Upskilling, reskilling: Accelerating digital transformation post-pandemic
We find ourselves at the tipping point of another industrial revolution powered not by steam and coal but by digital transformation. Digital transformation has long been a topic of discussion in boardrooms and the C-suite, but COVID-19 has served as an accelerant for many industries. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
This digital transformation, driven by digital-first consumer engagement, has taken place over the course of a few months, revealing knowledge and skill gaps. 64% of U.S. executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023 due to advancing automation and digitization. Many are considering reskilling and upskilling their workforces to address this burgeoning skill gap. Reskilling is the successful transition into a new job or the ability to successfully take on new tasks, while upskilling helps individuals become more skilled at their current position or area of expertise.
In the following sections we focus on industries going through major digital transformations—healthcare, retail, financial services, and education—and why reskilling and upskilling are essential to long-term viability.
Access to quality and convenient healthcare in the age of COVID-19 has quickly become paramount. While the pandemic has stretched the limits of hospitals, it also accelerated the adoption of technologies like telemedicine, virtual visitations, and at-home triage. According to one study by the American Psychiatric Association, prior to the pandemic, 64% of practitioners saw 0% of their patient caseload via telehealth. Two months into the pandemic, 85% of practitioners were seeing more than 3 out of 4 patients via telehealth.
This shift to virtual care and telehealth was driven by a need for delivering the right care, in the right place, at the right time, and for the right cost. Since the pandemic started, 90% of physicians have treated patients remotely and 77% support the shift towards telehealth.
Healthcare is lagging in overall technology skills compared to other industries, making it prone to disruption. An estimated 25% of existing tasks in today’s healthcare workplace will be automated by 2030. This future requires a digitally skilled workforce to match the pace of innovation. The healthcare industry cannot afford to look at virtual models of care as a passing trend and will need to invest in reskilling or upskilling their workers to deliver the same exceptional care they provide in-person but through virtual channels.
Retail, an industry already under economic pressure, has found itself struggling to cope with the rapid onset of digital commerce. COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation in this industry by about 6.1 years. Retailers have had to stand up omnichannel shopping experiences such as ecommerce, buy online pickup in store (BOPIS), buy online pickup curbside (BOPAC) within weeks or days. Online shopping spend at US retailers increased 44% YOY, meaning $1 out of every $5 spent came from the online channel. Retailers with new and existing digital capabilities will have to revamp their digital capabilities, integrating it with their physical shopping experience to solve customer needs.
Clothing, footwear, and other retailers have had to reimagine their supply chain considering travel and import/export restrictions. “The pandemic has also forced retailers to redesign their internal processes and empower their employees to effectively leverage digital systems – some newly implemented and some now outdated legacy systems” said Emily Eddy, manager of design strategy at PK. Retailers can take advantage of digital supply chain solutions such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and IoT to improve inventory management and decision-making.
With continued digital transformation, companies that effectively utilize digital capabilities to deliver a personalized and efficient customer experience will be more likely to stand out from their competitors. Almost 4 out of 10 retail digital transformation initiatives failed due to lack of skills or training. Retailers cannot land their digital transformation initiatives without investing in reskilling upskilling their workforce.
With the rise of “fintech,” mobile banking, and other technological disruptors, the banking, finance and insurance industry (BFSI) is ripe for innovation and the skills that come with it. This need for innovation only increased in importance as COVID-19 necessitated more contactless and virtual interactions. According to a recent report, 81% of banking CEOs are concerned about the speed of technological change. Even for BFSI companies that have fully embraced digitization, the ability to upskill and reskill employees will be vital for supporting the increasingly virtual banking experience using technology like blockchain, AI, and robotic processing automation (RPA).
The industry’s marketing skills, which have relied heavily on local branches, face a similar dilemma, ranking the lowest of any industry measured in the same report. As brand engagement moves online, BFSI marketing leaders will need to rely less on local relationships and more on data-driven models and analytics to build personalized member experiences.
Financial planners and customer service members will also need to consider upskilling to better support changing customer needs. From deposits and investments to advice and support, financial decisions that were previously made in a bank are now mobile and web experiences, creating new digital touchpoints for the customer and the business.
While technology has been slowly integrating into the classroom for years, the use of that technology to support curriculums and teaching methods has remained largely stagnant. This lack of technological evolution and adoption was painfully apparent as COVID-19 forced an industry built on in-person learning, particularly at the K-12 level, to rapidly upskill to a completely digital learning experience in a matter of months.
For teachers and students, this shift requires major upskilling to expand their digital fluency as they begin utilizing new teaching methods and technologies like cloud data sharing, cybersecurity protocols, web conferencing and more to stay engaged online. For administrators, particularly in Information Technology (IT), the struggle to safely implement these new technologies, and encourage teacher adoption, will require similar upskilling.
This massive change in approach is also creating tremendous whitespace for schools and education companies to tap into, and the window of opportunity does not appear to be closing any time soon. Even as in-person schooling slowly returns, teachers, administrators, parents, and students will need to be prepared for a potential hybrid model that facilitates equal learning opportunities both in the classroom and at home.
Steps to upskill and reskill
With COVID-19 accelerating an already rapid digital evolution of internal business processes and external customer preferences, companies of all sizes and across all industries are being forced to reexamine their ability to reskill and upskill their workforce. Successful companies should be investing heavily in digital reskilling and upskilling for the next 3-5 years with constant evaluation based on industry shifts.
Companies interested in investing more in upskilling and reskilling should pause before committing to any strategies, as they’ll first need to understand the gaps in their current processes. To identify these gaps, companies should consider the following internal initiatives:
- Role audit
- Identify the top 3-5 roles in your organization that would most benefit from upskilling or reskilling. Factors to consider include impact to business, impact to the customer, time criticality, risks, and opportunity enablement.
- “Learning journey” mapping
- Understand the current journey your employees take to develop their skills and learn new tools. Where does it begin? How does it end? What bottlenecks exist?
- Technology future state
- Identify the top 3-5 emerging digital trends or technologies that your business, competitors, and industry are prioritizing. What internal tools or processes do you need? What skills and core competencies are needed to leverage these new trends or technologies?
While developing upskilling and reskilling practices is difficult, businesses that prioritize the development of their employees stand to benefit from a workforce better suited to maximize its potential and take advantage of new, differentiating strategies and technologies. The key to this prioritization is understanding what upskilling and reskilling looks like for your industry and mapping that to your specific digital goals and KPIs.
About the authors
Caleb Papineau serves as a strategy lead and senior manager at PK. He brings a long track record of developing and executing winning strategies for B2B and B2C companies to this role, as well as experience developing marketing strategies in seven global markets for over thirty “Fortune 100” clients. He also has global M&A experience in due diligence, negotiation, and integrations.
Ben Schwartz serves as a senior consultant at PK. He is an MBA graduate and seasoned marketing communications strategist with 10+ years experience serving dozens of public, private and nonprofit organizations in a variety of consulting and in-house roles. His experience spans marketing strategy, public relations, corporate communications, sales enablement, branding, change management, employee engagement, design thinking and content marketing—all with a unifying focus on telling stories and engaging audiences. He is skilled at developing and implementing programs, leading projects and teams and managing stakeholders.
Amish is a strategy consultant at PK and an MBA graduate of the University of Illinois – Chicago. He is a data-driven, customer-centric strategist helping clients better understand and create delightful experiences for their customers. His experience involves designing and implementing marketing strategies, UX design, sales enablement strategies, future customer experiences, data strategies, and change management processes. Prior to PK, Amish primarily worked in the retail industry in an analytics and business strategy capacity.