly widening and there was an impetus for workers themselves to ask: “How can I evolve my skills in order to have a different job based on the evolution of technology?”

Hoyland says: “Even though roles will evolve with technology advancement, so will new roles that get formed out of that.

“And I think if people are able to reset that in their mind, rather than thinking “Oh, technology’s gonna take my job” or “The robots will take over”, that’s where we’ll start to see a change and shift in perception.”

Hoyland adds: “HR teams have had to just be so reactive over the past 15 or 16 months that they haven’t had time to focus on what they knew was already a growing issue in terms of capability or upskilling.”

So how do businesses evaluate the skillsets of their workforce? Faethm – which counts the UK government, Mastercard, Adobe and RioTinto among its clients – claims to enable organizations to make informed choices with insights specific to their workforce.

It’s positive to see some organizations starting to use analytics to identify which groups are most at risk of having roles automated – although this practice must become more widespread in order to mitigate the impact of technology on society as whole.”

James McLeod, VP of EMEA at analytics platform Faethm

“When it comes to skills and talent, employers need to change their perspective,” he says.

“The introduction of technology does not affect work in a uniform way. Organizations must acknowledge and invest in a targeted reskilling approach that recognizes the new roles technology is creating, and ensures human and machine labor complement one another.” 


Hoyland believes an aspect which is confusing to HR or L&D or talent departments is the amount of vendors providing different frameworks, calling for an increase in pace in moves to an open source framework. 

But, she says, there is only one direction of travel, using Blockbuster as an analogy.

“Blockbuster went, “No, it won’t go online because the streaming services aren’t there and they’re not available”. You actually only need internet and fibre broadband [and] suddenly the concept of going to rent a DVD or video just doesn’t make any sense.

Things are going to change and evolve. It’s naive of us to think we can choose not to adapt, bunker down and ignore it, and it’ll go away. 

Nicky Hoyland, CEO, Huler

“The quicker people are able to say “It’s OK to change, to perhaps not necessarily know what the future holds” but not bury your head in the sand is one of the most important assets anybody can have.”

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