Suffice to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything about the way we work – and therein lies opportunity. As Socrates once advised, "the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”.

Many organizations and employees now face a blank canvas with which to write their future prospects. That’s exactly where upskilling can really make a difference, equipping organizations with skilled workforces to embrace new opportunities, and making workers more productive, future-proofed, and psychologically secure. Six in ten workers feel the pandemic has accelerated the demand for new skills. Over half (55%) of workers feel that their job becomes more stressful when they lack the right skills.

It’s also worth noting that the majority of workers have a desire to upskill right now too. Over half (55%) say their daily work tasks have changed due to Covid-19 and 26% think that this change will be permanent. Productivity and recovery are closely linked to skills, with 41% of workers saying that tasks take longer to complete if they don’t have the right skills.

Getting started with upskilling

It’s easy to recognize the demand and case for upskilling today, but it’s a lot harder to get started, particularly because managers are now grappling with a host of extra responsibilities and considerations. These include navigating caring responsibilities, informing teams of business changes or new public health measures, checking in on the mental wellbeing of teams, and the new dynamics of home working and hybrid workforces. Being so vital to future recovery, however, upskilling cannot fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

One effective way to get started with an effective upskilling strategy is to delve into your skills data. Starting from this angle, you will have a clear understanding of what your people can currently do, what your business needs, and where your skill gaps lie. You can then tailor your learning opportunities to hone in on the missing skills that will accelerate your business’ growth in the next one to three years.

Better still, this data can be overlaid with learning data on what topics people are engaging with, what formats resonate the most in your organization, and even the times when people are learning. Knowing this, you can offer learning content that engages deeply with your workforce and even prompts people to learn at a time when they’re likely to be most interested.

Practically supporting learning

It can also provide insights into why your people aren’t learning. They may be disengaged with your content, or there might be a practical reason stopping them from upskilling. Understanding this will help you counteract it early on and encourage more people to learn. At metals and mining company Vale, for example, data highlighted how learners needed supporting infrastructure to access learning. The company set up internet connections in its mines, on its ships, and even within trucks, so its people never miss out on virtual learning opportunities.

How to collect and analyze data

You can collect skills and learning data from many different systems. A basic start would involve surveying your workers, managers, and department heads about what skills they need to do their jobs and achieve their short and mid-term strategy. Gathering data from HR and learning systems will add depth, as will collecting and consolidating the data held in CVs, recruitment systems, performance reviews, and online profiles.

Conversely, gathering and analyzing your skill data isn’t a one-time event — particularly given the current economic volatility. As your business evolves, your product offering changes or a sudden external event occurs, you will need to return to your skills data to understand how this has impacted the skills needed.

Measuring the progress of your learners is another valuable action enabled by data. Your learners are, naturally, going to want their efforts recognized. It will also tell you if your upskilling strategy is meeting expected goals. Having those insights readily available can help you tweak your upskilling strategy to further drive returns and to address any areas of improvement.

Offering tailored career growth

The final piece of the puzzle comes through work opportunities. Sadly, 42% of workers feel that their employer is more likely to lay workers off than reskilling and redeploy them. This, understandably, impacts their loyalty and retention. By implementing an upskilling strategy that focuses on what employees need, you’ve shown that you’re committed to the skills growth of your workers. You can further this by offering internal mobility opportunities (either short-term and temporary or permanent) that match the skills and aspirations of each worker.

Data on current skills, learning activities, and career aspirations can ensure all workers are offered career growth prospects that are tailored to them. This gives people a reason to learn (to shift into new roles and projects that interest them) and also increases workforce agility – a key priority for 56% of CEOs.  

Almost three in five students (59 percent) in a recent survey complained that they are doing more assignments online than they ever did in their in-person classes, and nearly as many (55 percent) protested that much of it felt like "busy work." The survey, sponsored by education publisher Wiley, was done by 1,046 business majors attending four-year colleges and universities as undergraduate or graduate students in the United States.

As one student put it, "I am less than satisfied with my current learning situation as professors are using COVID to assign more work with less payoff, as online learning is less interactive than regular in-session courses. [The situation] would be improved if professors would assign homework that is interactive and meaningful and reflects the lecture rather than just plainly assigning homework assignments for points."

These weren't just idle grumblings, since students also reported that they generally found assignments helpful for preparing for quizzes and tests (81 percent), for understanding concepts covered in class (79 percent), and for familiarizing them with concepts before class (66 percent).

The majority of students said it was more valuable to watch instructors work through problems in real-time than any other online learning activities they could choose. Two-thirds (64 percent) expressed a preference for real-time instruction, compared to 49 percent who preferred pre-recorded lectures, 45 percent who liked real-time projects, and 40 percent who liked the collaboration with other students.

The report sharing the results offered this advice:

  • Make the online assignments worthwhile by soliciting student input;
  • Add interactive components and encourage group work and one-on-ones; and
  • Help students make the connections by showing them how the skills they're developing in the class have "real-world relevance."

The "State of the Student Survey" is openly available online.