Be clear about what reskilling means for your organisation

By Brad Harris

I believe that organisations that want to thrive in the long-term should invest in building an adaptable workforce that encourages critical thinking, rapid response and resilience.


We hear a lot around terms like ‘future-proofing’, ‘upskilling’ and ‘reskilling’. 


Learning and development strategies aimed at thinking strategically versus tactically, leading empowered teams, and more generally understanding complexity will be extremely valuable. Of course, leadership, organisational structure and other talent management functions are also critical for establishing an adaptable workforce. 


What does "future-proofing your workforce" mean? 

Phrases like ‘future-proofing’ deserve scrutiny. They become tautological if we don’t put some edges around them. Twenty years from now, we’ll look back and see that X number of companies are still around and Y number of companies aren't.


The easy answer for why some companies survived will be “they future-proofed their workforce”. However, I bet many of the companies that didn’t make it also spent a lot of money and time talking about future-proofing.  


For organisations that have a clear idea of how their business will change, it makes sense to invest thoughtfully and significantly in specific reskilling programmes. I worked with a company that is transitioning from making and servicing old-style boilers to more efficient heat pumps, which rely on different technologies. Their shift is in part being driven by changing governmental regulations, so they can feel really confident in their transition. They’ll succeed because they have a plan, can set realistic goals, and execute them. Their employees can also see a clear need for reskilling.  


Other companies don’t have a clear view of what’s coming and will inevitably fall into buzzword training and development programmes. This is not to say general future-proofing efforts aimed at building adaptability, critical thinking, and so on are wasted, but without a clear vision you do raise the likelihood of an “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else” outcome.  


E-learning democratises learning

Post-pandemic, in-house L&D groups have figured out ways to deliver content remotely, which has broadened their reach.


Learning platforms have also exploded and many companies have picked up the tab for workers to aid growth. Concurrently, many workers also found pockets of time to invest in their own development. All these are good signs for growth, especially in terms of building knowledge and skills.    


Is learning an employee perk or a strategic value driver? 

 What’s interesting, though, is that some of the biggest gains we’ve made in terms of learning are not as well-suited to helping workers acquire the nuanced, sometimes firm-specific knowledge and skills needed to thrive.


Similarly, long-term growth via mentorship also faces some challenges. I hear quite a bit from recent graduates that are learning a lot of useful things about their jobs and professions, but not the politics, networks, and power structures that guide the most strategic decisions.  


On the flip side, I’ve also heard firsthand from HR leaders that some employees have embraced their newfound learning opportunities to pick up skills that are not even remotely related to their jobs. In this regard, learning becomes an employee perk rather than a strategic value driver. Both can be valuable, but the difference matters.


Learning is the future of work

In a complex and ever-changing world of work, in which organisations must constantly reinvent themselves, learning is no longer a function of HR or L&D – but a business imperative.

This requires us to re-evaluate how, why and when we deliver learning. It means investing in new tech and ideas to engage people, fostering creativity, innovation and emotional intelligence. It means acknowledging the strategic value of learning.

Why must we do it now? 

Find out why learning is at the heart of individual, organisational and societal transformation in our 'Why learning is the future of work' whitepaper


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Embed learning in your leadership development

Future Talent Learning can help employees develop the human skills needed to transition from managing to leading. 


We provide immersive learning experiences for busy professionals at all levels. Our courses focus on the most in-demand human-centred skills that can be applied and practised in the flow of work. 


We offer a range of ready-to-go short courses and 100% virtual mini-MBA that delivers against two management apprenticeships, funded through your Apprenticeship Levy


More about Brad Harris

Brad Harris, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Management and Human Resources. 


His primary research and teaching interests include leadership, team dynamics, and HR systems in rapidly growing organizations. 


Brad’s work has been cited in leading popular press outlets, including the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesHarvard Business ReviewNBC’s The Today, and Fast Company.


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