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This article was first published on leaderonomics.com on 22 February 2022.

Much has changed over the past two years and the global workforce has been forced to quickly adapt or risk being left behind.

Many companies have implemented hybrid workplace models for their employees and for some of us, our homes have also become our new office space. The future of work is remote and many employees have learned how to use and optimise digital tools to become more efficient and productive. For example, platforms like Zoom, Google Meet and Slack have become a substitute for face-to-face interactions.

The majority of workers who embraced technology enjoyed more opportunities or made career switches to the digital field. Furthermore, there is also no better time than now for workers to work towards digital upskilling and acquire new technical skills. Others who didn’t have the chance to do so or are hesitant of changes saw salary and bonus freezes, or even unemployment.

The hybrid work structure is likely to stay as well, with more and more companies making flexible work a permanent feature of their employer brand. It is hence time for everyone to learn how to live in this digital-first era as we move on from the pandemic.

is upskilling the only way to drive innovation?

Upskilling your workforce has become an absolute necessity in the modern context. Workers need to gain the knowledge and skills to keep pace with the dynamic changes in the business world.

While there is a lot of focus placed on technical skills like coding and data analytics, soft skills such as leadership and communication skills also require constant updating and learning. The goal of a holistic upskilling strategy is to ensure that your workforce is technically competent to use new software and hardware as well as work collaboratively together.

Skilled employees who are able to use digital tools efficiently are able to deliver quality work in a timely manner. They also tend to be more prepared to take on additional responsibilities or higher positions that require strategic thinking and strong management skills.

To effectively manage your workforce and boost your organisational productivity, upskilling your workforce is a sure way for everyone to keep up with your innovation strategies.

Upskilling is no new fad, but the pandemic has definitely accelerated it. That is why organisations should focus on employee development plans to align workforce capabilities with the business’ digital ambitions.

According to the Randstad Workmonitor Survey, 96% of Malaysian respondents feel the need to keep learning and developing themselves in order to retain or increase their employability. 89% of respondents also admit that the changes in the job market have made them realise that they need more training and development to stay relevant.

Providing upskilling opportunities not only improves the qualifications of employees, but also enhances the company’s ability to attract new talent. Randstad Malaysia Employer Brand Research found that 41% of respondents are attracted to employers that provide employee training programmes.

inertia to learn and technical issues are common reasons why people don’t upskill

Despite understanding its benefits, upskilling is easier said than done for many people. This is especially true for digital upskilling, as it won’t be easy for those who are less tech-savvy.  61% of respondents in the Randstad Workmonitor Survey said that it has been a struggle for them to acquire new sets of skills in their current role to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learning should be an easy and accessible process. Much of the challenge faced by HR professionals now is how to upskill your workforce when everyone is working remotely.

Just as schools and universities have pivoted to online learning, so too should learning and development be for working professionals. However, the unprecedented scale required in orchestrating online training has presented some difficulties. HR professionals encounter a lack of resources, technical difficulties and software incompatibility and more challenges when it comes to training the workforce.

Furthermore, there is general inertia observed in both employers and employees to put effort into learning new skills, particularly when everyone is busy meeting work deadlines. A study of 10,000 employees at an Asian tech company found that despite working longer hours at home, productivity declined by up to a fifth and output fell. Even for the most industrious of us, finding time to upskill when you’re already swarmed with work could be extremely challenging.

Both offline and online training obviously offer very distinct and different experiences - hence our expectations of these two learning channels have to be different. In a classroom environment, it is easy to have the full attention of everyone who is present. However, in an online environment, you won’t really know if your employee is really paying attention to you or replying to emails behind their screens.

Adjusting to this new working environment requires some getting used to and we should expect learning efficiency to fluctuate when everyone is working online instead of in-person.

how much learning flexibility should we give to our employees?

Seeing that upskilling benefits both employees and employers, the question then arises: does the responsibility to upskill and develop lie on the employer or the employee?

The answer actually lies somewhere in between.

how to motivate your employees to upskill
how to motivate your employees to upskill

On one hand, employers have to provide the resources and build a conducive learning environment to make it easier for workers to grow. On the other hand, they need to take the initiative and be responsible for their own learning opportunities.

Here are some examples of how you make your workforce to upskill and help them achieve more.

1. make it easy for your employees to learn

It is important to create a digital learning ecosystem with good usability and accessibility. For example, having a library of all learning resources gives the employees the free access to look up information that they might have missed out on. Optimising the use of video conferencing tools is also important to facilitate communication and collaboration - skills that are often neglected when working from home.

Undoubtedly, learning can be exhausting and feel like a chore. To make learning more fun and less dull, change it up and gamify the learning process to motivate your staff. Games are great for increasing engagement, participation rate. Not only do games help build team spirit and camaraderie, they can also help improve the staff’s attitudes towards learning. 

2. create an environment where it’s okay for employees to step out of their boundaries

A very big part of learning is curiosity. 70% of learning takes place on-the-job and it is up to the worker how much they want to take advantage of those learning opportunities.

Proactivity is the name of the game when it comes to learning. Most employees value the chance to raise their hands to work on new projects or resolve problems that the business is facing. Give your staff more autonomy so that they have more opportunities to develop solutions by themselves.

Ultimately, it takes two hands to clap and creating a conducive learning environment is a holistic effort that requires both employees and employers to play a part.

creative options to maximise the learning experience:

Now that you understand why constant learning is important to your organisation, how can you implement it in real life? And most importantly, how can we leverage digital technologies to make learning easier?

3 types of upskilling programmes
3 types of upskilling programmes

Here are some best practices and the 3 types of upskilling programmes you can take inspiration from:

1. train the trainer programme

Upskilling an entire workforce is a tough task and it can be very costly and time consuming. This is where the “train-the-trainer” programme comes in - where subject matter experts within the organisation can impart their learnings, knowledge and expertise to their co-workers.

These experts could be your Head of Data Sciences, Social Media Director or Chief Diversity Officer. They could talk about their job functions, share case studies or offer quick tips to help workers become better at the subject matter in their personal or professional capacity. These programmes ensure that an organisation has the resources to train their workers  at scale and keeps the upskilling process sustainable in the long-term.

2. contract external resources to expand offerings

If internal training programmes are insufficient, contacting external resources to expand upskilling offerings could be a viable alternative. There are numerous online platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy and Coursera that offer an extensive range of courses for working professionals.

Such external resources are accessible anytime and workers have the flexibility and autonomy to upskill in their own time. The flexibility afforded ensures that they would not have to feel torn between work commitments and personal development, and helps to overcome the inertia to upskill.

Furthermore, these platforms constantly update their course offerings to keep up with market trends, ensuring that the skills of employees remain relevant. To further incentivise workers to upskill, companies can grant them learning credits which can be used to purchase more programmes from online course providers.

Another way is to sponsor your workers to return to school on a part-time basis. It’s a great way to help the employee develop an ‘outside-in’ mindset. Employees will usually be grateful for the sponsorship and hence more likely to remain a loyal employee.

3. impromptu role-play scenarios

Creating scenarios for impromptu role-plays might seem odd and out of place in a professional setting, but hear us out.

Experiencing new situations is crucial for workforce skills development but such learning opportunities don’t happen often at work. For example, how to deal with a client who only calls you at 10pm or how to manage a sensitive situation where a customer has been scammed.

Role plays help equip employees with the knowledge and skills to handle difficult situations that they would likely face in the future. 

be creative and flexible in upskilling your workforce

The accelerated digitalisation brought about by the pandemic has motivated working professionals around the world to reconsider their career goals and development.

Although training and development programmes are generally offered to most employees, they remain one of the most underused benefits. Remind your workforce about the different training programmes that the company offers. Bosses can also include upskilling as a promotion requirement to ensure that the training benefits are used. 

Learning is a lifelong process and it’s also the only way that we can become better at what we do and achieve our career aspirations. It’s time that we learn to embrace the challenges that come our way and adapt our upskilling processes for the next normal.

work with randstad

If you face challenges finding and hiring skilled talent or great learning & development professionals, you can reach out to us directly. Our specialised consultants have a wide network of professionals and a deep understanding of the latest HR trends to help you find the right talent for your organisation. Connect with our recruitment consultants and let us know how we can help you drive your future workforce.

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about the author
fahad naaem randstad malaysia
fahad naaem randstad malaysia

fahad naaem 

head of operations, randstad malaysia

Naeem has close to 10 years' experience in the HR industry and specialises in technology recruitment. He matches highly-skilled and experienced technologists across all levels with leading firms to drive Malaysia's innovation agenda. Naeem also avidly keeps track and shares the latest developments in technology and employment with his clients and candidates.