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Is Reskilling the Answer?


Lawrence Barker

It’s undeniable that our world is changing quickly.

‍We’re far more globally connected. We can stream and subscribe to virtually any service. Electric and autonomous vehicles are on the rise. 

‍Everything feels like it’s in flux, and that’s led to a lot of talk about reskilling employees in today’s workforce. But is reskilling actually the answer to the challenges many businesses are facing in hiring and retaining talent? 

What is reskilling?

Conversations about reskilling often also involve talk about upskilling. What’s the difference?

  • Reskilling is teaching someone new skills that enable them to do an entirely different job
  • Upskilling is expanding someone’s existing skills to enable them to perform better within their current role.

‍When you train a logistics specialist to become a process improvement manager, you’re reskilling them. You’re giving them the knowledge and abilities to move into a new role. On the other hand, if you train that logistics specialist on a new piece of software that enables them to optimize routes faster, you’re upskilling them. They’re now better equipped to perform their existing role. 

Why reskilling isn’t the right place to start

Given massive skill gaps and the impact of technology on workplaces and the economy, there’s no point in arguing that reskilling is unnecessary. It’s an important part of the conversation and something that every company should be thinking about. 

‍The goal of reskilling—preparing employees for the future—is right and good, but we think that many organizations approach reskilling in the wrong way. 

‍When organizations like the World Economic Forum sound the alarm about reskilling, it can lead to many companies viewing reskilling as an emergency cure. Responses like, “We need to retrain our entire workforce” are common, but they aren’t always helpful. There are three big reasons why:

  • People aren’t robots. You can’t simply push a button and download a new operating system for your employees. Talking about reskilling your whole workforce is “actually dehumanizing to your current employees,” says Nick Hernandez, CEO of 360Learning. Reskilling is often used as an umbrella term to describe large groups of employees in broad brush strokes. It doesn’t take into account each person’s unique strengths, weaknesses, and current situation.
  • It can be a gamble. Quick: What’s next week’s winning lotto number going to be? Who will win the World Series next year? We can’t predict the future, which means that reskilling—which attempts to predict what skills your employees will need two or five or ten years from now—carries an inherent risk. Some of your guesses may be right, but how much money are you willing to bet invest that you’ve predicted correctly?
  • It’s often too late. In practice, many companies don’t take action to prepare their employees for the future until it’s too late. They’re focused on managing the day-to-day, leading to employee development and training taking a back seat. When new technology comes along that makes certain roles obsolete or unnecessary, they’re then forced to make hard decisions and resort to layoffs or restructuring. 

Preparing your employees for the future is vital and necessary, but there’s a better and more practical way to approach it.

A better approach to equipping your employees

If you want to effectively prepare your employees for the future, you should start with a realistic assessment of your current state. Like an explorer charting new territory, you need to get the lay of the land before deciding which way to travel. 

Once you understand the current state of your workforce, you can start an ongoing process of continuous training and improvement to prepare your employees for the future. 

Identify existing skills

Identifying the skills of your existing workforce can be tough, especially in a deskless environment. Many of your employees may not have up-to-date resumes or LinkedIn profiles that list out their past roles, achievements, and skills. 

Anthill GROW was built to help organizations understand the competencies of their deskless workforce. It can help you understand the skillsets and talents of your existing employees—no resumes required. Through leveraging text messaging and machine-learning, you’ll get clear insights into your team’s experience and abilities. 

Understanding these existing skills will help you understand where reskilling or upskilling is necessary. When needed, you’ll also be able to tie reskilling programs to career advancement opportunities, helping with employee engagement and retention. 

Continuous improvement

Gambling on what the future will look like isn’t smart. While you can probably make some broad guesses that will be generally accurate—robots will likely continue taking on common warehouse tasks, for example—trying to get too specific can lead you astray.

That’s why the better approach to reskilling your workforce is to adopt a posture of continuous improvement. 

Continuous improvement is about consistently making small bets. These little improvements—a short training today, a mentoring conversation tomorrow, a micro-promotion next month—all add up over time to equip your employees with the skills they’ll need for the future.

We think there are three keys to implementing continuous improvement for reskilling a deskless workforce:

  1. Leverage one-on-one training and mentoring. When you’re operating in a deskless environment—a fulfillment center, for example—you don’t have the luxury of being able to sit everyone down for a training class or video regularly. In these environments, one-on-one training and mentoring can be a gamechanger.

    If you invest in autonomous vehicles for your delivery fleet, your existing delivery drivers roles will change significantly. One approach to dealing with this challenge would be to train a small group of existing drivers on how to work with the autonomous fleet. What’s different? What new skills are needed?

    As they help you understand the changes, you can then empower them to take other drivers out on their routes to introduce the changes and train these other drivers as needed. Your initial drivers pioneer the changes, then function as trainers and mentors for other drivers.
  2. Micro-promotions and advancements. Historically, promotions have been a big deal. You’d work for years to eventually achieve that big promotion with a new title and salary. Micro-promotions take a different approach. Through regularly giving employees new responsibilities and small advancements, you can foster rapid employee growth and high employee engagement and retention
  1. Building a bench. Employee roles will change in the future. That’s a given. While you can’t predict the exact roles your organization will need five or ten years from now, you can use broader cultural trends—like the move towards electric and autonomous vehicles—to anticipate the direction things are headed.

    As you learn more about the likely direction your workforce will be heading, begin building a bench of employees for your most critical roles. Micro-promotions are a great way to build a bench over time. As one employee masters a skill, create an opportunity for them to train another employee to master that same skill. This creates opportunities for leadership development, meaningful work, and levels up the expertise of your workforce.

Reskilling your deskless workforce

So is reskilling the answer? Sort of. 

‍Reskilling is a vital topic for companies to discuss and understand. But reskilling works best when you approach it strategically by adopting an attitude of continuous learning and improvement.

‍If you could use some help figuring out the right approach for reskilling and retaining your deskless employees, Anthill can help. Contact us today for more info and a brief demo!

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