Working Together: Time for companies to think about upskilling (Voices)

RENO, Nev. — It's understood that many employers have been faced with myriad challenges when deciding to lay off staff over the past several months, and it's hard to remember what “normal” looked like.

However, in order to plan for the future, we must learn from the past, so we'll keep historical reference points in mind to cut through some of the variables and unknowns with which we're currently faced.

While technological advances increase a company's productivity and strengthen competitive advantage, elevating infrastructure and operations makes it more challenging to find the specialized talent necessary to progress.

Finding those diamonds-in-the-rough externally is costly, if it's even possible at all. On the flip side, this advancement has significantly reduced the demand for workers executing routine or “automatable” tasks.

As with most advancement throughout history, the benefits will not be realized equally. At least 54% of all employees nationally will need reskilling and upskilling by 2022 in order to remain marketable. Analyzing cost-benefit trends and projections, the World Economic Forum concluded U.S. employers should plan to upskill at least 25% of employees they might otherwise layoff.

The World Bank recommended businesses work together to invest in upskilling closer to 45% of their collective under-skilled workforce in order to create economies of scale in regional workforce ecosystems. Investing in the growth of your employees leads to a stronger workforce ecosystem for the local cluster, making our region more competitive and your industry more successful.

Given Nevada's ranking for being one of the states most vulnerable to disruption due to automation, we should be targeting a significantly greater percentage than those averages.

Nationally, experts are predicting businesses will rehire many of the millions of recently unemployed, but details vary tremendously when it comes to the when, where and how many.

That said, employers in industries most devastated are likely to be more cautious and discerning when deciding whom to bring back.

As the current crisis accelerates workforce trends that began to emerge toward the end of 2019, we can expect to see companies fast-track the move to a leaner workforce. Employers that invest in upskilling see greater employee loyalty and retention leading to a more efficient, well-rounded and productive workforce.

The solution? It's now more important than ever for companies to think about elevating the skills of their staff and for the workforce to invest however possible in their own marketability.

Start the process:

  • Fantasize. Evaluate current and projected skills demand for the next 5 or 10 years. Engage in thought experiments in which you leverage all of the existing technology in your industry. List the skills that would be required for your workforce to maximize the investment in that technology.
  • Research. What are the skills and interests of your current workforce? If you may be in a position to rehire, include laid off and furloughed staff in the process. Let yourself discover hidden talents or interests and get creative in thinking about how to apply these discoveries to your operation. Ask employees to keep track and help manage their skill development.
  • Partner. Develop strong relationships with local education providers at various levels to strengthen your pipeline and leverage influence on the direction a provider might head in program or course development.
  • Explore. Look into the many free and inexpensive online options for employees to take ownership of advancing their skill development. Make recommendations for specific programs or courses for which you see a need now or in the future. Communicate recommendations to your staff and on a public-facing page so future applicants can get a leg up. Start with the following: Skillup Northern Nevada, Coursera, Khan Academy, Learning, and Udemy.
  • Invest. Reduce barriers by providing opportunities for your employees to increase skills through tuition-reimbursement benefits; webinar or seminar accessibility; microlearning opportunities; paid time for skill development; or even subscription-based, on demand software such as AdeptPro, by Deloitte.
  • Expand. It's tempting to limit focus to the highly productive and engaged employees but, because skills required to compete in more technical jobs are not equally accessible, working to make opportunities readily available and affordable for everyone will result in surprising rising stars.
  • Communicate. Reiterate the value these activities have on the community, company, department, and individual. Check in with leadership often to ask about utilization of skill development resources by them and their teams. Articulate career paths that can be accessed through continued skill development.

“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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