By Andres Alcantar, a member of the WGU Texas Advisory Board and former Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission.
COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of our lives in unprecedented and devastating ways, and perhaps no more tumultuously than our job and business security. Millions of Americans are out of work, and thousands of businesses across Texas have drastically downsized or even permanently closed their doors.
The pandemic has accelerated the future of work dramatically shifting the workplace and creating significant new skills requirements. Both companies and employees that cannot adapt to the new norms and the advancement of technology will face a challenging future. Positions in skilled, high-wage essential work have become highly desirable, and the value of training and development has increased as businesses and employees look to secure their future.
In a nutshell: upskilling and reskilling have never been a better investment.
History tells us that completing a postsecondary education is transformational. We know from past economic downturns that higher educational attainment levels lead to better jobs, workplace flexibility, benefits, and higher wages. But we have also learned that companies that invest in the upskilling of their workforce have fared better, especially during crises.
Amazon is proving to be a necessity to most Americans during this pandemic, thanks in part to their ability to adapt and innovate quickly. Last year, Amazon pledged to spend $700 million on upskilling their workforce, showing that they are focused on the future: from cutting-edge coders and digital marketers to keep their online platforms in pace with demand, to reskilling employees whose jobs may soon be transformed. Amazon is not the only company who understands the value of a skilled employee: Nationwide, Home Depot, IBM, and PricewaterhouseCoopers are among the Fortune 500 who have sunk big bucks into upskilling initiatives in recent years.
The time to invest in yourself or your team is now.
This year, WGU launched micro-credential degree programs allowing learners to focus on specific courses and subject areas to show employers they’ve mastered the skills and knowledge. Micro-credentials are particularly useful in continually changing fields, such as IT, or have been disrupted by our new norms, such as Marketing or Human Resources Management where lifelong learning is essential.
COVID-19 has already changed how we do business and is guaranteed to have lasting effects on the workplace. To adapt short and long-term operations and to reach customers in new unique ways, employees need new skills and the confidence to execute them.
Companies that invest in education and training are positioning themselves to better weather this crisis and are more prepared for a new era of work. Individuals who upskill—whether through company support or on their own—are more desirable to retain and hire.
To remain competitive, employers must commit to continually identify existing and emerging skills gaps in their workforce and expand their efforts to advance education and training partnerships that reskill and upskill their employees for success.
Upskilling drastically improves your ability to complete tasks in-house with employees who know your operations and goals. It also resonates across a workforce as employees teach each other their new skills, mentor new hires, and implement company-wide changes.
Reskilling to an in-demand field or upskilling to advance your mission has never been smarter, more efficient, or more important. The world’s best companies succeed because they continually look to the future. They invest in what is most important: their people. In doing this, these businesses and individuals are securing their roles in the marketplace—well beyond this pandemic.