Daphne Kis, CEO, WorldQuant University.
If you’re like me, you might feel that the word “reskilling” has been tossed around so much that it has lost all meaning.
As the pandemic created chaos in the job market, many workers found themselves unemployed while others saw their careers vanish before their eyes. The lack of preparation for such an eventuality helped highlight our poor approach to reskilling despite the warning signs that had been evident for years.
I believe that our current situation provides us with an opportunity to update our approach, partner with educational institutions and give reskilling the emphasis it deserves. As part of this update, I see an opportunity for higher education to disrupt an industry currently dominated by private recruiting and training companies.
Reskilling As Lifelong Learning
The need for reskilling is not just about surviving a crisis. It’s about creating a better future, one in which workers are equipped with the skills they need to succeed in rapidly changing job markets.
Reskilling used to go by another name—lifelong learning. The best employees were always reskilling.
Unfortunately, according to the World Economic Forum, only 0.5% of global GDP is invested in adult lifelong learning. However, their research in collaboration with PwC shows that investing in reskilling and upskilling could potentially boost GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030.
Moreover, companies that adopt a skills-focused approach have a 107% higher chance of successfully assigning talent to suitable positions and a 98% higher likelihood of retaining exceptional employees.
Because of this, I see a need to build integrated learning and talent development programs that account for the flexibility needed to incorporate education into employees’ already demanding lives.
Learning’s Forced Evolution
The Great Resignation ushered in a surge in higher education enrollment as workers sought career changes, reskilling opportunities and early retirement. Quality online instruction was suddenly in higher demand, and educational technology (edtech) companies saw an opportunity to challenge the traditional on-ground four-year degree program by offering shorter, more specialized training programs that could lead to better and more diverse job opportunities.
It’s important to note, however, that this shift to online learning was already happening pre-pandemic. According to a 2018 survey conducted by Think with Google, YouTube was the go-to resource for Generation Z seeking to expand their knowledge and acquire new skills.
According to the same survey, an astonishing 80% of the survey’s respondents reported that YouTube has helped them become more knowledgeable about something while 68% stated that the platform has helped them gain or enhance the skills they need to prepare for their future.
Astute employers have jumped at the chance to take advantage of new edtech apps and programs to revamp their professional development and retain their most valuable workers. By granting access to cutting-edge learning technologies, academic research and industry expertise, I believe universities can help companies design more effective training programs and keep their workforce competitive in a rapidly evolving job market.
In fact, 70% of employers believe that higher education providers should be more involved in job training, disrupting private recruiting and training companies.
Partnering With Higher Education
I believe that companies can gain a competitive edge in hiring and retention by establishing long-term partnerships with educators, universities and other pedagogically-driven institutions. However, it is crucial to design these partnerships with scale and replication in mind in order to avoid high costs and low adoption rates that can result in failure.
Establishing a successful partnership will also require companies and universities to determine and agree on the skill-based outcomes they aim to achieve. They will have to find effective ways to share data, develop timelines and measure success for both parties.
This is a shift from traditional partnerships, which often focus on research and innovation initiatives. With this, intellectual property was the outcome of the collaboration. Instead, in a reskilling partnership, in-demand skills are the outcome.
For that reason, I believe that companies need to start by onboarding their education partners with a clear understanding of their workforce development strategy and look for areas where the university can deliver immediate results. They need to look into where they might be able to co-create a curriculum that is mutually beneficial. Toward this, some companies provide tuition-free reskilling as well as the time for employees to do it successfully.
Furthermore, during the development of the program, it’s critical that the university provides an empowered point of contact for the partner who can be an effective facilitator across departments and disciplines. Some of the most successful reskilling partnerships I’ve seen have been at smaller, mission-aligned colleges, so it’s important to open discussions with a variety of universities and non-traditional institutions.
One great example of this is the partnership between Austin Community College (ACC) and Samsung. Their partnership grew from an upskilling program to a reskilling program that trained thousands of employees in technician roles. Eventually, a new four-year manufacturing degree was developed by ACC, and similar partnerships were developed with other semiconductor companies. Samsung had a variety of choices available to them for partnership, but they found the most aligned partner for their initiative, and the results followed.
As a partnership grows to match evolving needs, each iteration of the program tends to be less expensive to stand up. I think the recruitment-based strategy is unlikely to match that level of compounding ROI.
This era of learning coincides with a renewed emphasis on self-care and healthy work habits. A study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute found that Gen Z workers will leave jobs that don’t align with their values.
While employers discovered that flexible hours for workers helped productivity, employees found that being able to attend to their own needs during normal work hours positively impacted their health and sense of well-being. Part of prioritizing employee engagement and career growth/movement can be accomplished through effective upskilling.
Overall, I believe employers must create a company culture that attracts and retains purpose-driven employees. Investing in the ongoing education and development of employees is not just a socially responsible choice, it’s also a savvy business decision.
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