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COVID-19 brings upskilling to the forefront

Jan 22, 2021

Good companies have always invested in upskilling their employees, but this has been propelled exponentially over the last year due to the pandemic. Dearbhla Gallagher tells us why.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major economic impact on every business sector in Ireland. Some sectors, such as retail, tourism and hospitality, have been particularly hard-hit, with the ongoing closures of restaurants and other hospitality outlets leaving many unemployed and others at risk of losing their jobs. In these circumstances, the need for organisations, and employees, to become more adaptable and innovative has become evident.

Developments in technology have brought about great benefits, but have also added extra urgency to the need to acknowledge the changes that are coming in the world of work. This was the case even before the pandemic. In 2019, the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work stated that “today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow, and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete”. The Commission strongly recommended that governments, employers, and workers invest in education and training. Fast forward a year and the COVID-19 pandemic has arrived on our shores. Few could have predicted how quickly the need for upskilling and reskilling would come to pass.

In response, many organisations worldwide have reacted quickly by taking steps to address critical skill gaps in order to maintain business operations. A 2020 LinkedIn report found that employees spent 130% more time learning in March and April of that year, compared to January and February. However, more action may be needed to prepare for changes in the future.

Now for tomorrow

The big challenge for today’s leaders is to recognise where jobs have been, or could be, lost because of the pandemic and other global developments, and to waste no time in upskilling and reskilling employees to deal with future disruptions. Currently, training courses are online to keep employees safe and the last ten months of online learning has demonstrated that it is both feasible and effective.

Investing in training sends a strong signal that the company cares about supporting its employees. It also fosters employee confidence and loyalty. Studies have demonstrated that investments in upskilling and reskilling employees can boost productivity, improve employee engagement and retention and help to attract new talent. In a survey by the online learning platform Talent LMS, 66% of respondents expressed appreciation at the opportunities provided by their employers to acquire new knowledge and develop new skills.

More importantly, it can help organisations to deal with the ongoing impact of the current COVID-19 crisis. For many businesses, managing costs has never been more crucial and, therefore, upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce may make more sense than recruiting new staff.

Finally, companies that are actively engaged in upskilling and reskilling their workforce will also help to develop resilience skills among their employees. Many employees have been afflicted with anxiety, stress, loneliness and burnout as a result of the pandemic. An employee with updated skills will be more resilient, more confident and better equipped to perform in the job.

Dearbhla Gallagher is the Learning and Development Manager at Baker Tilly.