COVID-19: The Perfect Opportunity for Upskilling & Reskilling
Companies need to rethink and redefine new business models that dynamically respond to the technological disruption accelerated by COVID-19. People need to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions and must be at the heart of the strategies formed to execute new operational models.

Change is the only constant in the current climate, and the future has never been less predictable. Resilience and flexibility are going to be key to surviving the COVID-19 crisis, and as companies evolve and adapt to meet changing attitudes, employees will also have to echo this change. The global pandemic has radically interrupted every area of our lives, and not only will this bring about short-lived change, but a permanent change in many areas. The acceleration in digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies has taken place at an unprecedented rate, and the world is becoming increasingly reliant on, and driven by, the digital world. To gain competitive advantage, companies will need to rethink and redefine new business models that dynamically respond to this huge technological shift. People will need to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions and must be at the core of the strategies formed to execute new operational models. As a recent McKinsey article said this dynamic is “about how leaders can reskill and upskill the workforce to deliver new business models in the post-pandemic era.”

The downtime created by COVID-19 presents a great opportunity to upskill and reskill the workforce. As leaders seek to guide new learning and upskilling programmes, this will identify weaker areas and skills-gaps which will help to refine and refocus both reskilling and recruitment strategies. The World Economic Forum estimated that 54% of all employees will require ‘significant’ reskilling by 2022 to keep up with the digital revolution. The coronavirus has only accelerated this requirement with the digital world moving faster than ever. HR leaders will need to carefully assess the essential skill pools that new or adjusted business models demand and develop a talent strategy to support and shape business continuity and professional growth into the ‘new normal’. Before immediately embarking on a recruitment campaign to pursue new skills, it will be valuable to take a new look at the talent pool that already exists in the organisation. The skill sets that may not have been hired yet likely exist amongst the people of the company, but will need some professional development to be unleashed. Upskilling needs to be prioritised strategically alongside investing in the latest technology because both assets are dependent on one another; innovation expected from the best digital assets will only happen with the appropriate skilled workforce in place to exploit the technology. Transitioning into a new digitally-driven era of constant change will not only require new digital and practical skills, but also cognitive and emotional skills that will enable the workforce to adapt quickly, be resilient and agile in the face of future disruptions. A well-designed upskilling and reskilling programme will deliver the highest possible value from the existing workforce, and it will no doubt reveal hidden talents that were not known to exist previously. Executed through a shared digitized approach, these learning experiences would present opportunities to be optimized through collaboration, social sharing and peer support.

Creating the right culture and mindset for educating and personal development is essential for executing upskilling talent strategies. Studies have shown increasing concerns as to job security since lockdown began, and with leaders promoting an upskilling scheme, this could help boost confidence, positivity, and long-term employee retention rates amongst the workforce. Encouraging and building a culture of learning and adaptability will be critical for preparing people for the new era of work following lockdown, and ultimately, to gain a competitive advantage within the industry. People need to learn how to think, perform and prosper in a digital world, and with this mindset, they will emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient. As Carol Stabbings, Joint Global Leader of PwC’s People and Organisation practice says “companies need to invest in their people. That’s how many companies will survive this crisis and become stronger. It’s about people, not about jobs - because jobs will change or have already changed as organisations adapt to the situation we’re in and focus, in an agile way, on business outcomes.”

A McKinsey survey found that most companies that had launched successful reskilling programs said they were more able to address skill gaps caused by technological disruptions or to implement new business models or strategies. Seizing current opportunities to learn would not be a regrettable choice from both a personal and organisational perspective. Companies with the best talent to exploit cutting edge technology are future-proof and immediately have a competitive advantage. For employees, expanding and further developing their personal talents would enhance their potential value and give rise to a greater number of job opportunities. Upskilling and reskilling is about enrichment and studies have shown how companies who invest in their people develop stronger cultures and have greater confidence in their future success.