How can employers upskill workers in a remote setup?

Time to start thinking about development differently

How can employers upskill workers in a remote setup?

Employers need to start thinking differently when it comes to upskilling their teams - as current systems aren’t as resilient as they should be. Anne Fannon, director of Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) Programmes at the University of Waterloo, told HRD that the rapid transition to a digital environment is currently a major challenge on recruiting and developing teams.

According to Fannon, employers are looking for applicants who can "thrive in an uncertain environment, lead with resilience, and can adapt when managing uncertainty."

Since the onset of the pandemic, HR’s focus has been on pivoting to a fully digital environment. The shift to remote work meant that many leaders had to act quickly, evolving with overnight digitization in an attempt to stay profitable. And while this certainly saved many businesses, it also meant teams had to move at lightening speed. As Fannon told HRD, the main concern for leaders was  “establishing and enhancing an organization's digital presence” – as well as ensuring that all employees have the necessary skills and resources to work from anywhere.

"That’s really the heart of the challenge - the rapid speed at which these new activities are being identified," Fannon pointed out.

Her advice to employers? Start approaching L&D in another way – after all, some current systems simply aren’t as flexible as they should be.

"I think the overarching advice is that we need to think about learning, training, and development differently than we have in the past," she said.

At the University of Waterloo, they shifted to create , in partnership with industry leaders, digital training for students. The training equipped students with the skills they need to help businesses  move fully online.

"We worked with local industry and strategic partners to pull together what we call digital skills fundamentals," she said. “That really does boil down to agility - with our training created quickly and rolled out quickly. From there, it’s all about making sure there’s strong assessment structures behind it, so that we're able to determine whether or not those skills have actually been developed."

Upskilling for remote, hybrid employees

Students taking part in Waterloo's WIL Program managed to transition easily into remote work.  Fannon said that 8,000 students were out on work terms in winter 2020, and about 5,000 of them shifted to remote work when the pandemic hit instead of having their work terms end.

"In fact, 87% of them said they felt the transition to remote work was positive," she told HRD. "We're even seeing some interesting trends as students report on their work term experiences – ones which show the worker experience can be richer and provide greater skill development opportunities remotely compared to when the students were in person."

The future of upskilling

The future of upskilling will be more holistic than before, as employers go beyond the technical development aspect and move into resilience building. According to Fannon, employers will start to develop their teams’ “adaptability, their lifelong learning mindset, thinking about how to build community and build a team in a remote environment." In addition, employers should also look out for the increasing value of badges and micro-credentials as part of the upskilling process.

Micro-credentials are certifications given to individuals who demonstrate specific skills and knowledge on a certain subject or field. Such certifications can help bring in a sense of agility to employee as they can be provided for staff without sending them back to school and making them leave their jobs.

"That's the really neat thing about badges and micro-credentials, these digital credentials, they can hold rich metadata and even evidence of competencies that can help to increase their transferability," she said.

Fannon added that higher educational institutions should provide this training - and if strong partnerships are formed between them and companies it could reduce the burden on organizations to provide in-house training.

"I think it boils down to trust and being able to trust in the development and training that has occurred. Whether that's in a higher education institution or in one of these other organizations, this is what we need to start accepting and recognizing.”

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