Dr Eugene Brink
The Covid-19 pandemic has foisted a whole range of challenges and opportunities upon us.
Employers and employees must take note of these, but then again, these demands have been with us for quite some time. They were merely accentuated to a larger extent by this virus.
Bosses should now start in all earnest to bolster their most valuable asset, namely their workforce, with the skillset they require to take their organisations forward. Workers, on the other hand, should look to increasingly upskill themselves to make themselves more sought-after and indispensable.
“By extracting the skill sets you need from the person you think might have them, all of a sudden there are many other ways of obtaining the capabilities you need to grow … from a management point of view, these types of options keep your workforce flexible and lean,” says Beth Steinberg, VP of People and Talent at Chime. “Also, employee development not only gives you more depth with your existing workforce, but it’s a retention mechanism.”
A lot depends on this and a lot is still to be done. As early as 2017 a McKinsey Global Institute analysis showed that 14% of the workforce will require full reskilling, and as much as 40% will need at least partial reskilling to continue with their current occupations.
First, what Covid-19 has revealed is that technological prowess is now essential. This has much to do with supply chain management changes and integration. “Basic digital skills will enable companies to feel comfortable and maintain seamless contact with their organization’s ecosystem – clients, partners, suppliers, and public authorities,” several McKinsey experts wrote in a blog entry in the middle of 2020.
This skill will also give employees a basic understanding of critical technology, data concepts, and processes including data visualisation, applied machine learning and advanced analytics. For example, as a plant’s production lines are automated, a director of quality management will need to double down on tech skills to collect, analyse, and monitor production data.
However, only learning to collect data and information by using technology will not render workers essential in the current and future labour markets. Skills such as creativity, innovation and scores of other capabilities must be acquired in order to thrive.
“Businesses that came up with ways to deliver services virtually (like many healthcare providers have done) or quickly shift to new products (like Mercedes F1 that have shifted from making racing cars to innovative breathing aids) have been able to better weather the storm. In a post-coronavirus world, we will need human ingenuity to invent, dream up new products and ways of working. Human creativity is going to be essential,” writes strategist and consultant Bernard Marr for Forbes.
Critical thinking and problem-solving have been vital skills for quite a while and will only grow in importance. The new environment poses challenges requiring enhanced problem-solving skills, creativity, and innovation. The growth in remote work requires managers to utilise these skills in an environment that is increasingly autonomous. The McKinsey experts ask the right questions by way of a case study: “What skills will a procurement officer now need to help his/her company relocate production and rethink the supply chain? Creativity? Innovation? Problem-solving? An ability to manage big projects remotely?”
Marr says people who can objectively evaluate information from diverse sources to determine what is credible are in demand. “Not all information should be trusted, but organisations will need to rely on critical thinking to understand what information should inform decision-making.”
When everything is said and done, however, most workers in today’s workplace will not have to do much formal learning to increase their value. Some tweaking here and there, finding the right resources on the Internet and elsewhere, and some willingness to be stretched and challenged will already provide a solid platform to reinvent your skillset. “The good news is that improving your skills has never been easier,” says Marr.
Aurelie Feld, Angelika Reich, Kristina Störk and Sandra Durth, 1 July 2020, “Thriving after COVID-19: What skills do employees need?”, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-accelerate/our-insights/accelerate-blog/thriving-after-covid-19-what-skills-do-employees-need.
Bernard Marr, 17 April 2020, “8 job skills to succeed in a post-Coronavirus world”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2020/04/17/8-job-skills-to-succeed-in-a-post-coronavirus-world/?sh=6108c9862096.
Reanna Mardinger, 2021, “The Importance of upskilling and reskilling during COVID-19”, https://www.docebo.com/blog/upskill-reskill-employees-covid-19/.