Upskilling your staff

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Relationships. One word that will get conversations going in any setting. The concept is also anchored in a world of controversy particularly in this century; some genre being more controversial than others. You will hardly hear disagreements about the dynamics of a parent-child relationship, probably because by natural order, very little is left to the imagination. Others, romantic relationships, for example, are swaddled in controversy. You must have smiled in acknowledgement. Now I will not dwell on that; that would be opening a can of worms. My point is, we all possess a need to feel irreplaceable and this is often demonstrated in human relationships. In truth, there are relationships in our life that we feel are simply irreplaceable and deep down we hope we are held in such regard by others. Knowing that you are considered an option that can be easily changed is simply insufferable!

Sadly, in the market place, you come to the quick realization that you are not the only pea in the pod. There are thousands of people who can do exactly what you do and some even better that you. In times past, this used to mean that there was a vast pool of untapped skills. Today however, it is a challenge because employers are not looking to double their work force with the same skills but are looking for new, relevant skills. In fact 79% of CEOs say the lack of key skills was one of their top three concerns according to a PwC Survey.

“The world is facing a reskilling emergency,” remarked Saadia Zahidi at the World Economic Forum Meeting in 2021. As a result of what many are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technological advancement is happening with every passing day. Skills that were relevant yesterday are not today. COVID-19 also set the stage for a whole new scope of skills. As is, there is an increasingly high demand for high-tech skills, specialized interpersonal skills, including skills related to sales, human resources, care and education2.

It is hard to keep in step with the metamorphosis of skills in demand today, and harder still to anticipate them. The result has been an increase in the number of employee turnover. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employee turnover went up to 4.25 million in January 2022, from 3,3 million in 20213. Some being laid off and others quitting on their own volition. People are being forced to retire earlier than they had planned because their skill-set is rendered obsolete. The thing that got them hired is the very thing that is getting them laid off; ironical, isn’t it?

According to a LinkedIn research4, professional skills experience the highest turnover: issues to do with interpersonal and consultative skills, strategic perspectives given the business environment landscape and technological skills. In contrast, the skills that are built around the organization’s systems and structures like administration record the lowest turn over according to LinkedIn data analytics5. Job security is flimsy at best. Employers are daily replacing their ‘older’ staff with new staff that have skills that are in tandem with the ongoing industrial upheaval.

The challenge:
It is easy to point the finger at the employers who are perceived as in humane, but I want to make a case for them. What do you do today with a marketing executive who has no idea what Instagram, Facebook, SEO, TikTok, Hubspot, Marketo, Mail Chimp or VBout are? How about an accountant who can neither maneuver Quick Books, Zoho Books nor Fresh Books? What of an ICT staff who has zero skill in cyber security? Or perhaps a Human Resource Officer who does not understand emotional intelligence in the least?

Get me right. I am not propagating for personnel that is untrained with these new skills to be let go; quite the opposite actually. However, looking at it from the managerial stand point, has to appreciate the ‘strategic’ reasoning. However, from the employees’ view point, it is utterly unfair because their lack of these skills does not speak to their daily quality of work, nor to their investment in their jobs. It is out of their control that these advancements are happening in such a high frequency. It is my opinion the culprit in this situation is neither the employee nor the employer, but rather the prevalent coping mechanism!

Solution: Old is gold
When your panga6 becomes blunt, you don’t throw it out and procure a new one. That, simply put, is lack of strategic foresight. What you do is you invest in a sharpener and you sharpen your panga. Ultimately you use fewer resources and you avoid unnecessary wastage. The same is true for your staff.

It is said that the worst loss of all you could encounter in business is probably the loss of knowledge and experience former employees took with them when they left your company. A research done by a Center for America Progress study revealed that the cost of employee turnover is approximately 20% of an employee’s annual salary7. It encapsulates the cost of advertisement, salary and benefits, employee training, and workplace integration, to highlight a few. Ultimately, having a high retention rate as an organization significantly abates your expenses. Not to mention that no matter how good the replacement is, in a few years’ time they have to refresh their skills or they will also be irrelevant.

Why not just invest in upskilling our already established staff?

Some of the biggest organizations like the Big Four Accounting Firms and Consulting firms have tested this theory and successfully proved it. For example, the Boston Consulting Group, discloses that they budget for employee learning and upskilling in every financial year. The result has been exponential growth and positioning as pace setters in their sector8. Organizations like Google, Facebook and Amazon records among the lowest levels of employee turnover, with Facebook recording a turnover rate of less than 5%9.

According to the Merriam Webstar Dictionary, the meaning of Upskill is to provide someone, such as an employee with more advanced skills through additional education and training10. It is the process of expanding an employee’s skill set by adding to an existing body of knowledge. Instead of laying off ‘older’ staff for new talent, the employers are encouraged to invest in upskilling their staff. Sadly, only 46% see upskilling as their best preferred solution as shown in a PwC Research11. But as indicated above, employers must view upskilling their staff as an investment in their business rather than an expense. While the organization may still suffer loss when one or two employees jump ship to other organization after being trained, the truth is, employee productivity is heightened by far much more. Contrary to popular opinion, you need more than money alone to keep your workers satisfied with their jobs.

That feeling of value or rather irreplaceable; that is the oil to the engine of the ‘employee-employment’ relationship.

Which skills do you feel are absolutely essential to “up” today in your industry?

1 PwC Survey
2 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
3 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
4 LinkedIn Research on Employee Turnover
6 Panga is Swahili for a machete mainly used for cutting or chopping for example trees or wood. It looks like a sword.
7 Center for America Progress study
8 Business Consulting Group
9 Facebook Employee turnover rates
10 Merriam Webstar Dictionary
11 PwC Research