Working Together: Planning for workforce resiliency (Voices)

RENO, Nev. — COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis have amplified the need to address components of the future of work, such as access to digital skills, incumbent worker training and upskilling, reemploying displaced workers, and industry partnerships.

The timeline has accelerated, the scale is significantly greater, and the role of industry is even more crucial. As you navigate out of this crisis, think about how to best prepare for the next major disruption to your business or industry.

Tasks that require human skills, commonly considered “soft skills,” are least likely to be replaced by automation and are more adaptable to other functions. These are non-technical skills that enable an employee to engage effectively and harmoniously with others and are developed through mentorship, leadership, workplace culture, and extracurricular or community engagement.

Technical skills are the “hard skills” required to complete a task and certifications or degrees are often used to demonstrate mastery. Examples include internal controls and general ledger management in accounting, prototyping and quality control in engineering, coding languages and data warehousing in technology, or the varied functions of healthcare.

Because these tasks are often repetitive and follow a clear protocol, they are the low-hanging fruit for developers and engineers itching to make humans more efficient — i.e, automate. Many of these occupations, such as healthcare and accounting, also have low risk tolerance and an increased level of training also increases the barriers to entry, limiting the workforce pipeline.

Professional skills fall somewhere between the hard and soft skills, requiring an understanding of a process or content, but also require an element of decision making and intuition. Examples include operations, project management, business intelligence, and strategic planning. Functions requiring these skills are likely to be augmented by technology but not completely replaced.

The first step to developing a more resilient workforce is to separate work functions into skills categories: human skills, technical skills and professional skills.

As you break down work functions, you may find it easier to move some job “requirements” such as a specific degree or years of experience to “preferences.” Deepening your understanding of the fundamental skills needed to perform required functions opens up your workforce pool to a more diverse population that may be more effective and will certainly be more resilient.

With continued volatility, a workforce with diverse life experiences and points-of-view to problem solve and lead change inside an organization can better protect from unpredictability and bounce back more quickly. While it's certainly easier for an employer to use degrees as a proxy for determining basic skills, it's important to consider other experiences that strengthen competency.

Finally, once you have a clear understanding of the fundamental skills required to perform functions, you can further expand your pool by exploring skills transferability. Skills transferability is the ease of which an individual could shift from one occupation to another. Identifying occupations with transferable skills should enable you to further expand your pipeline and leverage your existing workforce as challenges arise or functions are modified.

The U.S. Department of Labor manages the Occupational Information Network, or O*Net, website which standardizes and classifies occupations into requirements and worker attributes. Searching an occupation in O*Net will produce a number of baseline functions including tasks, technological skills, knowledge, abilities, wages, credentials, education, and job openings, among other items.

The “Related Occupations” feature lists occupations that require a similar skillset and clicking the (+) next to each skill will raise a list of other occupations that also leverage that skill.

By better understanding and developing a more resilient workforce, companies can increase flexibility and strengthen their ability to be better prepared for future industry and economic challenges.

“Working Together,” which focuses on fostering a future workforce for the greater Reno region, is a recurring Voices column in the NNBW authored by the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. Amy Fleming is manager of workforce development for EDAWN. Reach her for comment at


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