Evolving technologies and methodologies have been transforming jobs and the skills needed to do them for years, and this process has only been amplified in the current situation.
As we all try to navigate the new way of working imposed by a global health event, many organizations have had to pivot out of necessity, reprioritizing the work itself and requiring different or enhanced skill sets from employees. Workers across a range of industries have had to figure out how to adapt to the new expectations, while companies have had to quickly train and match workers to reimagined roles. Creating a thoughtful talent strategy informed by the lessons employers and employees alike have learned throughout this tumultuous time will be critical for companies to emerge stronger in the future.
Soft and Hard Skills: The Basics
Striking a good balance between knowledge and interpersonal attributes is vital for running a successful business. Your employees’ soft skills — their emotional, social, and cognitive abilities and traits — can help increase your business’s resilience.
In the current virtual environment, these skills are in greater demand than ever before. For example, in order for companies to continue thriving, employees have had to make smooth transitions to working from home, keeping their own schedules while effectively setting and maintaining necessary boundaries.
Hard skills, meanwhile, are technical and based on interests. To help employees expand on these skills, employers should provide targeted opportunities and resources. For example, employees in technology who are interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning could receive funding to take classes in this area and put that learning to work for the organization.
The Employer Imperative: Assess Critical Skills
There are practical steps leaders can take to ensure employees are equipped with the skills that will bring the company success in the long term. The first is to look ahead and determine what kind of work is needed not only right now, but also a year from now.
As you evaluate the skill sets needed to accomplish that future work, don’t underestimate current employees, who may be more capable of upskilling than one might think by just looking at the skills needed for their current role and their previous professional experience. To get a sense of what your employees can and want to do, speak with them about the skills they may not be currently using, as well as the skills they may be interested in learning.
Additionally, start investing now in teaching your employees skills they will likely need in the future. This is a simple, advantageous way to help workers who are not currently leveraged at full capacity make the most of their time.
Now is also a great moment to be proactive about scooping up top talent. Due to the economic hardships imposed by the pandemic, the market has shifted and is saturated with talent. The opportunity is there for your company to hire talent more quickly than normal, provided you have the budget. As you’re interviewing candidates, avoid falling into the trap of reading resumes only for what you need right now. Read and interview comprehensively, with an open mind and a forward-facing outlook.
Above all, be honest with your employees. A good leader tells the truth. As we navigate through this time of uncertainty, don’t shy away from conversations around reskilling. Such discussions actually show employees that you are noticing them and that you care about their growth.
The Employee Imperative: Be Flexible
Employers should be encouraging employees to be proactive about their careers right now. For example, when a employee volunteers for a less desirable assignment, it demonstrates their commitment to the company and desire to get things done. The more understanding and experience a worker has, the more versatility they accrue. Versatility, in turn, can help make a worker’s employment more secure.
Encourage employees with extra bandwidth to use their spare time to adopt new sets of skills and knowledge that are more future-oriented. According to LinkedIn’s Economic Graph, some of the top trending skills of the moment include time management, account and sales management, writing, sales operations, and customer satisfaction.
Above all, everyone should be willing to learn skills beyond the ones they already have. The more you know, the more valuable you are, regardless of what’s on the horizon.
Much of the conversation around reskilling the workforce has centered on the role of emerging technologies in evolving jobs, but this pandemic has proven that reskilling can actually empower and complement the existing workforce. An effective talent strategy will take this into account and act now to reskill and upskill employees to shape business models that will strengthen employers for the road ahead.
Tara Wolckenhauer is division vice president of human resources at ADP.