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Why Upskilling Has Become Critical To Prepare Yourself For The Future A major disruption is being felt by the corporate sector since it is still not fully prepared to face such crisis.

By Majid Mneymneh

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


Besides rapidly reshaping society at multiple levels, the COVID-19 outbreak has been accelerating fundamental changes in the way we do business. Over the last few weeks, we have seen companies shift towards an increasingly sophisticated use of technology owing to the nationwide lockdowns in several countries, as a part of governments' sweeping attempt to reduce person-to-person contact, implement social distancing, and contain the spread of the virus. Hence, with most of the companies having to work from home and people having to adjust to the new ways of working remotely, major disruption is being felt by the corporate sector, which is still not fully prepared to face such crisis.

The situation is a clear example of how our world is changing quickly and will continue to do so in the future. Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are constantly on the rise, and a report by the World Economic Forum reveals that about five million occupations will cease to exist by 2030, as artificial intelligence and robotics replace human intervention. Furthermore, there is growing evidence of a sizeable skills mismatch in the MENA region, and nearly 40% of employers in the region indicate that skills gaps are a major impediment to business growth. According to ManpowerGroup's 2019 Skills Revolution 4.0 report, the talent shortage is at a 12-year high, and new skills are appearing as quickly as old ones disappear.

Related: How Artificial Intelligence Is Reinventing Human Resources

For the above reasons, upskilling today has become a major requisite, and there is a strong demand for professionals who can blend digital and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills with traditional subject expertise, and combine deep knowledge of their industry with the latest analytical tools to quickly adapt to business strategies. In fact, 44% of employers believe employees will need significant training on new skills required to fulfil their current roles in the next ten years, as per the Global Employer survey by Pearson.

In hindsight, new technologies, developments, and innovations have led to a rise in the demand for employees who can implement soft skills, think creatively, and provide data-driven evidence to companies for implementing measures to stay afloat during a crisis, and gain a competitive advantage during market peak. Here are some ways in which people can upskill themselves or their workforce to attain meaningful results:

1. Investing in online and blended professional courses
Research shows that the biggest hurdle to upskilling is that it is increasingly difficult for working professionals to take time off from their careers and pursue full-time professional courses or formal education. Luckily, with the emergence of online and blended learning, employers and employees can now bridge the skills gap with digital and virtual professional learning programs, which have actually seen an increase during the COVID-19 situation, with a majority of the younger population embracing the medium.

There is a staggering variety of online training programs to choose from, and employees can choose to either learn more within their own disciplines, or find completely new skills to specialize in. Especially if an organization has more than one location, then online or blended learning courses are a great way to upskill the entire workforce and various learning and development programs such as Pearson Professional courses, Pearson Online English, etc. can prove to be an effective tool for organizations or individuals to upskill and reskill.

2. Identifying the right talent and providing them with robust workplace training
Corporate leaders understand that employee turnover is expensive. Various studies focusing on the cost of employee turnover stated that the cost of one worker leaving an organization could be as much as $25,000, while the cost of interviewing, hiring, and training another is significantly high, and affects the corporate bottom line. Hence, identifying, hiring, and retaining the right talent is a critical need during the present times to avoid financial risk, increase productivity, improve employee morale, boost customer satisfaction, and prevent loss of business.

Additionally, it is important for the organizations to reinforce the link between business outcomes and capability, and learning and development (L&D) teams need to work on transforming existing learning offerings, and push them to digital/online formats. Offering employees new online learning solutions to upskill/reskill, access practical mentoring, specialized trainings, and use potential idle time to cover those skills and development gaps is necessary, and companies need to switch to virtual learning experiences that allow professionals to engage with one another.

3. Increased focus on soft skills
When asked about how jobs are changing, 81% people in the Middle East believe that workers will need to improve uniquely human skills like creative thinking, reasoning and collaboration, etc. to thrive in the new economy, as shown by the Pearson Global Learner Survey. The major gap exists across basic skills, such as creative and independent thinking, problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, collaboration, etc., which take much more time and effort to build, and do not lose their relevance even when the nature of a job evolves.

The underlying message seems to be that even as machines start taking over the work sphere, at the end of the day, it is the people who need to use this technology to avail its advantages to the fullest. And hence, it is important to embrace those soft skills that enable us to utilize our unique human talents, adapt to the evolving market, future-proof our careers, and build and develop areas that AI can't do well.

In an era of changing business priorities, changing nature of jobs, and innovations in technology, businesses can't afford to put capability building on hold. Whether the effort is reskilling or upskilling at the business-unit level or a company-wide aspirational transformation, businesses need to continue critical workplace learning. Additionally, molding learning and work into what they need it to be in today's world and equip themselves with the necessary skills is essential for individuals to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution era.

Related: Three Key Factors Leaders Should Focus On For Their Businesses To Rebound

Majid Mneymneh

Vice President, Higher Education and Corporate, Pearson Middle East

Majid Mneymneh is Vice President, Higher Education and Corporate, Pearson Middle East.

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