Upskilling and Reskilling Frontline Employees in the Post-COVID World

The word ‘frontline’ could well have meant something different to you before the onset of the global health crisis. If that’s the case, you’re far from being alone. COVID-19 has redefined many things for the vast majority of people. That’s probably most true when it comes to employment and roles. Grocery store workers, train drivers, and even mechanics went from almost zero to hero overnight as a world beset by rising death tolls came to terms with the fact that many of the workers they’d taken for granted for so long were essential to their lives. The supermarket warehouse worker, the mailman, even the grocery store shelf-stacker – we need them, or the world doesn’t turn.  Yet, it’s not just the recent lockdowns that have brought change to the way we work. Emerging technologies are also transforming the skills required to carry out many frontline jobs – and getting the reskilling of frontline employees right is vital. If the global health crisis has taught the world anything, it could be that many roles make up a functioning society, and they all have their vital parts to play.

Addressing Frontline Employee Skill Gaps With the Right Tools

Never before has an entire world of workers been so connected, with its individuals so separated. Today’s workforces and disrupted job roles are a consequence of digitalization and an improving telecoms infrastructure that allows us to collaborate and communicate almost anywhere. The fact is that while emerging tech causes skills gaps, it can also solve them.

Technology can equip us to deal with challenges the pandemic advanced rapidly. Grocery shoppers forced online – with many of them determined to remain there, booming delivery services, distributed office workers, even online medical consultations – a lot of stuff went web-based overnight because of the virus – and tech has stepped up to allow that, creating a considerable need to keep employees up to speed and engaged. Changing jobs require new skills, delivered where they’re needed, addressing specific demands. Individual roles and unique workers both come with a range of reskilling requirements that are just as distinctive. Retraining has to be based on real data, and the companies and organizations that recognize those challenges, then utilize the right tech will prosper in the future of work.

What’s the Cost of Employee Upskilling and Reskilling?

So, what about reskilling and upskilling frontline employees in the real world, and what of the potential return? The alternative is to seek out fresh talent when new roles arise. So, aside from everything else, what does reskilling cost? The answer to that, according to a report by the World Economic Forum, depends on who makes the investment.

That report contains a quantitative cost-benefit analysis aimed at helping companies decide whether to reskill employees or opt for recruitment. It considers a diverse range of frontline roles including, postmasters and mail superintendents, locksmiths, customer service personnel, machine operators, meat factory workers, and fast-food cooks. Industries covered include retail and tourism, as well as oil and gas.

It costs money to upskill employees, and one of the main aspects of that is usually downtime (which can be reduced significantly if a worker retrains on the job). However, the benefits of the reskilling approach – leaving aside the obvious rewards for society –  include productivity gains and savings on severance costs. In fact, the report estimates 25% of all US workers could be reskilled by the private sector for an investment of $4.7 billion – and while that’s a sizeable chunk of money, the cost-benefit balance remained a positive one.

Interestingly, it’s a similar picture even if you let governments assume responsibility for addressing skills gaps in the future of work. The report also found that, with an investment of $19.9 billion, the US government could retrain 77% of workers affected by skills gaps – and recoup a positive return in the form of taxes and lower welfare payments.

What Are the Barriers to Upskilling and Reskilling Frontline Employees?

The fact remains, any investment in reskilling frontline workers will only be as effective as the methods behind it. So, what do leaders worry about when embarking on a reskilling program, and what are the perceived barriers?  A 2018 report by McKinsey highlighted the need for relevant and tailored, data-driven approaches to reskilling. Most executives agreed on the need for reskilling and anticipated high demand for that in the following five years, but few knew of ready-made solutions. What’s interesting is that the majority perceived the responsibility to lie with companies, not governments.

McKinsey observed barriers to reskilling employees in the shape of companies, and about a third of the executives it surveyed felt a different approach to HR structure was required. They also experienced difficulties in understanding the nature of changes within roles and the precise type of retraining needed to address them. McKinsey cites experience gained while running its ‘Generation’ initiative in acknowledging that structural barrier to retraining, saying it often saw training for the sake of training, based on little real information, and resulting in “no clear pathway to new work.” The Generation project gathers data to provide targeted training aimed at reducing underemployment among younger people:

“Generation operates programs that focus on targeting training to where strong demand for jobs exists and gathers the data needed to prove the return on investment to learners and employers. As a result, Generation’s more than 16,000 graduates have over 82 per cent job placement, 72 per cent job retention at one year, and two to six times higher income than prior to the program.”

A Data-driven Approach to Frontline Employee Reskilling and Upskilling

Reskilling frontline employees can reap enormous rewards for companies when their approach gets based on real data. Not only that, but the only way to accurately identify changing roles is to gather information about the challenges individual employees are facing – in real-time. Supporting individual frontline workers based on their specific needs not only improves productivity, but it also produces a more engaged, confident workforce. Providing just-in-time learning reduces training-related downtime and costs, and enhances employee experience too. If you’d like to learn more about how Rallyware helps companies address skills gaps, improve employee engagement, and drive the productivity of each individual at scale, book a demo today.