The Challenge of Change in the Workplace: Keeping Pace with the Skills Gap

In 2020, COVID-19 introduced challenges of change in the workplace that no one saw coming. Everything ground to a halt, from education, to social engagement, to commerce.

But other agents of change were at play, too. Advances in technology had already introduced the possibility of remote work, online education, and social networking. It became immediately clear that to survive the pandemic, companies would need to swiftly adapt to the “new normal” by embracing these game changing tools.

For many workers around the world, the confluence of COVID, technology, and underlying social change also dramatically shifted the perception of how they live and work. (Even before COVID, Gens X and Y questioned the profit-driven, work-a-day world and challenged us to “do better”.) People began to reevaluate their work-life balance. Many say they will never go back to their pre-COVID work schedule and commute. The EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey revealed that 54% of surveyed employees from around the world will demand some flexibility in where and when they work post-COVID.

Importance of a Growth Mindset

COVID didn’t necessarily create the kinds of changes we’re talking about here. But it dramatically accelerated the pace at which companies around the globe would need to confront the challenges of change in the workplace already in existence. Coping effectively with this kind of explosive change requires agility and a growth mindset. Hallmarks of a growth mindset include:

  • Cultivating positive energy in change
  • Persistence when confronted by obstacles
  • Embracing mistakes as opportunities to learn

The antithesis of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, one in which change is perceived as a threat, every obstacle is an Everest-sized mountain, and every stumble a catastrophe. It’s easy to see how the growth mindset is preferable in the face of inevitable fast-paced change, where obstacles and mistakes are guaranteed to abound.

The Skills Gap and Barriers of Entry

In early 2020, a McKinsey Global Survey reported that 87% of companies worldwide faced a skills gap or expected to in the next five years. What’s more, only one-third of those companies believed that they were prepared to handle the problem.

In their report Navigating with the STARs: Reimagining Equitable Pathways to Mobility, Opportunity @ Work found that over 30 million “STARs” (people who are Skilled through Alternative Routes) have the skills for positions that pay about 70% more than their current jobs. These are workers who could be filling vacant positions but are overlooked because they didn’t earn a college degree. That tells us that there is an opportunity gap as well as a skills gap.

Human resource departments might need to rethink the traditional approach to hiring and how they look at a job candidate’s experience and education. Requirements for higher paying jobs typically demand a four-year degree and experience that is directly related to the job at-hand. Creative companies realize that they can train people to build a widget. So instead of looking for someone who knows how to make that widget, they’re looking for people with alternative experience, applicable credentials, and cross-functional skill sets that can be leveraged in different areas.

In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan recently announced that his state would be the first to eliminate a four-year bachelor’s degree as a requirement for thousands of state jobs. The goal is to focus job candidacy on skills and competencies without excluding those who, for any variety of reasons, may not have had the opportunity to earn a college degree.

The landscape of opportunity for learning and becoming credentialed is widening. The availability of online courses and tools has exploded since COVID. These allow workers to gain proficiency in specific areas without spending the time and money on a four-year degree. Importantly, this helps to level the playing field of opportunity by reducing (though certainly not eliminating) barriers of cost, time, and location.

Some examples of online courses and credentialing programs include:

  • Army COOL (Credentialing Opportunities On-Line) helps Army service members find certifications and licenses to enhance their skills for their current work, or to pursue opportunities when they transition out of service. Each military branch has its own COOL site.
  • EdX—in partnership with Harvard and MIT—offers graduate-level classes that are accessible to anyone through an app.
  • Coursera is an open, online platform providing post-secondary courses, professional certifications, and degrees
  • Boot camps offer certificates in software engineering, cyber security, product design, and more.

Creating a Learning-Centric Culture to Cope with Change

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
– Albert Einstein

The workplace is changing, and companies need to be nimble enough to adapt to those changes. Consider how on-the-job skills and proficiencies have shifted in the post-COVID workplace. Jobs that may not have required a great deal of technical know-how before require computer skills now. Project and people managers are relearning how to manage their teams from a distance. Customer service reps need to demonstrate empathy when speaking to customers in crisis. And the list goes on.

People can’t be expected to make these shifts on their own. For many companies, making the required changes to bring their systems and processes in alignment with the new normal will require a shift to a more learner-centric way of thinking. They may need to redesign their learning solutions to provide opportunities for employees to reskill or upskill to meet the evolving needs of the workplace.

Adopting a learner-centric approach reflects virtues of innovation, progress, and strength in the face of change. It builds a sense of belonging and inspires creative solutioning. Creating learning experiences also helps develop “human” skills such as leadership, conflict resolution, empathy, and communication. And it encourages employees to expand and adapt their skill sets as needs evolve. In turn, their skill sets expand, which increases their marketability within the organization, or for when it’s time to move on.

Does your organization need help managing the skills gap or other challenges of change in the workplace? Global Skills X-Change can help!

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Kevin Edwards ⋅ (703)

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