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Reskilling for a post-COVID world: What the healthcare industry can learn from the corporate sector (and how it can lead the way)

Chances are that any Australian business that has survived the past couple of years has reskilled at least some part of their workforce. Over recent years, the world has been preparing for a key shift that was only accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic – the need for a workforce that is more mobile, diverse, and creatively responsive to challenges.

For the health care industry – and the aged care sector in particular – the need for upskilling and reskilling was highlighted with the publishing of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety earlier this year.

Recommendations like minimum qualifications for staff and “ongoing development of workforce capacity” through training and professional development, highlighted the need for the sector to consider new ways to support their workforce with upskilling and reskilling initiatives.

With corporate Australia adjusting to a post-COVID world where training and development functions have a firm seat at the board table, there is an opportunity for the healthcare industry to follow suit.

What is reskilling and why is it important?

Reskilling is the process of equipping employees with new capabilities through training and development, to help prepare them for upcoming changes or challenges facing their organisation.

The increasing need to reskill Australia’s workforce has been driven by a range of factors, including an aging population, emerging/disruptive industries, rapidly changing workplace conditions, and the influx of AI and automation. The worldwide effect of these developments on resourcing was recognised in the 2017 McKinsey Global Institute survey, which estimated that up to 375 million workers (14 percent of the global workforce) would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030.

From the management perspective, a more recent McKinsey survey showed that nearly nine in ten executives and managers say their organisations either face skill gaps already or expect gaps to develop within the next five years. Even more striking is that less than half of respondents felt they had a clear idea of how to address these gaps.

When done well, reskilling can have significant positive outcomes beyond equipping staff with new skills. As shown in the graph below, taken from McKinsey’s 2020 article ‘Beyond hiring: How companies are reskilling to address talent gaps’, a large majority (73%) reported improved work satisfaction as a result of participation in a reskilling program.


Keys to creating successful reskilling programs

Identify your knowledge or skills gaps

When identifying reskilling needs in your organisation, you need to take a simultaneously long- and short-term view and ask some big questions, like: Where do we want our organisation to be in 10 years? What do we need to change to get us there? What skills do staff need to support us in reaching our goals? Do they possess these skills today?
Only when you’ve assessed the gap between where you are today and where you want to be in the future, can you properly identify and start to address knowledge gaps.

Once you’ve established things like timeframes and budgets, you can start identifying staff members to partake in your reskilling initiative. As the industry with the largest population of workers aged 60 and over in July 2021 (see graph), opportunities in the health and aged care sector may include reskilling older workers into less physically demanding roles, or into functions where they can pass their knowledge and experience on to the next generation.


Source: ABS, Labour Force Australia, detailed monthly, July 2021

By definition, reskilling implies the development of existing staff members. However, as Ginni Rometty, executive chair of IBM raised when interviewed on Fortune’s 'Leadership Next' podcast, reskilling initiatives are intrinsically tied to hiring processes, as there is a growing emphasis on hiring talent who are reading and willing to be reskilled. She suggests that we should forget about hiring for a “hard skill” and instead actively seek out soft skills, particularly those that make employees better at learning; such as adaptability, curiosity, and a willingness to learn and grow.

Measure twice, cut once

A rule of thumb when rolling out any training program is to measure twice and cut once.
Careful planning is required to design training that will appropriately address the capability gaps identified within your workforce and support organisational needs.

Before you start building your training program, you need to have clear answers to questions like:

  • What is the goal of this particular program?
  • How do I measure my team’s success?
  • What kind of learning is my staff most likely to be motivated to undertake?
  • Do I have the internal capability to design and run the program, or do I need external resources?

Having answers to these questions (and more) will help you better understand your staff and what they need from your reskilling program. It is also valuable to consult with your employees when designing learning journeys that will directly impact them — this is a great way to ensure buy-in and enhance engagement.

In terms of overall organisational goals, it is worth noting that even profit-driven corporations have started re-evaluating the method of measuring learning initiatives through ROI. As learning professionals, we know that only very limited types of training, notably those relating to sales or OH&S, can produce easily measurable ROI.

Now that the value of upskilling and reskilling programs is being measured beyond the bottom line to include things like staff and patient satisfaction and positive workplace culture, it has become evident that these programs are just as valuable for the care sector as they are for the corporate world.

Ensure organisational support

Whatever your industry, it is crucial that any reskilling initiatives you introduce are well-placed to succeed. This can be done by paying close attention to the culture of learning within your organisation.

The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey from 2019 showed that only one in nine global corporate executives would give their learning culture an excellent rating. “The call to action is clear” states the report, “Organizations must work to instil an end-to-end cultural focus on learning.”

While the care sector has arguably one of the strongest cultures of continuous learning of any industry, the Royal Commission still made explicit reference to the need for training initiatives in 19 of its 148 recommendations (notably in Recommendation 114: Immediate funding for education and training to improve the quality of care).

Organisational support for training initiatives will look different from organisation to organisation, but generally requires at least the following:

  • Awareness and support from all levels of the organisation to ensure that trainees have dedicated time for training
  • Reinforcement of the message that training is valuable and not an ‘extracurricular’
  • Senior staff that model target knowledge, skills, or behaviour

If the skills you are training for already exist within the organisation, you might want to consider a more official mentoring program as part of your reskilling initiative. Studies have shown that mentoring has a range of positive outcomes for both mentors and mentees beyond simple gaining of new skills, such as role modelling, networking, career rejuvenation, and increased confidence.

For an aging healthcare workforce, mentoring presents the opportunity for experienced care staff to move into more senior leadership roles and mentor new recruits.

Evaluate the effectiveness of your reskilling
Evaluation is key to assessing the impact that your training has on staff development. However, program sponsors, like clinic managers, regularly find themselves in the position of either having too much extraneous information or not enough.

When looking to evaluate the success of your reskilling program, you will need to answer questions relating to a range of areas, from how your training was received and how your learners performed, to the wider impact it has had on your organisation. Questions might include:

  • How well did the training meet the development needs identified? (Did the training do what it set out to do?)
  • How well did the learners master the training content? (How did they fare on assessments and other performance measuring activities?)
  • How well did the learning transfer to the work setting? (Is there a noticeable improvement in the learners’ everyday performance?)
  • How well did the training contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s mission? (Are the results of the training helping us get closer to where we want to be?)

Importantly, reliable data that produces valuable insights can only be achieved when (1) your training has been designed to address the identified knowledge or skills gaps (are we training on the right thing?) and (2) your evaluation measures what you’ve set out to learn (are we measuring the right thing?). In other words, you can only answer the important questions at the evaluation of your training if you have asked the correct ones in the planning stage.

A strong culture of continuous training supported by political initiatives and millions in earmarked education funding puts the care industry in a better place than ever to lead the way for professional reskilling in Australia.

Hanna Jacobsen
16 September 2021 7 Min Read

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