When we talk about workforce development strategy, we’re talking about making positive people changes. Changes to culture, changes to attitudes, and changes to people’s potential to influence your business success in the future is paramount.

What is the difference between job training and workforce development?  Well, training is usually specific to a job, skill or behavior that needs to be learnt now, today, pronto. It’s focused on the individual’s short-term goals, and it’s normally not an “opt-in” kind of activity.  Workforce development strategy, on the other hand, is a more fluid, continuous and long-term kind of learning. The role of development is much broader, and applies more generally to the whole workforce.

The intention is to create a culture of learning and constructive attitudes, to build workforce potential, and to equip employees with the tangible and intangible abilities to deal with any challenges the future may hold.  Sure, training is often an important component of workforce development programs. But it’s not development on its own.

And the best part about models of workforce development is that they’re often individualized and self-selected in a way that training can’t be. Employees can choose to engage in development activities anytime, anywhere, and through any medium.

According to the World Economic Forum, 54% of current employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling by 2022.  Human capital is the measure of the economic value that an employee provides, through their knowledge, skills, and abilities.  On average, total human capital costs are almost 70 percent of a company’s operating expenses. Despite how much employees cost, many companies do not properly invest in an employee development plan, in their human capital.

Human capital management allows for an enhanced flow of information throughout your company. Investing in your human capital can work to better communication by improving the quantity and quality of information passing up and down your business.  For example, the relationships forged through a mentorship program can lead to lines of communication between superiors and subordinates that never would have existed otherwise.

Another benefit of investing in your human capital is improving your organization’s culture. Better employee satisfaction, engagement, and communication lead to an improved overall culture.  Employees want to learn, they want to develop their careers, and they want to enjoy going to the office every day.  A positive culture leads to engaged and happy employees.

Human capital development works to improve every facet of employee performance, including communication. This process can help your company to discover employees who may be lacking communication skills and assist them in remedying this situation.  So, how does this tie in today’s current state of workforce development? 

By upskilling and reskilling we can continue to develop additional skills to help an individual become even more valuable in their current role; or one they would like to acquire. Upskilling is the process of teaching current employees’ new skills. Reskilling, on the other hand, is the act of developing significantly different skills to help employees fit into a new role. So, the most significant difference between upskilling and reskilling is whether the new skills you’re learning apply to your current job or a future one.

At the start of the economic crisis, millions of people lost their jobs as businesses and institutions shut down to contain the spread of COVID-19.  Businesses are slowly reopening with health protocols in place; yet many have closed their doors permanently. Distance learning and working from home are issues that come with that pivot, while others try to determine safety requirements to allow for returns to in-person classroom/work learning. Many who still have jobs are manning the frontlines as essential workers and others are doing their jobs from home.

Unemployment in the U.S., the largest economy, was at 3.5% at the end of February in 2020—the lowest rate in half a century—but rose to 4.4% in March in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact.  The jobless rate in the U.S. hit a high of 14.7% in April as a result of the economic crisis. In August it has come down to 8.4%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 13.5 million people are still without jobs and looking for work. Some laid-off and furloughed workers may return to their jobs, but many others will not. This is just the United States

Having a low unemployment rate does not mean a country’s economy is particularly strong. For instance, Myanmar had only 0.8% unemployment in 2019, but its GDP per capita was $1,326, according to the World Bank.

Life is far different than it was on Labor Day last year. The pandemic has sped up changes in the workforce that many had forecast would take years to play out. Leaders in business, education, government, and nonprofits—a cross-sector of stakeholders—are now thinking about the reimagined normal. All of us are now thinking about the reimagined normal.

How should people map their plans for the future? Many recommend for workers to obtain additional skillsets with the evolving technology used in all industries.  Research from Deloitte indicates it’s in a business’ best interest to take the leadership role in upskilling and reskilling, even if they have been slow to do so.

Seventy-four percent of organizations agree that reskilling is important, but only 10 percent are ready to address the issue. The findings indicate, “Organizations should focus on building workers’ resilience for both the short and the long term—a focus that can allow organizations to increase their own resilience in the face of constant change.”

Meantime, a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity argues that “while it’s easy to understand why reduced revenues necessitate heightened cost-consciousness, halting investment in upskilling is a strategic misstep that deprives organizations of key opportunities.”

How do we make job seekers workforce-ready? Candidates should be upskilling by taking advantage of available learning offerings. Jobs are going to increasingly require digital skills. “What skills could you really add to your toolbox while you’re at home? The more you can improve your digital fluency and your digital literacy, the better opportunities are going to be available for you when this settles down.”

Workforce development is an essential component of community economic development in any economic climate, and certainly even more critical during the financial crises we’re experiencing today.  We’re living in a rapidly evolving society right now. What we need to know in our jobs is profoundly changing and so are the ways in which we get the skills needed for a good job and career.

At St. Patrick Center, we provide an expansive vision of work-based learning (WBL).  We emphasize developmental relationships with adults, connections to broader social and professional networks, and authentic work experiences that provide hands-on learning opportunities and the chance to take on new roles and responsibilities.  Sherwin Williams and the Missouri Botanical Garden have partnered with us to provide training to clients that become job-ready and ready to enter the workforce with the appropriate work skillsets.   

Solving the skills gap requires a multi-pronged approach that includes providing career guidance, mentorship and development by investing in pathways to the skilled trades such as apprenticeships, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) which ensure transparency in workforce development program outcomes.

The world has many displaced workers, many of whose jobs are unlikely to come back.  There needs to be an approach to identify how to quickly convert this crisis into an opportunity to get people started on rescaling.   According to research by McKinsey, “The number of the most in-demand destination jobs in technology, health care, and business management is growing, and filling them will require hiring managers to take a skills-centered view of candidates.”

Maria Flynn, president and CEO of JFF, says this challenging time is also an opportunity. “The re-employment system can be much more fluid by acknowledging different solutions like digital, credential platforms. Companies can really focus on skills-based hiring. They can double-down on looking at talent in new ways, and not only using a degree as a signal.”

There are many routes to the same destination. But some are quicker, more scenic, and less bumpy than others.  Regardless, having a plan and roadmap will allow one to create connections between personal and strategic destinations.  So start with the leadership, and make sure that the entire workforce understands that their development relies on learning, not just training. And that this learning can present itself in many different shapes and sizes.

Like learning from a mentor, completing an online training program, brainstorming with colleagues, or simply trying out something new and learning from mistakes.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards”.