Building Skills to Renew an Existing Workforce
Like many businesses, Microsoft Australia is preparing its workforce with the skills of tomorrow as the company ponders the challenges ahead in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. What is different is the path they are taking to renewing the existing workforce rather than replacing them.
The changes wrought by the coronavirus have included a speeding up of the digital transformation trend, placing demands for new skills on companies in every sector and affecting even a technology giant like Microsoft.
“This is a dramatic escalation of digital transformation and the demand has been significant,” the firm’s local human resources director, Ingrid Jenkins, says.
“Our customers are accelerating their digital transformation. They are looking to us as a partner in bringing that technology acumen and expertise into the conversations. So we have a definite focus around technology skills.”
But rather than hiring in new staff and making redundant those staff whose skills are no longer needed, the company is reskilling and upskilling its existing staff.
The company is boosting its workforce’s skills in cloud technology, data analytics and artificial intelligence, and cyber security – all central elements of a move to increased digitisation.
“What our customers are asking is that depth of technical acumen,” Jenkins says.
But technology “will only get you so far”, and the company is also placing a focus on analytical thinking, problem solving, creativity and consulting skills.
“It’s actually about deeply understanding your customers and industry enough to make that technology relevant,” she says. “Using the power of technology to help customers and industries with their business challenges or opportunities requires our teams to have that deep industry knowledge. So we’ve got a big focus around industry acumen.”
Jenkins says technology is moving so quickly that Microsoft couldn’t keep up simply by hiring new staff with the new skills, even if it wanted to.
Instead, each member of staff has a mandatory learning program designed specifically for their role to help them meet what will be the core requirements of that role for the future.
In addition to the core requirements training, staff have the option of taking on additional training which will help them grow into new roles. The company provides a day a month for workers to dedicate to their learning.
“Our people absolutely appreciate just how much investment there is in their skilling and keeping their skills up-to-date and relevant. They get our industry. They get how quickly things evolve and change and how they have to come up to speed,” Jenkins says.
Ultimately, she says, renewing talent rather than replacing it is a smarter business decision which can help to foster a better team culture overall.
James Mcilvena, the Australian managing director of workforce transformation and development organisation LHH says there simply aren’t enough qualified people in the workforce to meet demand for the skills that will help organisations grow in the future.
“Organisations need these future roles and they’re going to need to grow rather than hire when it comes to these roles,” Mcilvena says.
“It’s a smart investment of their money. If you think about the cost of taking an individual who already has the institutional knowledge from working with your organisation for 10 years, you can actually reskill and retrain that person for a lower cost than paying a redundancy and then a recruitment fee to bring a new person in.”
There are two different but related approaches, he says.
Upskilling is where staff have a significant component of the skills already needed to carry out a future-proofed job and are learning to supplement their existing skills.
“Reskilling is taking a role that might not exist in two years and saying we’re going to set you on a completely new path,” explains Mcilvena. “You might go from being a customer service rep to becoming a data analyst, a complete 180 when it comes to reskilling.”
The first step to equipping a workforce with the skills needed for the company’s future is to get a full understanding of where the company is headed and the challenges it might face, and to consider the roles that might be displaced or affected by the changes, and the new roles that will be created.
Companies then need to assess the staff to target where their investment can be maximised. If someone doesn’t have a head for figures or basic mathematical ability, trying to reskill them into a data analytics role, for instance, would be a waste of time and money.
Secondly, if companies want to get a good return on their investment in retraining, they need to spend the money on staff who are keen and open to learning new skills. Those who want to evolve with the business.
Finally, redeploying talent into the right roles is essential. “There is no point making products you can’t sell, and the same logic applies here,” Mcilvena says. “Once you have invested in your talent, you need to ensure they are placed and supported in the roles that will drive business outcomes and prosperity for the long term. If you don’t get this right, you can’t protect your investment. It takes a dedicated approach, not an internal job board.”
For the company, the financials of getting this right are just responsible business management. This is before considering there is also a pay off in terms of increased employee engagement and a stronger employer brand, says Mcilvena.
“The overwhelming response from employees is the positivity in feeling rather than outcomes being dictated to them they have more control of their own destiny,” he says.
To learn more about developing a renewable workforce, visit https://www.lhh.com.vn/the-new-roi/