6 Strategies to Upskill Your Workforce

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Imagine this scenario: you lag behind your competition in digital transformation and worry even more about startups with massive funding that might overtake you. You’re trying to get ahead, but you can’t hire enough data scientists, agile coaches, engineers, product owners, cyber experts, or design thinkers. They’re for fun young organizations, not old-school companies with silos, command-and-control leaders, and matrix structures that block decision-making.

At the same time, many of your current employees are in positions that are slowly becoming obsolete due to automation. Plus, you have too many unproductive middle managers and your unskilled digital front-line workers are unprepared for the changing world ahead.

Are you familiar with this ring? These are the challenges that many of our clients hear from us, and they are representative of the crossroads where we find ourselves in the global skills crisis. The World Economic Forum estimates that more than half of all employees worldwide need to upskill or retrain by 2025 to adapt to the changing nature of jobs. Many organizations in these situations turn to retraining to develop talent they cannot acquire or deploy productively. And yet, a 2020 BCG Global Study found “talent and skills” to be the second most underinvested area of ​​business transformation efforts.

As companies reinvent how they bring learning to scale to thousands of people and at high speed, we share six practical insights based on BCG’s extensive experience serving more than 100 clients globally, touching hundreds of thousands of learners over the past four years.

1. Treat skills as a business investment, not an expense.

The majority of training efforts fail because they are set up to optimize learning and development (L&D) costs instead of having real business impact. Globally, more than $300 billion is spent annually on business education, according to an estimate by Allied Market Research. In our experience working with clients, the majority of corporate education initiatives have limited measurable impact.

Leaders should treat skills as a business investment – ​​an asset that will help deliver multi-year benefits, with clearly defined KPIs for business, people and learning as the starting point for program design.

For example, an Asian real estate company undertaking a leadership development program designed it by first defining the end business goals: 50% faster time to enter a new market and double the achievement of acquisition goals land through faster decision-making.

This completely changed the design of his L&D intervention. In the past, the company would have held a series of facilitated workshops on leadership and decision-making skills. Instead, participants underwent a hands-on learning intervention, where they were monitored and coached on how to run their monthly business review meetings differently to achieve their business goals. The result was a leap forward in their market position and a successful move to trickle down to their mid-level management.

2. Serve “salads” for healthy skills.

Too often, today’s skills programs are offered to employees as a menu of “main course” options to choose from – for example, functional, digital, leadership, business or soft skills. . Our experience shows that high-impact retraining is best achieved by creating appetizing “salads” that mix all these different skills together in a specific context.

We worked with the Singapore government on a large-scale workforce reskilling program to help mid-career professionals transition from traditional jobs to data and digital roles. The program needed to address a wide range of skills, ranging from hard skills such as problem solving, information generation and analysis, to soft skills such as stakeholder engagement and communication.

Instead of creating a module for each of these topics, the program focused on projects where all of these skills needed to be applied in tandem. The result was a rapid six-month learning curve, where more than 65% of learners transitioned into new roles in data and digital just months after completing the program.

3. Bring back the joy of learning.

Too much corporate learning is spent on hours of e-modules or Zoom workshops. Designers of learning experiences need to reimagine how, when, and where learning happens with one main question in mind: how do we bring the joy and curiosity of learning that children experience to adult learners?

Instead of just sharing case studies on customer centricity, a major mobile phone player in China brought real customers to its learning workshops, breaking several myths and generating new insights for the company. A major consumer goods player in India developed the communication skills of its middle managers by having them shoot and analyze selfie videos. This led participants to a heightened sense of self-awareness about how they communicate, compared to the traditional approach of receiving feedback from a facilitator. A global public sector organization leveraged the enhancement to get middle managers to immerse themselves in and understand the agile way of working by first playing out typical work scenarios in “command and control” mode, then replaying the same scenarios in “autonomy and alignment” mode. fashion “.

4. Feed with data.

The design and delivery of learning is both a science and an art. Data can be used to inform decision making at every stage of the learning journey.

For example, AI tools can examine an employee’s work experience and career trajectory to analyze their skills gaps and personalize their learning experience. These tools can also identify pathways for groups of employees whose jobs will be significantly disrupted to move them into in-demand roles. Another approach is to run A/B tests on different program formats or learning modes for different cohorts and let the data drive the decisions as programs evolve. Finally, measuring results with leading and lagging indicators over time can enable continuous improvement of skills development initiatives.

5. Assemble your own skill stack.

Large-scale retraining of thousands of employees requires a significant investment in building an end-to-end skills stack, including assessments, skills inventory, content curation, technology, and analytics learning, training, delivery, learning experience management, accreditation and career transition support.

Instead of “building” this infrastructure from scratch, companies can now move quickly by “buying” or “renting” through partnerships to assemble their own skill stack. Critics of this approach cite the lack of adaptation to the context of the organization. But your L&D team can distinguish between core skills that are universal and may come from the outside (eg learning a new programming language) and those where the value of customization may be high ( for example, an internal expert sharing which data analytics use cases are most critical in your organization).

6. Empower employees to learn.

Competence is often described as something that “must be done for workers,” but research shows that workers know change is coming and are ready to act on it. Data from BCG’s Decoding Global Talent report shows that 68% of workers worldwide are willing to move into new careers to stay competitive. If we believe that people can be responsible for their own retraining, interventions that allow them to decide what skills they need and to choose among various options are best. Employers need to give their employees the right tools, flexible resources and a supportive environment to take ownership of their personal transition journeys.

For example, BCG enables its expert consultants to stay relevant and up-to-date by designing their own learning intervention with an allocated annual budget. This has led to many creative learning journeys – for example, collaborations on public sector initiatives, co-designing with startups, immersion trips to completely different business environments, etc.

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By reinventing traditional approaches to training, business leaders and HR managers can take timely action to prepare their workforce to be ready for today and the future. Organizations have a choice: create a competitive skills advantage or run the imminent risk of falling behind.

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