Skills for a New Reality
By Natellie Sun, Managing Director – Search & Selection, Randstad Greater China
  • As technology opens doors to innovation and growth opportunities, it is imperative that organisations and employees stay future-ready through upskilling and reskilling.

  • One in two Hong Kong respondents report they struggle to acquire the skills needed in their current jobs, according to Randstad’s semi-annual Workmonitor survey.

Long before COVID-19 struck, companies had been on a steady pivot to digital transformation, requiring employers and employees to close skills gaps to keep up with the pace of change across industries. The public health situation has served to rapidly accelerate the process. However, according to Randstad Hong Kong’s Workmonitor survey, while employers and employees acknowledged shortcomings in skills and competencies, the city’s workforce were the least likely in Asia to upskill or reskill to stay relevant and future-proof their employability.

50% of Workmonitor survey’s respondents reported they struggled to acquire new skills to adapt to changes brought about by COVID-19 in their current jobs. Furthermore, even though upskilling holds the key to higher wages — which continues to be the most important employee value proposition among Hong Kong employees — one in four respondents admitted to not regularly refreshing their skills and competencies. When it came to responsibility for who should pick up the tab for upskilling and reskilling, 51% of the respondents said the responsibility for keeping their skills and competencies up to date should be shared between the employer and employees. Notably, 91% of the respondents held the view that the government should offer tax rebates or subsidies to encourage employees to develop their professional competencies to stay employable. The Hong Kong Workmonitor survey is part of a global Randstad survey conducted across 34 markets, with a minimum of 400 respondents in each market.

Triggers widening the skills gap

COVID-19 has supercharged work process transformations driven by automation and digitisation, which in many cases have contributed to widening the skills gap. For instance, employees who are unfamiliar with using new digital solutions may face technical challenges, especially when working from home away from on the job support and supervision. Staff responsible for administrative tasks could find themselves lagging behind or even becoming obsolete as their jobs are replaced by chatbots and robotics automation processes. This is where upskilling and reskilling can make a difference, equipping organisations with a skilled workforce to embrace new opportunities and, in the process, making employees more productive, future-ready, and emotionally secure. Instead of replacing existing staff members with tech-savvy ones, it can be more advantageous to upskill the current workforce. Existing employees have valuable legacy knowledge. They also understand working styles and responsibilities. It is worth noting that the 2021 Randstad Employer Brand Research found that 45% of more than 2,500 Hong Kong respondents valued employers that offered solid training and career progression opportunities.

Collaborating and messaging

With the mass transition to remote working, HR teams not only need to rethink how to keep people in their organisations connected, engaged, and productive, they also need to identify the skills that should be upgraded. In a post-COVID work environment, companies can redesign their strategies for building their workforce capabilities by creating an environment that encourages life-long learning. By aligning human capital development with business strategies to develop flexible training and career progression frameworks, the HR function can apply both short- and long-term perspectives to workforce development.

Conveying a clear and inspiring message or narrative is vital. To strengthen the message for upskilling and reskilling, HR teams need to collaborate closely with managers to communicate a unified vision of how a skilled workforce translate into benefits and advantages for individual staff members. Strategies need to be consistent and thought through. For instance, larger organisations can consider appointing a chief talent development officer or chief reskilling officer who collaborates across business units and drives the creation of skills development resources and platforms. On the other hand, smaller firms can engage independent consultancy agencies that provide workforce redeployment and skilling solutions aimed at empowering employees with futureready competencies.

Keeping pace with technology

Preparing the company for the future typically involves significant investment in new technologies. Yet it also requires making sure the organisation has the right skills to leverage these technologies. Which skills will be needed most in the future? What will the workforce need to know to successfully navigate the evolving nature of work? The right digital skills and a learning mindset are essential. As digital transformation and the fallout from COVID-19 continue to redefine how, when, and where work is done, it is essential for the HR function to embrace technology to implement and measure talent management strategies. If HR professionals fail to reskill and upskill their own technology capabilities, they risk diminishing the contribution they can make to their company’s competitiveness and talent management strategies. HR technology is not just about using AI to fill vacancies. Tech-savvy HR practitioners can, for example, use technology to identify if an employee is behind or ahead of their upskilling and reskilling targets.

Making the future known

Whenever possible the HR function needs to capitalise on opportunities to communicate the benefits of reskilling and upskilling. This can be achieved through promoting the availability of learning and development programmes, especially to staff whose jobs are challenged by digitalisation. Creating a learning environment where employees have easy access to training courses and materials is crucial to the success of a human capital development strategy. A basic starting point should involve surveying employees, managers, and department heads about the skills they need to do their jobs well. Skills training should not be pursued as a disconnected activity but should include activities that create shared value for both the company and staff. The goal is to remove barriers and make it as easy as possible for employees to upskill themselves both at work and through their own initiatives. Besides creating more on the job training opportunities, employers can implement protected learning time. This is time allocated to enable employees to attend courses and seminars that match their skills and development needs. Mandatory training hours and courses can also be incorporated into a staff member’s career progression roadmap and linked to promotion goals.

To boost communication and negotiation soft-skills training, “lunch and learn” programmes are a good way of bringing employees from different teams together to learn how they can collaborate more effectively and share best practices with one another. Through interaction the workforce develop a better understanding of how skills are needed, developed, and applied. It also raises awareness of the importance of life-long learning.

Times of change offer opportunities to start afresh. Disruption always uncovers areas of growth and weaknesses, with forward-thinking HR leaders and organisations realising the possibilities, especially when it comes to harnessing those opportunities from digital transformation. However, employers and employees can only do so much on their own. Hong Kong’s digital transformation journey and post-COVID recovery will require a cooperative partnership among the government, educators, employers, and the working population. As Hong Kong adapts and recovers from the public health crisis, upskilling and reskilling can play a fundamental role in supporting business growth while delivering a better overall employee experience.

Skills for a New Reality
PR 11 January, 2022