More than ever, businesses are witnessing an accelerated need to nurture lifelong learning mindsets and boost digital, analytical, and technical skills. Companies that continue to invest in training and offer learning opportunities for their talent will emerge as winners on the other side of this crisis.
What are these new workplace learning paradigms that COVID-19 has pushed into the spotlight – from learning to staying relevant? What does the role of L&D leaders looks like in the era of the pandemic and beyond it? How can they build resilience for enduring learning and form an improved learning culture in their organizations?
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Nishtha Satyam, Deputy Country Representative and Officer in Charge, UN Women, India, Bhutan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka, sheds light on these questions and the changing face of learning.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview-
The pandemic has also brought back the importance of reskilling and upskilling of resources as part of the larger business transformation in the wake of the crisis. What do you think are some of the trends around reskilling and upskilling post-COVID-19?
The pandemic has brought new and innovative ways of ensuring business continuity to the frontline. With remote access and reformed management of logistics, reskilling and upskilling of employees is certainly the only way through the tunnel. In addition to ensuring safety from the virus, companies need to have a future-oriented approach to guaranteeing sustainability and growth once the pandemic resides.
A recent Gartner CFO survey revealed that almost three in four CFOs plan to “shift at least 5 percent of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19.”
Thus, work-from-home becoming the new normal has, and will continue to accelerate investments in the corporate learning curve to train employees with digital and technological skills and thus close the skill gap. This is becoming increasingly important due to the predicted shift in consumer demand from brick and mortar to e-commerce platforms.
A study by UN Women India has found that the pandemic has led to a surge in the need of women-owned businesses to acquire digital and financial literacy to transition. The challenge to upskilling of the workforce is thus, hindering the scaling of these women-run businesses.
Everything from supply chains to demand platforms is expected to digitize, and companies need to focus on maximizing the potential of their relatively smaller employee sample by reskilling to fill in the gaps caused by layoffs in human resources, and upskilling to build back stronger in the new business models post COVID-19.
Companies that continue to invest in training and offer learning opportunities for their talent will emerge as winners on the other side of this crisis. What are some of the L&D initiatives initiated by the UN Women Office for India in this pandemic?
UN Women Office for India is approaching learning and development in a holistic manner, to offer opportunities to not only our in-house employees but also to women across the country. To ensure a smooth transition to remote working for our workforce, UN Women India brought in simplified digital processes to coordinate the day-to-day operations. We are also resorting to online procurement and are restricting work-related on-ground activities on a case-by-case basis to maintain the safety of our employees. Our employees are learning to switch from hardcore on-ground data collection and research to video-call interactions for acquiring first-hand information.
Beyond the walls of our office, UN Women India has undertaken various measures to train and upskill women. We have worked closely with the Ministry of Women and Child Development on their ‘One Stop Centres’ by implementing Capacity Building virtual training for the functionaries of One-stop centers and Women helplines. These trainings were also extended to over 100,000 volunteers to support and accelerate response to women affected by violence.
UN Women India also unvested in the first-ever training on health care workers on COVID- 19 by upskilling 10,000 nurses in government and private hospitals for COVID treatment. On 2nd October 2020, UN Women India, World Bank and State Bank of India signed a Declaration of Intent to implement Women Livelihood Entrepreneur Loan Scheme - an initiative that will enhance access of credit to women entrepreneurs as well as provide them with technical advisory through the constant support by our BSAC members. The Women’s Livelihoods Bonds is expected to provide women with institutional credit access, as well as technical support to graduate from SHG to small enterprises, as well as to scale their existing businesses.
Under the Second Chance Education (SCE) Programme, the upskilling of women workers has been a step to bridging the gap between supply and demand of masks. Our implementing partners are training rural women as sewing machine operators to undertake the production of masks to be distributed amongst the community members. Leveraging the support from our BSAC members and civil society partners, despite the pandemic, UN Women India successfully mobilized women to apply for non-stereotypical jobs at the Voltas Factory in Gujarat.
The pandemic also highlights the need to reskill and upskill workers towards stronger data science skills, a better understanding of artificial intelligence, and to expand digital literacy overall. What is the UN Women Office doing in that direction?
As a part of the Sustainable Development Goals, UN Women has been working towards enhancing “the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women”.
However, globally 200 million more men than women have access to the internet. Women are severely underrepresented in research and development too, as less than 25% of the tech workforce is women, and even fewer are in senior management positions.
Since Artificial intelligence is shaping gender relations across the world, from a gender perspective, specific applications of AI and machine learning have shown the greatest risks of bias and misuse, like facial recognition and deep fakes.
With the pandemic making ‘digital the new normal’, we are looking at the widening of this digital gender divide.
As a part of advocating for the engenderment of the digital space, UN Women has upskilled, trained, and provided platforms and opportunities to women to increase inclusivity in both research and access to technology.
In India, to encourage women in STEM, UN Women collaborated with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to launch the Shri Shakti challenge for women entrepreneurs to propose technology solutions to combat covid-19 related issues and received over 1200 responses with excellent innovative ideas.
As leaders reimagine workplace learning, what are some of the non-negotiables for improving learning culture in their organizations?
I think it is particularly important for leaders to build back post-COVID in a more sustainable and inclusive form, by maximizing employee potential through upskilling and reskilling. It is essential to recognize the nature of learning required with respect to the operating business model, as well as to ensure equitable access to the learning environment.
However, to maximize human resource, companies must reflect on their structure and metrics to make the workplace more inclusive. As quoted by research undertaken by McKinsey, women’s equality in the workplace can add up to $12 Tn to global growth.
Building business models that harness the potential of female employees can ensure profits and sustainability in the long run. At the same time, ensuring that women have the technological access to the train and upskill them in the digital space can bridge the digital divide, thus removing the skill barrier to innovation.
What is your advice for leaders and people managers who face challenges to skill and re-skill their employees on account of costs and other bottlenecks?
Upskilling and reskilling employees would be the ultimate way out of most of the bottlenecks that corporations face. According to McKinsey, 62% of executives “believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce by 2023.” However, cost-benefit analysis reveals that a lower investment is needed in re-skilling, than in re-hiring. Re-skilling thus reflects as a financially viable option for companies in the long term.
Additionally, there is huge socio-economic potential in Artificial Intelligence and digitization, which can only be harnessed when companies invest in the upskilling of their human capital. Through digital skilling, one opens up untapped avenues for marketing, acquiring, and selling to a new market of consumers. Scaling and ease of business come with technological up-gradation, by closing the digital divide between corporations and consumers. With the restrictions of movement imposed by various governments, consumers are shifting to the online marketplace, thereby increasing the need and importance of digital skilling multi-fold.
Companies should also invest in building the capacities of their Human Resources departments in a way that the learning needs of the employees are identified and addressed in a gender-responsive manner to ensure that no unconscious bias and stereotypes are promoted. Mobile training, along with well-defined structures for on the job training can be both cost-benefitting and accessible.
Managers should look at digital upskilling as any other investment in the long-term development of their business and human capital. Upskilling and reskilling are not an option any longer, it is an imperative and urgent need for a sustainable and profitable corporate economy.