Earlier this year, Amazon announced that they would be investing $700 million in upskilling 100,000 members of its workforce. This announcement reflects a growing trend among companies to help their employees retrain. AT&T has also announced a multi-year investment to support new worker training.
These investments make sense: there are more job openings in the US today than there are unemployed Americans. Automation is also expected to displace even more workers, who will be left behind due to their lack of training in modern technological skills and processes during the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Traditional colleges have been unable to keep up with changes in the workforce, and it has become clear that going to college once is no longer enough to prepare you for the rest of your career. The speed of technological changes has meant that education is becoming a lifelong venture, rather than something which can be compressed into a four-year education.
Thus, employers are starting to feel pressure to train their employees in the skills they need to thrive in the modern workforce. Millions of American workers need training in new skills, and this number is expected to increase as automation affects more jobs.
This is not just a problem for individuals. It also means that companies are having trouble hiring the right people for the job — the people who do have the requisite technological skills are in-demand. Employers, therefore, should be taking an active role in training their employees in the skills of the future.
There are a couple of ways in which businesses can support their workers: increasing access to job retraining programs and offering “upskill” programs to help workers improve upon their skills and acquire new ones are two popular options. And there are also ways the government can get involved, which will be necessary to bridge the massive talent gap which exists in the labor market. For example, in 2015 there were 7 million jobs that require some level of coding skills, and programming jobs are growing 12 percent quicker than the market average.
Why Is Employee Retraining Important?
The large push we have seen over the last year toward more corporate upskilling and retraining programs can be attributed to the significant benefits such an investment can afford to a company. Perhaps the most important benefit of these new training measures is that they can help boost employee retention. The labor market is thriving, and many technological skills are in high demand.
Thus, employers need to work hard to ensure that employees are staying with their organization, rather than moving to another company to take a better position. Investing in employees’ education and skills training will help companies both improve an employee’s productivity — they will have more specific skills which they need to do their job well — and also show that they are a valued member of the workforce.
Employee retraining is also becoming an important part of the hiring process. In a 2018 Gallup report, 87 percent of millennials prioritized professional growth in a job, and 69 percent of non-millennials had a similar view. If a company offers a retraining program, it may allow them to get the best talent who are actively looking for learning opportunities on-the-job. This will become especially important as automation takes over even more jobs, which will encourage many people to seek jobs where they know they will be retrained when automation affects their job.
Invest in Upskilling Programs
Investing in upskilling programs is a high-impact way an employer can help train their workforce. Upskilling is the practice of teaching employees about new tools and processes which will allow them to do their job more efficiently. When new technologies start to be used in a workforce, it can have an impact on employee productivity — they will not be confident in how the new tool should be used. Upskilling prevents this effect and ensures that employees understand everything they need to know to do their jobs efficiently and to a high standard.
A recent report from Deloitte found that new technologies being introduced into the workforce usually fail not because the technology itself was broken, rather because people found it too difficult to use the technology. Some employees may even be unwilling to use a new technology because they do not feel confident in how it works. This has resulted in a number of companies invest heavily in new upskilling programs.
As previously mentioned, Amazon has made a substantial commitment toward new upskilling initiatives. Indeed, a young person who secured a job at Amazon ten years ago in their warehouse may no longer have the skills they need to work with new tools which have taken over logistics, such as new robots which move packages.
This training initiative will ensure that all Amazon workers have the skills they need to do their job effectively, and that they are not left behind as the business introduced new technologies into its offices and warehouses. Amazon is betting that employees who better understand new technologies will be more likely to use them more often, which will help streamline their operations and improve their services.
A similar commitment has been made by Microsoft. Earlier this year, Microsoft signed a partnership with General Assembly, a coding academy, to upskill 15,000 of its workers by 2022. This program is aimed at allowing employees to understand how their cloud computing works and why it is important — Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, is one of their most important products. If employees learn how Azure works and the basics of cloud computing, Microsoft believes that employees will be more likely to use the platform in their work, which will help them increase efficiency within the company.
Technology is becoming part of every industry. Agriculture is starting to become more dependent on technology which can help them determine crop yields, manage their farms, and help with selling their produce. This means that, within larger agricultural operations, those who manage farms may need to be trained in new technologies.
Insurance is using technologies such as fitness trackers, car monitors, and other sensors to help them mitigate risk and improve efficiency. Whereas this task would be done by an actuary in the past, technology can now sift through data and find insights more effectively. Therefore, actuaries need to be trained in how to use this new technology, and be assigned new work which is more important to the organization and cannot be done by computers.
Provide Access to Retraining Services
Retraining is a type of training where a business will help employees transition to different careers or areas within a specific field. Retraining is important in fields where there is a large talent gap and the employer is looking to hire people with a specific set of skills which are in-demand. At the moment, job disruption is becoming a big problem, as the job people learned about in college may not exist a few decades later. So employers now need to retrain workers halfway through their careers.
Reskilling initiatives can save companies a large amount of money. Rather than retiring workers affected by new technologies and automation, and hiring new workers and onboarding them, an employee can instead train an existing employee in the new skills the company needs employees to have.
AT&T, for example, has invested a significant amount of time in retraining employees in expected growth areas. According to the company’s research, around half of its 250,000 employees had the necessary STEM skills, but around 100,000 workers were working in hardware that would be obsolete within the next decade.
Instead of hiring a new workforce, the company invested $1 billion to be spent over the course of a few years to help employees acquire the skills they need to catch up with technological changes. Employees whose jobs may be automated or whose skills may be obsolete in the future can benefit from online courses, the new AT&T career center, and other services they are providing as part of this initiative.
This is not the only organization making big commitments toward retraining employees. Capital One started to develop a “Tech College” two years ago, which was aimed to train employees in new technologies the company wants to integrate into its workforce. The new training program will offer over 250 courses in topics such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence, which are expected to become a larger part of Capital One’s business in the future.
Capital One also launched the Developer Academy, which offers recent college graduates in non-computer science fields the ability to learn about software development. During the program, which lasts six months, employees will learn everything they need both on-the-job and in the classroom. This initiative prevents against future automation displacing workers, and also makes it easier for Capital One to hire new employees — they no longer need to target solely computer science degree graduates.
Walmart also provides two-to-six week training programs in retail skills employees may need to know, which will help them move into new and better jobs in the company. The company also has launched an effort to help its employees move into healthcare jobs, as Walmart prepares to roll out care clinics around the country.
The Walt Disney Company has also launched a reskilling program, which aims to increase diversity among their developers. The CODE: Rosie initiative is an intensive software engineering bootcamp which trains female employees. The program, which lasts 15 months, includes formal training and internal apprenticeships, and leads to a technical role in the company after graduation.
Education as an Employee Benefit
Some companies, rather than launching their own upskilling or retraining programs, are providing access to an education as a benefit of employment. The idea is that middle-skilled workers will be able to access educational resources as an employee of a company. One of the most well-known examples of this in action is the partnership between Starbucks and Arizona State University. This partnership allows Starbucks employees to acquire new skills which may help them advance to management positions within the company, or help them become more productive in their current position. The Starbucks program covers all of an employee’s tuition for every eligible employee.
Other companies have similar programs. Amazon’s Career Choice program covers up to 95 percent of tuition and fees toward a diploma or certificate program in certain fields of study, which are related to jobs which are in-demand. McDonalds also operates the Archways to Opportunity program which provides tuition reimbursement to employees in the program up to a certain amount. Boeing runs the Learning Together Program, which reimburses college tuition, fees, and book costs for degree and certificate programs at qualifying schools.
These programs all allow employees to acquire new skills while they are working. Whereas in a retraining program an employee may be solely focused on skills development, many education as a benefit programs give employees access to education without having to commit to a full-time program. Education as an employee benefit is useful because it gives employees more control over what they learn, which will help them use their time more efficiently.
Government Support of Training Programs
The government also needs to take an active role in supporting new training programs. Although many large companies are announcing new training initiatives, many companies are unable to follow in their footsteps. Retraining and upskilling programs can be expensive for small businesses — during the training period, the worker will not be able to devote as much time toward work — which often results in their becoming obsolete over the long-term. In order to keep the unemployment rate low, the government will need to support workers who are looking to acquire new skills. Such investments would also allow the government to boost economic mobility, as workers will have more control over for whom they work.
The most effective way it can do this is by making it easier for companies to invest in training programs. The government could, for example, provide a tax credit to employers in proportion to the number of hours a worker has spent training. This would allow an employer to invest in training and help their workers acquire the skills they need to thrive in the workforce without having to bear the costs. Such a program already exists in France, which provides a tax credit to companies equal to the number of hours spent training multiplied by the national minimum wage.
There are other ways the government could get involved. In Singapore, all citizens over the age of 25 receive a credit from the government — the Skills Future Credit — which they can use to invest in their education. This credit can be used by workers to learn about new technical skills such as web development and artificial intelligence which are in demand in the labor force. The US could implement a similar policy to support people whose jobs may be vulnerable to automation in the future. Additionally, the federal government could launch a new training program to give workers the chance to acquire new skills, in exchange for going to work for the federal government for a few years.
Each of these strategies of training workers — employer upskilling and retraining, as well as government investment — would help bridge the growing skills gap in the labor market. As automation continues to disrupt jobs, companies and the government need to invest in new training programs to ensure no employee is left behind. Retraining and upskilling programs provide a reliable way in which companies can boost retention, make employees feel valued, and also attract better quality employees. Millions of Americans need these programs to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s up to companies to take lead.