Upskilling and reskilling: how to prepare for the work that came with the pandemic?

For women, training in both aspects is essential after having been more strongly impacted by the pandemic and in the face of gender discrimination.

2 de marzo de 2022
Foto: Shutterstock
Foto: Shutterstock

MEXICO CITY. One of the many lessons that the current health situation has taught us is the importance of our ability to adapt to change. John F. Kennedy said that “Change is the law of life. Those who only look to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

"Adaptability is a key skill needed in a world where we don't know what challenges tomorrow will bring," writes Chris Hempsall, director of EY Lane4, a consulting division of Ernst & Young, in his article Why Adaptability is the Key Skill Needed for Change. Hempsall argues that: “In this rapidly changing job market, organizations will have to cultivate the adaptability of their workers to stay successful. Every person, at any level in an organization, must be able to adapt quickly and effectively. Organizations that fail to do so risk being left behind.”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in its OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 report, states the following: “To stay competitive, workers will need to constantly acquire new skills, which requires flexibility, a positive attitude towards lifelong learning, and curiosity”. Although the need for training is clear, a specific question arises: is it necessary to learn new skills or improve the ones you already have?

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Reskilling or upskilling, which road to take?

The blog of the International Business School Barcelona (ESEI) defines upskilling as the process of acquiring new skills to improve the current set of skills; reskilling, on the other hand, is the process that seeks to develop new skills with the intention of finding a new job or changing careers.

Specialists agree that the decision between betting on one or the other depends on the goals of the person and/or the organization. "The first thing we have to do as an organization is to focus on the future, where does the organization want to go? And, based on that, develop new skills," said Luz María Padilla, director of corporate relations and strategic linkage of the Institute Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM).

The ESEI indicates that upskilling is more common in companies, as employers seek for people to develop skills that allow them to grow in their jobs and add more value to the organization. On the other side, reskilling becomes more attractive to individuals because it offers them new job opportunities.

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The text of the ESEI clarifies that this should not be taken as law, since upskilling may also be of interest to individuals, and reskilling to companies: “An employer may wish to retrain a worker if their position has become redundant, or if his skills would be better suited to another role.”

The first type of training seeks that people move vertically in the organization, while the second seeks to promote horizontal movement. “Sometimes we think that this development should only be vertical, that is, having a new responsibility and moving up hierarchically, and it doesn't necessarily have to be that way; it can also develop you horizontally,” explained Elsie Flores, Manager of Talent Solutions at Manpower Mexico.

Does making the decision between the two depend on whether what is needed is to develop life skills (soft skills) or hard skills? Telefónica Educación Digital explains in this regard: “Upskilling is also defined as additional training to improve the personal skills [life skills] of a worker in their current job. On the other hand, reskilling involves complete professional recycling that qualifies for a newly defined position and is driven, mainly, by technological change in companies.”

The decision to bet on one of these two types of training would have to answer the question: What are the most sought-after soft and hard skills?

Also read: Investing in upskilling could add 6.5 billion dollars to the global GDP in 2030

The most sought-after skills

Technological change has highlighted the need for training. According to the PwC Hopes and Fears 2021 global survey, 39% of the 32,500 people who participated in this study consider that their employment will become obsolete in the next five years. Based on this, 77% answered that they are ready to learn new skills (upskilling) or to completely retrain (reskilling).

In addition, the Workplace Learning Report 2021 carried out by LinkedIn shows that for 59% of the people surveyed, upskilling and reskilling are the top three areas of focus on learning and development issues. This is mainly due to the accelerated speed of automation processes.

This raises the question, what are the skills that will be most in demand in the coming years? Regarding technical skills, HRForecast analyzed more than 200 million job offers and identified the following eight:

  1. Cloud Computing
  2. Cybersecurity
  3. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  4. Big Data Analytics
  5. Virtual and augmented reality
  6. Blockchain
  7. Video production
  8. User experience

Regarding the life skills that companies will look for in their employees by 2025, the World Economic Forum identified seven:

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Analysis
  3. Problem-solving
  4. Active learning
  5. Resilience
  6. Stress tolerance
  7. Flexibility

Also read: 6 skills women are looking to develop by 2022

Life skills vs. hard skills

According to Liz Guarneros, founder and CEO of Emprender Soluciones de Empleo and LinkedIn Top Voice 2020, many companies expect applicants to have the life skills required by the position they are offering from the start, but they are willing to train in the technical area (hard skills).

Elsie Flores agrees with the above and emphasizes that one of the main reasons for the talent shortage is based on the lack of soft skills: “Globally, the talent shortage averages 69%, and in Mexico, it’s 74%. That means that, beyond the technical part, [companies] are looking for people who can help them consolidate teamwork, leadership and make things happen-.”

When asked what is necessary to develop first, life skills or hard skills, the recruitment company Indeed responds that, primarily, it depends on what position they intend to occupy in the organization, and on the self-assessment of skills. How to do this evaluation? The career development company CareerSmart recommends following these five steps:

  1. Identify the most important skills that the position you want to fill requires and find out what they consist of.
  2. Identify how relevant these skills can be in your professional field.
  3. Find out how to demonstrate these skills in your experience through your resume.
  4. Acknowledge the skills you haven't developed.
  5. Make a training plan.

“We should learn something at least once a year; it doesn't matter if it's a short two-hour course or a diploma; you don't need to always [do] master's degrees or pay for the top schools. We are the worst investors of our professional career; we do it hoping that the companies will always pay us for it and that is the worst mistake”, explained Liz Guarneros.

We recommend: How to cultivate the 5 weakest life skills among Mexican talent

Investing in your own career offers several benefits. The British School of Excellence (BSE) highlights five:

  1. Increases self-confidence
  2. Generates new career opportunities
  3. Helps create new connections
  4. Increases the ability to adapt to changes
  5. Improves mental health

A priority for women

For women, particularly, training in both aspects -both on their own initiative or at the initiative of their organization- is essential, after having been more strongly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and in the face of the gender discrimination they face.

The International Labor Organization estimated that 43.2% of the world's women of working age would have a job in 2021, against 68.6% of men in the same age group. They have faced more job losses in the pandemic, especially because they have strong participation in the most affected economic sectors; they have experienced an overload of unpaid domestic work; and they work in positions where there was no possibility of doing them remotely, from their homes, which implies technology and digitization.

On the other hand, the gender gap is also present in job development and training. According to the Hopes and Fears 2021 survey, 14% of the 32,000 participants (men and women included) reported experiencing gender-based discrimination in career advancement or training. In this percentage, it was noted that women are twice as likely to report gender discrimination as men.

Find out: Talent is more scarce than ever in 2021; training is urgently needed, study shows

In addition to the above, Liz Guarneros pointed out that, based on her experience, those who receive the most training are men. Factors include the time they spend on unpaid care and domestic work, which is much less than that spent by women. Statistics from the Tecnológico de Monterrey's continuing education program show that currently, 51% of students are men and 49% women; however, the gap between the two has decreased in recent years, Luz María Padilla said, since previously 57% of the students were men and 43% were women. “There has been a major shift in the decisions that both large companies and SMEs are making to be able to train their people,” she said.

It should be noted that training with an emphasis on the female population is not only an issue of economic, professional, and personal development for women but also an issue of profitable business for companies and prosperity for economies. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (Imco) estimated last year that by adding 8.2 million more Mexican women to the labor market in the following decade, the country's Gross Domestic Product would be 15% higher in 2030 compared to 2020.

In 2019, before the health crisis, women reached an economic participation rate of 45% in Mexico, the highest in the last 15 years, but the pandemic brought it to 2005 levels with a rate of 41% in 2020, according to the Imco. Today that proportion stands at around 44%. On the other hand, it is about that this participation translates into higher profile jobs and salaries as well.

The role of companies in skill development

Although women still face challenges in terms of training, building and creating a more even scenario for them is largely in the hands of companies. For the ITESM specialist, training women and talent, in general, doesn’t even require a large investment. There are alternatives such as cascading (which consists of training directors so that they transmit knowledge to managers and they, in turn, spread it to the staff) or using an e-learning system (which generates savings in travel expenses).

Promoting training in organizations not only has benefits for the talent, but also for companies. According to the ITA Group, a company focused on developing solutions to motivate and stimulate employees, some of the benefits of doing upskilling and reskilling are:

  1. Improving the retention rate
  2. Boosting morale
  3. Increasing customer satisfaction
  4. Attracting new talent

“I believe that it is a great investment for companies or organizations to train their staff, to evolve their recognition systems, and to do so in a constant and evolving manner. Because it also gives you the advantage that when you already have a very solid, highly-trained person, with different skills, they can move to another position and then it makes it more enriching”, commented Luz María Padilla.

We recommend: Why companies should take a chance on retraining women specifically

In its Workplace Learning 2021 report, LinkedIn notes that 82% of Learning and Development (L&D) professionals agree that employees who are more engaged in their training are more likely to find new roles in their organization. And, in fact, people who have more opportunities for internal mobility show 3.5 times more loyalty to staying with the organization than those who have few opportunities to grow in their position or to develop in other areas.

After two years of the pandemic, which has led to an environment of massive resignations in the United States in 2021, or plans to resign and/or change jobs due to high burnout levels in Mexico, according to reports from different consulting firms, upskilling and reskilling is a useful talent retention strategy for companies, as well as other actions such as flexible work schemes and fair and equal salaries. According to Lorman, a company specializing in training solutions, the retention rate increases between 30 and 50% in companies with a strong learning culture.

Additionally, the aforementioned LinkedIn report informs that training is particularly important for Generation Z, since 79% consider it the key to success in their career; this could affect the way future generations choose where they will start their professional future.

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