Employee Reskilling and Upskilling: Next is Now

Three questions to get you started on future-proofing your workforce.

Jessica Conser
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We just don’t get it.

No matter how many times we’re warned of the profound and impending shortage of skilled workers needed to fill the jobs of the future – and for the record, the warnings have been around for years – an alarming number of companies across the globe are putting off the implementation of proactive human capital strategies.

Some of the delay can be attributed to the pandemic. Normal business activities have largely been overtaken by crisis management. We’ve been so busy ensuring the survival of our organisations, we haven’t had as much time as we might need to address future challenges.

However, the pandemic cannot be used as an excuse for all of the dithering and delaying. And for the record, there is a lot of that going on right now.

Recently, LHH conducted a global survey of 2,100 HR decision makers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Australia to gauge their commitment to future-proofing workforces. The results were disheartening, to say the least.

The survey found that only 56% of all organisations are actively working to future-proof their talent pipelines. However, within that figure, there is evidence that organisations are struggling with the key components of a future-looking HR strategy.

The survey also found that less than half (47.2%) of organisations are focusing their attention on the transferable skills of existing employees to fill future job openings, a critical component for the redeployment of talent.

As well, the survey indicated that 40% of hiring managers have not even considered reskilling or upskilling to fill job vacancies and only 33.5% are confident in their organisation’s ability to deliver reskilling and upskilling programs.

This lack of attention to future-proofing is being exacerbated by labour force trends, which show a huge surge in both job openings and people quitting their jobs to look for new career development opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported 9.3 million job openings in April, the highest number ever recorded in its survey. In the same month, nearly 4 million Americans quit their jobs, double the number from the same month one year ago.

Here in Australia although job openings reported in August 2021 reflect a point in time where many businesses were subject to restrictions, with a number of states in lockdown the level of job vacancies remained higher than they were six months ago, and were still 46.5% higher than in February 2020, prior to the start of the pandemic. Resignations are holding steady for now although our latest research Resetting Normal: Defining a New Era of Work found only 33% of workers surveyed wish to stay in their current jobs suggesting there are underlying signs that the 'Great Resignation' may be on its way. 

Put these two metrics together, and you can see how the lack of fit-for-future skilled labour is creating a perfect storm.

It’s like a game of musical chairs. Just about every company is running around the labour market, looking for new talent and hoping to retain the top talent they already have. However, if you’re not offering reskilling and upskilling opportunities (among a broad range of career development solutions) then you will have trouble keeping your best people and almost no chance of attracting talent with future-proofed skills.

In short, without a forward-looking talent strategy, you run the risk of being among those without a seat at the talent table when the music stops.

Now is really the time to stop talking about future-proofing your workforce and start doing it. But where to start? Like any great challenge, the path to a solution can only be found through a brutally honest self-evaluation. For employers, this means asking three very tough questions about your human capital.

1/ How will your business change? One of the biggest reasons why business organisations put off major decisions about future-proofing their workforces is that they are not entirely sure what kind of skills they will need in the future. Although some organisations have done the spade work to determine how macro forces will change their core business, many others are running blind into the future, not knowing how technology or other natural forces will transform how and what they do.

2/ How well do you know your people? If you’re like most business organisations, you have a limited understanding of what your people are actually doing and which ones have the capacity to learn and acquire the skills needed for future roles. It’s essential to get a clearer picture of the people you already employ and identify those who can be supported through a transition into new roles with new skills.

3/ What is the best way to cross the skills gap? If you’re able to identify future talent needs and the people within your organisation who can help you fill them, you still need a strategy to get them across the skills gap. There are many different strategies and tools that can help your people make the journey to fit-for-future skills, but it will require the support and guidance of a strategic human capital advisor to map out the path to that future state.

It will be profoundly difficult for some organisations to transition away from crisis management into a more strategic mindset given that many regions of the world are still facing great uncertainty from the pandemic.

However, future-proofing your workforce is so critically important that it cannot be left to that list of “next” things. It must be undertaken now to ensure your business is prepared to succeed in the years ahead.

This article was originally published in HR.com July 7, 2021.
Updated October 14, 2021 to include Australian insights. 

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