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 JD.com, 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.