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COVID-19 has made reskilling workers more urgent than ever

Randstad’s VP of global learning and development says rapid pandemic-driven workplace changes are leaving many behind and offers 4 ways to better reskill and upskill employees.

COVID-19 has made reskilling workers more urgent than ever
Furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, airline and hotel employees in Sweden retrain to work as hospital and nursing home assistants, April 8, 2020. [Photo: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images]
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Across the globe, organizations responded to the outbreak of COVID-19 with the most rapid transformation of the workplace in modern history. While studies have shown that the transition to remote work hasn’t hurt productivity, recent Randstad research has revealed that many workers are struggling to acquire the necessary skills to remain relevant in this constantly evolving labor market. To prevent workers from being left behind, it is critical that both businesses and governments collaborate to equip workers with the skills they need to adapt to the post-pandemic world of work.

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Even before the pandemic, many companies lacked a cohesive reskilling strategy. At the start of 2020, only 1 in 5 talent leaders said they were providing training and reskilling opportunities to workers even though 9 in 10 said it was their responsibility to do so. Encouragingly, Randstad’s new Workmonitor survey found that 60 percent of workers feel they’ve learned necessary skills for adapting to the pandemic. However, it remains concerning that 40 percent of workers say they are struggling to learn new skills required in this digital age.

With so many jobs lost in 2020, reskilling redundant workers and ensuring currently employed workers are reskilled and upskilled must be priorities for both businesses and governments in 2021. Here are four ways to make that happen:

Outplacement Should Incorporate Reskilling Opportunities

Companies should offer reskilling and training programs to their separated workers to help them acquire new skills so they can quickly reenter the workforce. For example, in early 2020, as it became clear that workers in the travel sector were going to be affected by the pandemic more severely than others, Scandinavian Airlines swiftly retrained their cabin staff members to become assistant nurses, which helped these employees find other work. Similarly, Malaysia Airlines launched a reskilling program to redeploy pilots, flight attendants, and other customer-facing roles to fill more in-demand roles.

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Governments Must Share Reskilling Responsibility

With so many jobs lost during the pandemic, the responsibility for reskilling and redeploying workers can’t be shouldered by the private sector alone. It is critical that state and local governments play a part, and some have already taken up the mantle.

Nine states have partnered with companies and foundations to create the OnwardUS Coalition, a platform that connects displaced workers to job search and training resources. New York has launched a platform in partnership with leading online training provider Coursera that provides 4,000 free courses to unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers. And Tennessee launched the Reconnect to Workforce Partnership, which will provide scholarships for up to 500,000 unemployed Tennesseans to pursue reskilling opportunities at tuition-free community or technical colleges.

Focus on Tech Skills

The shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the digital transformation of the fourth industrial revolution. For example, McKinsey found that throughout the pandemic, advances in technology have allowed companies to accomplish things in 10 days that used to take 10 months.

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Related: 3 ways to identify workers to reskill


Critically, this rapid transformation requires an entirely new set of skills, skills that many workers say they are struggling to acquire. Competencies in areas such as cloud computing and communications, data analytics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are all in demand now and will continue to be vital in the short and long term.

Reskilling Must Continue Past the Pandemic

The desire to acquire skills that will ensure future employability is a major need expressed by workers in Randstad’s Workmonitor 2020 survey, with one-third of respondents expressing a desire to work for an employer that provides training on the job. This underlines the fact that reskilling and upskilling are ongoing processes that are just as important for employed individuals as they are for those who are currently out of work. More than half of the workers surveyed also said that updating workforce skills should be a shared responsibility between employer and employee. It is crucial that companies devise and implement a comprehensive reskilling program throughout their organization, and that workers buy into the initiative and embrace how important learning new skills is to staying relevant in the labor market.

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There is no doubt that organizations recognize the importance of training and reskilling to maintain an effective workforce, but the coronavirus pandemic has shown that while meaningful progress has been made, too many workers are being left behind. It is imperative that both companies and governments take responsibility for ensuring that all workers, regardless of whether they are employed or out of work, are always being equipped with the most in-demand skills they need now and in the future.


Wesley Connor is VP of global learning and development for Randstad, a global leader in the HR services industry.