The right approach to skills development can help organizations meet evolving workforce expectations.

With today's changes in the world of work, the skills landscape is also changing. New jobs and tasks are being created to support new COVID-19 requirements. People are returning to jobs that may look a little different than they did a few months ago. These new tasks and responsibilities may require new skills or additional training. Prior to the global health event, we could already see that organizations needed a workforce that could perform today and was prepared for tomorrow — people who had both 21st-century tech competencies and the right "soft skills". The tight labor market made it difficult to capture new talent on-demand, so reskilling and upskilling employees presented the most efficient path to success.

We now find ourselves in a slightly different atmosphere, but the strategy still applies. Organizations that can train current employees on newly needed competencies and employees who can acquire new skills to better perform in changed or expanded roles will be best positioned to thrive in a changing workforce.

But what does this mean in practice? Here are three strategies for talent development to help adapt your workforce to your current and changing needs:

1. Tackling Talent Gaps

A growing talent gap was an increasing problem for organizations before the global health event. The unemployment rate was under 4%, which was great for job seekers, but not for businesses looking to fill talent gaps. Additionally, highly skilled workers were becoming "career nomads," willing to seek out better jobs in a seller's market where their talents could open doors anywhere they looked. The market had shifted for employees who preferred a flexible schedule or working from home.

As a result, many organizations took an over-hire approach to shore up skill sets and guard against potential departures. From a budgetary standpoint, that was not a sustainable strategy when you consider the expenses that come with recruiting, onboarding and training new staff.

To counteract this, businesses should hire for what they need, not what they want. Identify the key talent requirements for meeting business objectives and then analyze current job openings. Are you looking for specific qualifications where staff quality would fill the gap? Consider the often-listed need for a Master's or Bachelor's degree: Is your primary requirement the degree itself, or is it the candidate's effort to bolster their skillsets through education? With the right application approach, you can build in a backstop against turnover without undermining workforce quality.

It's critical to build a lattice rather than a ladder, with career paths that allow for both lateral and vertical movement across the organization as staff develop new skills.

It's also important to create job descriptions that speak to the roles of your staff, rather than simply highlighting your reputation. Consider the case of an established Japanese restaurant. Two job postings that highlighted the prestige associated with employment drew no applicants, but a third that focused on actual working conditions ("work at a place where you don't have to speak to anyone all day") quickly drew 50 applicants and landed the ideal candidate.

2. Creating Skill Development Opportunities

Once you've got the right talent, how do you keep them?

Employees don't want to feel boxed in by their current business potential. Even if vertical career advancement isn't in the cards, employees need to feel like they're moving forward. It's critical to build a lattice rather than a ladder, with career paths that allow for both lateral and vertical movement across the organization as staff develop new skills.

Data demonstrates that the workforce is more than willing to put in the effort to upskill. In fact, according to recent PWC data, 77% of workers would learn new skills or completely retrain to improve their overall employability. This speaks to the need for programs designed to reskill and upskill workers in-situ so they can expand their skills and find new opportunities in-house.

The most important thing to recognize about reskilling and upskilling programs is that they're not one-size-fits-all, regardless of whether employees are seeking to acquire entirely new skillsets or build on those which they already possess. Gone are the days of PowerPoint-based group training courses that lead to moderate, enterprise-wide upticks in employee abilities. Now, businesses must be prepared to let staff reskill on-the-job as part of everyday operations in order to support long-term retention.

3. Discovering Your Talent

Offering opportunities for reskilling and upskilling can help bridge the talent gap, reduce hiring costs and keep current employees satisfied, but it requires identifying the ideal in-house candidates for new skill solutions.

Start by talking to your vendors and polling your management leaders to get a sense of your current skills inventory. Who stands out from the crowd? Why? In addition to specific qualifying talents, you should also look for self-starter employees who manage their time well and display a willingness to learn. To facilitate this process, it's worth shifting from intermittent employee-manager meetings to more frequent discussions about current working conditions.

By identifying your top reskill and upskill candidates and cross-referencing them against a regularly updated skills inventory, managers can discover who's who in the organization and produce tailored training plans to help develop in-demand abilities.

Turnover, talent and training now inform operational success. With the right strategies for skills development — identifying skill shortfalls, creating new opportunities and cataloging staff talents — it's possible to stay ahead of evolving workforce expectations. While some things may still be uncertain, giving your employees a way to meaningfully dig into new skills and goals can help you use the rapidly changing business landscape to foster forward momentum in your people and in turn, your organization.

Launch the ADP virtual summit anytime, Looking Beyond the Curve: Recovery and Engagement in the New World of Work. Choose your sessions and hear from expert panels on what employers are experiencing with retention and engagement, and the future outlook of the workforce.

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