Real Talk on Retraining and Reskilling: How HR Operationalizes These Processes

Woman moving up escalator retraining and reskilling concept

About a month ago I was speaking at a conference and had a great discussion with a peer on reskilling. It got me thinking that now is an appropriate time to talk a bit more practically about it. Over the last 20ish months we’ve heard a lot about upskilling, reskilling, and ensuring business continuity. Prior to that it was “closing the skills gap” with a multi-generational workforce. But has anyone ever shared the “how?” What are the actual operational steps HR teams and their colleagues have to take to make these initiatives work the way they should?

If you’ve ever read anything by me up to this point, you already know my immediate reaction and response is to start mapping it out. So here we go — four no-frills steps to get you on the path to success with retraining and reskilling so you can retain and reengage your people:

1. Understand your organization's gaps and needs

Prior to even thinking about upskilling, reskilling, or retraining, we have to find where the needs of the business are thanks to the pandemic shaking up how things are done.  It’s hard to develop an action plan or even strategize if we haven’t done a gap analysis or needs assessment to first see what new skills and training would have the most value in which parts of the organization.

I want to focus on the needs assessment as my example here because it’s quick and easy to accomplish. If you’re in a time crunch, gather the data via survey, interviews, questionnaires, or discussions and collect the resulting information in a central location. With the sporadic growth occurring now that people are slowly returning to work, we can identify specific areas to shift towards when it comes to reskilling and retraining.  Search for those common requests or themes and put them into a few larger buckets that will represent what your organization should focus on. This is a critical exercise to start strong, especially in light of all the hiring challenges organizations have been facing currently — your needs have to be laid out in a way that matches what candidates are searching for.

2. Build your team and set goals

Typically I'd focus in on building a change management team here, but this instance is a bit different. Although change management will help the longevity of any shift you make in how your people are working, your focus when it comes to retraining and reskilling should be building a team of collaborators that includes front-line employees, managers, and department heads who can quickly respond to the priorities your needs assessment and gap analysis results uncover.

My strongest suggestion here is that you find the individuals who speak up in meetings, who challenge the status quo, and want to see change happen. Upon selection of the team, set and translate goals into specific areas of skill sharpening. Ultimately, the team should land on a few recommendations:

  • The core pieces of the retraining and reskilling puzzle that work best for your organization
  • Common challenges with skill flexibility or learning opportunities that people at different levels of the organization face
  • Communication best practices for rolling out to the wider organization
  • A core list of the most in-demand skills or largest training opportunities available across your organization

3. Map job levels and assess manager influence

The critical element for making this all work is for employees to understand the expectations of the role they're in now and how engaging with reskilling or retraining initiatives opens new opportunities for them. There are two main components that help with this — job leveling and manager influence.

When setting expectations for a new skill or job someone is performing, it’s important to show how their career pathways and internal growth potential increase when they attain that new milestone. It doesn’t have to be as explicit as an “if -then” statement like we used in high school geometry. What it does have to be is a clear communication of why it's worth it for your people to make the investment.

This is where you as an HR professional should work directly with your managers to help them use their influence with their teams. Managers should be able to explain how getting educated on a new area or sharpening a skill will open doors for long-term satisfaction in the workplace. You can even use this manager education as a pilot test for your wider strategy around retraining and reskilling. That way you can use their feedback to make the results even better when you roll things out across the whole organization.

4. Follow the 30/60/90 rule

With your planning and initial assessments out of the way, it's time to execute. Now this is based on the assumption that you already have some sort of training in place or a method of tracking and delivering retraining and reskilling options through your HR technology. If you don’t, I’ll catch you on a future blog, but the steps we've covered will still be useful when you get there.

One of the elements I’ve seen fail more times than I care to admit is the lack of measurement during the employee’s new skill development. In instances like this, it’s important to use the 30/60/90 rule when developing a training program or executing the plan. This is where your HCM solution will be critical. With the right tools, you can measure productivity but more importantly you can receive and give feedback on performance.

In order to find success for the organization, we have to ensure our people find success in the tasks they’re given. We don’t want to overwhelm the employee but instead provide specific targets and tasks that need to be completed within a 30/60/90 day timeframe. At each of these intervals I want your group of collaborators to celebrate the successes of the new skills individuals have developed and the progress they've made. Imagine a group of people who come together and say “I’m proud of you and the work you accomplished in such a short amount of time.”  This is the step that often gets missed but provides the employee with a sense of confidence and belonging.

Conclusion: Take clear, small steps toward your retraining and reskilling goals

I will say that when you get the needs assessment back, it’s going to feel overwhelming. And that sense of “we have so much to do” isn’t likely to go away. So make sure you start small and grow into a strategy that's easily attainable. From there, take your gap analysis and walk through each area of the business to determine what skills you're missing. By taking the time to focus on the attainable, you’ll build a stellar program that employees will desire for continuous growth.

Of course, the secret ingredient to all of this as I mentioned earlier is your HR technology. If you feel you don't have the tools you need to support your growth in this area or need help making the case to your organization's leaders, we're here for you. Check out our value estimator and see how you can get the support you need to make these kinds of initiatives a reality.

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