Future Look |

COVID-19 Is Forcing Reskilling to Occur in Real Time

Reskilling the workforce is a trend that has increased in popularity as technological breakthroughs continue and businesses increase their reliance on automation.


It’s well known that retraining and repositioning your existing workers into new roles is a more cohesive and cost-effective strategy than automating their roles and finding new people to fill those new roles. Thus, many organizations have proceeded to train and reskill portions of their workforce in preparation of these transitions.

For those that haven’t done this, however, the COVID-19 pandemic might be leaving them with no option. Supply chains and business models have been disrupted and organizations are now forced to pivot and reallocate their workers into unfamiliar roles. Some companies have even gone as far as to enter into talent sharing arrangements as a form of offsetting costs, which allows furloughed workers at one company to fill talent shortages at another.

Tara Wolckenhauer, division vice president of human resources at ADP, said it’s up to leadership to identify what is the most critical and meaningful aspects of the business in its current state, and making sure you are properly utilizing the talent on hand to fulfill those areas.

“At ADP, we’ve taken people from different areas of the business and asked them to become service representatives and we’ve asked people to become print operators,” Wolckenhauer said. “We’ve asked our salesforce to learn how to do inside sales when they were primarily doing external sales. We’ve asked HR people to start answering our HR calls in the service segment.”

These kinds of situations that have been brought on by COVID-19 aren’t a traditional form of reskilling or upskilling; however, they could be more effective. Whereas traditional reskilling or upskilling within companies might arm employees with knowledge or training that could hypothetically be put to use at a later date, these “thrown into the fire” moments are providing real value in real time for both the employee and the employer.

“I think there’s something in that, you don’t have a choice and the time is now where I think people really do rise to the occasion,” Wolckenhauer said. “We have had some of the people that we redeployed and reskilled, perform better than we ever expected. Now they’ve walked away with skills they didn’t have before.”

This process of real-time reskilling might only satisfy a need for however long it takes the business to resume normal operations. However, it could reveal different employee skillsets, which will allow companies to rethink the manner in which they distribute work.

“It’s this pivot from matching a person to a position to a more agile and flexible way of matching skills to work,” said Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director and global practice leader at Willis Towers Watson. “More and more companies are trying to figure out where they can use automation, but without just eliminating this talent they’ve spent years training, but instead refocus them because they've got critical skills that can be used in other areas. I think this notion of the agile enterprise will probably become much more real for companies because they've had this crisis to respond to.”

However, if operations return to normal and workers who were reallocated during the crisis return to their old jobs, they will have gained a new perspective and new skills that should still benefit the organization in the long run, Wolckenhauer said.

“The benefit is that you approach your work differently. You understand a different role in the company better and get a better feel for the company,” she said. “When you’re reskilling people and giving them an opportunity, no matter how long it is, they go back to their day-to-day with knowledge that they can then apply. They can influence things differently because they’ve seen things that they’ve never seen before and they understand the inner-mechanics of the business that much better.”



Recreating Employment During COVID-19  
This article by McKinsey delves into how companies can rebuild and reimagine jobs amid the coronavirus crisis. The authors note that there is room — and need — for greater focus, speed, boldness and innovation in this effort.

Reskilling and Upskilling Amid Crisis
While COVID-19 has meant job cuts in some enterprises, others are either delaying key operations or deferring hiring plans, writes Anu Thomas for Analytics India Magazine. With no end – or certainty – in sight, it necessitates that professionals turn these circumstances into opportunities to upskill.

Overcoming Crisis
Arinya Talerngsri of the Bangkok Post writes that the first way that reskilling and upskilling can help businesses is in the realm of digital transformation, which is urgently required by anyone seeking to overcome the prevailing circumstances. Talerngsri notes that there are many programs or mobile applications we can use to ease remote working and still keep ourselves safe.

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

About WorldatWork

WorldatWork is a professional nonprofit association that sets the agenda and standard of excellence in the field of Total Rewards. Our membership, signature certifications, data, content, and conferences are designed to advance our members’ leadership, and to help them influence great outcomes for their own organizations.

About Membership

Membership provides access to practical resources, research, emerging trends, a professional network, and career-building education and certification. Learn more and join today.

Have Questions?


+1 877 951 9191

USA and Canada

+1 480 951 9191

Other Countries


Email Us