Re-skilling employees for the jobs of tomorrow

By James S. Cassel

In a rapidly shifting world where business models are being reinvented, digital is king, and automation is the endgame, companies must be forward- thinking to survive — particularly given the tight labor market.

Adapting to seismic change requires having employees with the right skill sets, which may be best achieved by retraining your staff. You have an obligation to help reskill employees for the jobs of tomorrow, but the process has challenges, including pinpointing weaknesses and securing employee buy- in. To succeed, a clear road map must be developed and executed.

First, identify your company’s objectives. What are your immediate, medium, and long-term goals and needs? For example, if you own warehouses, your immediate objective may be to implement enhanced commercial two-way radios, laptops, or scanners.

Your medium-term goal might be to introduce a conveyor system that partially automates unloading trucks—technology that Walmart is currently incorporating into its stores. Long-term, you might want smart robots that handle all warehousing needs, following the example of Amazon and, China’s largest retailer.

As you identify company goals, determine what employee skill sets will be needed to transition into the future. Automated warehousing necessitates a staff to train, maintain, and repair the robots. Reskilling now will ready workers for those tasks, while having an understanding up front of what robots cannot do, will help management fill in the gaps.

Next, develop a plan, timeline, and budget detailing your business objectives and breaking them into manageable steps. Refine the plan as your reskilling strategy develops.

A sound strategy begins with taking inventory of your employees’ current skills, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Enlist the help of supervisors to identify both skills in place and those that are lacking.

In assessing your staff, prioritize employees who have proven their mettle, loyalty and cultural fit; their continued employment and livelihood should be protected. For each employee, identify skill adjacencies to facilitate training for new positions requiring similar skills.

If you are entertaining the “buy, not build” talent acquisition strategy, remember there is always risk in external hiring. Although you may be acquiring a skill set you don’t currently have, new employees may not share your work ethic or company culture. As the saying goes, “Better the devil you know…”

Open internal lines of communication, review training options, and keep your team engaged and motivated. Show your employees the importance of being future-ready; listen to their ideas and concerns and engage the process as a unified team.

Unavoidably, as you future-ready your company, some workers won’t sync up with company goals or will refuse to learn new skills; assist in outplacing them. In the long run, it will be good for both them and the business.

For flexible employees, evaluate alternative forms of training, such as bringing in contract trainers, accessing webinars and e-learning platforms, or paying for them to pursue coursework and degrees on their own time.

Based on individual needs, consider implementing a mix of training options. Some people may have to commit to night school, while for others a few webinars may suffice. Boost employee buy-in by keeping their sights set on stronger outcomes, including higher compensation. Share the benefits that everyone will gain from more productivity with fewer people. Amazon’s 16- week certification program enables warehouse workers to become data technicians—and double their salary! Better pay is also important to retain talent and ensure that after investing in training, your employees aren’t snatched away by the competition.

Business owners are generally aware that in a transforming world, the way business was done yesterday won’t fly tomorrow. The problem is that rather than plan and prepare, many are playing ostrich and hoping challenges will somehow disappear. With autonomous technology taking over, truck drivers, for example, might become as extinct as dinosaurs. Businesses that don’t evolve will suffer the same fate.

Avoid insurmountable issues tomorrow by tackling them today. Take a hard look at your business, where you want to take it, industry and technology trends, and how your team measures up. Then, focus on implementing your plan. Reskilling may not be for the faint of heart, but neither is conquering tomorrow.

James S. Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., an investment-banking firm based in Miami. or via LinkedIn at

How to Handle a PR Crisis: What Boeing Should Have Done

By Andrew Martins

  • After a crisis occurs, get ahead of the narrative by addressing it right away.
  • Be sure to convey empathy for any problems caused. Be sympathetic to anyone emotionally or physically hurt, but consult your legal team before admitting guilt.
  • Don’t forget to use social media as a signal boost for your business’s post-crisis message.

Financial, existential and reputational crises can happen to any business. Planning for the worst-case scenario can save a lot of headaches, regardless of how big or small your company may be.

Even though the best course of action is to avoid crisis and controversy altogether, sometimes it’s completely unavoidable. How a business handles the fallout and responds to a disaster can mean the difference between a blip on the radar or a full-blown PR nightmare. When things go sideways, it’s
imperative that you have a crisis management plan in place so your reputation and livelihood aren’t irrevocably damaged.

While there are plenty of examples of major companies going through tough times, the ongoing crisis at Boeing and its 737 Max aircraft is the most high-profile and damaging situation making headlines today. Below are three crisis management tips that small businesses can learn from Boeing’s mistakes.

Boeing’s crisis and PR missteps

Few crises have hit a business as hard in recent years as the one that’s left Boeing reeling over the last few weeks. In the months since two of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft crashed, killing more than 300 people , the situation for the aircraft manufacturer has gone from bad to worse. Nearly the entire fleet has been grounded due to a faulty stabilization system, which is suspected to have caused the crashes. Airlines have requested compensation for the stoppage, and orders for the aircraft have ground to a halt.

With massive losses expected in the company’s foreseeable future, experts are pointing to at least one particularly damaging aspect of the crisis that Boeing spectacularly failed to navigate: its public response.

While Boeing’s woes are uniquely their own, it’s still important to remember that any business can find itself at the center of a major crisis. When problems arise and your business must respond, here are some pointers to help you navigate difficult times without damaging your company’s reputation.

1. Respond quickly with transparency

When businesses are facing a potentially damaging situation, the first thing that needs to happen is to address the situation as quickly and clearly as possible. It may be uncomfortable, but according to James Cassel, founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co. , it’s better to just get out in front of it.

“When you have a problem, you need to acknowledge it right away and take active measures to deal with it,” he said. “Too many companies fail to understand that stalling or obfuscating just increases the risk for your business.”

Being the first out of the gate with a response is just half the solution. United Capital Source CEO and Founder Jared Weitz urged companies to be more transparent to “get ahead of the story.”

“Rather than obfuscate and allow external perspectives to shape the narrative, step into the light and be transparent from the start,” Weitz said.

In the immediate aftermath of the crashes and the 737 Max’s grounding, Boeing was harshly criticized for how it handled the crisis. Slow response times and an apology that some considered insincere compounded the PR nightmare.

By the time Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg released an apology letter and accompanying video on April 4, nearly a month had passed since the second crash. While it wasn’t the company’s first attempt at addressing the situation, it was considered by critics as a case of “too little, too late.”

Cassel said the fact that it took Muilenburg so long to publicly apologize was a bad look since “it takes years to build up a brand, but only a few minutes to destroy it.”

2. Be empathetic, but seek legal advice before admitting guilt

Regardless of who’s impacted by a company crisis, it’s important that any apology is handled carefully. Company officials may want to avoid admitting guilt, but failing to address the issue at all can make it seem like those at the top don’t care.

In the case of Boeing’s current woes, it took the company nearly a week before they released a statement that expressed their concern for passengers’ safety. Coupled with the news that Boeing lobbied President Donald Trump to not ground the aircraft, David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group said public perception around the manufacturer soured.

“Boeing’s handling of the crisis was a classic study of what not to do. The key to successfully handling a crisis is being proactive and taking responsibility,” he said.  “Boeing failed in this and allowed others to set the narrative, …[which] conveyed the impression that Boeing was more concerned about profits than people’s safety.”

While most experts agree that addressing the event head-on and being empathetic to the victims is the best course of action, that may not always be the best legal move. Tina Willis, a Florida-based injury and accident attorney, said careful planning between a company’s public relations and legal teams can go a long way in addressing the public’s concerns while mitigating potential litigation.

“Any media presentation should be reviewed by the business’s lawyer before release. Otherwise, if a business admits fault, or even tries to explain what happened, you can bet those statements will become valuable evidence in a future accident or death lawsuit,” she said.

In the case of Boeing’s 737 Max where they recently admitted they knew of the faulty sensors prior to the crashes, Willis said potential lawsuits could come with massive penalties as families of the victims seek restitution. Knowing that, it would explain why companies often struggle with empathy versus liability.

“The bottom line is, from a liability standpoint, Boeing faced an extremely difficult dilemma,” said Willis. “However, when combining PR goals with avoiding liability goals, the best approach would have been to have the PR people develop a game plan with the company’s lawyers. If having the statement reviewed by lawyers is not possible, the best legal approach for any company would be to stay silent and speak only to their lawyers, then have their lawyers speak to the press.”

3. Have a social media strategy as part of your crisis management plan

These days, nothing delivers your message to the public as fast as social media. As such, businesses in crisis mode should include both a social and traditional media response in their disaster recovery plan. Since social media usually sets the narrative and has quickly become a major player in the information space, he said ignoring it would be a major detriment.

According to a 2018 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, approximately 1 in 5 adults said they get their news from social media. Conversely, the percentage of respondents who said they got their news from television went from 57% to 49%, while those who cited print journalism as their main source of news dropped from 20% to 16% from 2016 to 2018.

While the hardest-hitting headlines surrounding Boeing’s 737 Max were found in traditional media, the story took on a life of its own on social media. While it may be tempting to ignore the likes of Twitter and Facebook when managing your own crisis, it’s important to recognize how important those platforms are in the news world.

“With the crash of the 737 Max in Ethiopia, the company was facing a human tragedy, yet did not express empathy and sympathy in addressing the issue,” said Johnson. “[Boeing] ignored social media critics who largely set the narrative that the traditional media [picked up on].”