The Future of Work: Employee Reskilling Takes Center Stage

By Lacey Conner, SHRM-CP on Feb 09, 2021
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As optimistic as everyone gets each time a lockdown is lifted, we can all agree the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work, maybe forever. No one is going back to hugs, handshakes, crowded meeting and training rooms, or non-stop business travel any time soon. Businesses large and small are doing as much as possible remotely and essential businesses like grocery stores continue to have barriers between employees and customers. 

COVID-19 has changed the labor market according to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2020. Changes previously anticipated to take hold by 2025 are here now, including a decrease in support roles and increase in automation and digitization of the workplace. Millions of new roles will evolve and human skills will be in demand, with an urgent need for reskilling. We’ve seen reskilling already, with the need to speedily transition workforces to remote operations and adapting coronavirus mitigation with contactless transactions, barriers and delivery on demand. 


Willis Towers Watson managing director Ravin Jesuthasan says reskilling will be at the center of the new economy going forward. The need for reskilling is already apparent. This is evidenced by the four times increase in people engaging in online learning on their own, five times increase in employers offering online learning opportunities, and nine times increase in enrollment in government online learning programs shown by The Future of Jobs Survey. Future of Jobs 2020 shows that “fifty percent of all employees will need reskilling by 2025.” 

Reskilling can be done fairly quickly according to data from Coursera. As few as one to two months for top skills such as content writing and sales and marketing, and three to five months for skills in product development, data and artificial intelligence and cloud computing. Credentialing is a huge part of this reskilling, and platforms like Coursera are already providing it, along with micro-credentialing to quickly build competency. 

Side Hustle 

The gig economy was thriving long before COVID, but the worldwide pandemic has created a new urgency for income diversity. Those who want to or need to create an extra income source run a business outside of their current jobs and have a wide range of opportunities to do so. From freelancing in many areas, to running an ecommerce store, to providing a personal service, side hustle opportunities abound. 

For employers with employees who have side hustles, there may be some questions about loyalty, dedication, and productivity. But Ready Set Rocket and Made of Millions co-founder Aaron Harvey says employees with side hustles gain professional development outside of work (read – on their own time and dime) and get work-life balance and pride and passion in a self-powered project. Those are benefits that come back directly to the employer in many ways. 

zoom shirt with sweatpants

The 2025 Office 

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) quotes global consulting firm PwC’s Bhushan Sethi, who says “The role of the office has changed. People aren’t going to go back to five days a week. Offices are going to be hubs of innovation and social interaction.” 

SHRM lists six major trends for the future of work, prompted by the events of 2020 including remote work, heavy investment in health, hygiene and safety, increased action on diversity and inclusion, employee demand for better treatment from employers, a new focus on environmental impact, and transformations in technology. These trends will affect employers large and small going forward. 

With more than 80 percent of executives saying they will continue to allow remote work, employees who want to work remotely will be looking for positions like that, making it a factor in the job market. Coronavirus has forced employers to make health, hygiene and safety a priority in 2020, and now businesses are planning to create and hire new health and safety roles.

The aftermath of George Floyd’s death prompted a raised awareness and open discussions of racism and bias and spurred action on inclusion and diversity in the workforce. Employees are looking for employers who value diversity and who treat their workforces well, and who are invested in bettering society problems.

Business strategy will have to include environmental impact issues to be aware of and address sustainability and threats from climate disasters like wildfires and hurricanes. Evolving technologies are prompting rapid utilization of artificial intelligence and automation, impacting job loss and job creation, and necessitating reorganizing and reskilling workforces. While small businesses may not adapt these trends on the same scale as big businesses, they will be affected by them nonetheless. 

To be best positioned for the future of work that is upon us already, employers large and small, as well as their workforces, need to continue to adapt for business success.

Diversity in the Workplace 2020

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