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Upskilling and Reskilling: The Art of Coping with Change

By the ReWork Editors

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for constant change has become a fact of everyday life for businesses. In recent months, organizations have had to rapidly digitize processes'—faster than ever before'—and employees' responsiveness and adaptability have been critical to the success of this shift. Over the past year, leaders learned (if they didn't know it already) that companies that can reinvent themselves are better positioned to weather crises and thrive. Even when the pandemic ends, though, organizations must continue to give their teams the tools they need to be resilient and able to cope with uncertainty and adapt, so that the efforts made throughout the past year can be sustained and amplified.

The Heart of the Matter: Training

Because skills play a huge role in organizations' success, the HR function must focus on skills development for existing positions (upskilling) and create development plans for new functions (reskilling). Even if a job title does not change, over time some of the tasks assigned to that role will become obsolete and replaced by new ones. To remain competitive, each employee must learn to integrate these new tasks into their role and understand how those tasks affect the business. At the same time, organizations need to create new professions and career opportunities to respond to market changes so they can fully satisfy their customers. The simultaneous use of reskilling and upskilling enables organizations to remain successful and gain a competitive advantage.

The World Economic Forum anticipates that "at least 54 percent of all employees will need reskilling and upskilling by 2022" in order to perform well in their roles and allow their businesses to thrive. 1 Indeed, employees themselves recognize this change in workplaces and the need for regular training: 77 percent of respondents in a 2019 PWC survey "said they would be willing to upskill in order to become more employable." 2

Artificial Intelligence and the Transformation of Skills Management

To achieve the highest return they can on their investments in upskilling and reskilling, organizations need to go much further in the implementation and management of training. Because of the misperception that training isn't work (and vice versa), today's employees do not spend nearly enough time on training. Organizations that want to see increases in efficiency, productivity, and quality need to recognize that training and work are linked and interdependent.

A close look at the practices of leading organizations reveals that their success stems in part from having in place a thorough training strategy at all stages of an employee's time in their company. Artificial intelligence plays a key role in this strategy by helping companies monitor the skills that each employee'—and the organization at large'—already has as well as those they need.

Companies need to know, as precisely as possible, what each employee is currently able to do, which skills they have, and which new skills they want or need to learn. By linking this information to job descriptions and development plans, an organization will know which skills its candidates need when they are being recruited. It will also know which career development opportunities to offer to employees as well as any relevant training a team needs to achieve its goals. Therefore, artificial intelligence has a positive impact not only on the efficacy of skills management but also on career development.

Looking Ahead

Companies that use data science to identify new skills and effectively upskill and reskill their employees will have a clear edge in the ongoing war for talent. Key strategies include the creation of academies or in-house training centers, the deployment of regulatory training in line with company strategy, and the provision of other resources that employees need to improve their skills. Much more is needed, though, and companies should keep looking for ways to reduce today's skills gaps as much as possible and to prepare employees for tomorrow by giving them the skills they will most certainly need in the future.

1 BØrge Brende. 2019. "We need a reskilling revolution. Here's how to make it happen." World Economic Forum website, April 15

2 PWC. 2020. "Upskilling: Building Confidence in an Uncertain World." PWC website, November 21,

About the author:

This article was written by the editorial team of Cornerstone's ReWork blog (, a guide to the changing talent-management industry that helps executives and HR leaders succeed in the new, technology-driven economy. It is reprinted here with permission.


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