Reskill now for a future-proof workforce!

By: Zhihan Lee

This is the final part of a series of articles by Ashoka Fellow Zhihan Lee on how to adapt and reskill during the pandemic. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Change is inevitable, but the suffering that comes with it can be managed. Due to COVID-19, organizations are now tasked with reimagining how their business is going to look like. Considering that COVID-19 is not going to go away anytime soon, the recent turmoil in the US and Hong Kong will spiral the global economy downward further. We can be stubbornly optimistic, but we also need to be pragmatic. Businesses and even local governments are going to learn how to provide services digitally. Workers across industries must figure out how they can adapt to new roles as companies adjust their business models to adhere to new compliance and consumer needs. Therefore, to emerge stronger from the crisis, organizations from both private and public sectors should start reskilling their workforces now.

The BagoSphere team offers a few suggestions on how to reskill your workforce:

  1. Identify and align new performance outcomes to the new business model

With training only being effective 20% of the time, linking the new performance outcomes to new capabilities is one of the most critical first steps that should not be overlooked. Most often, we find organizations jumping too quickly to the skills and learning outcomes. We think that’s a mistake. We suggest identifying the business rationale (the why), then the performance outcomes (success indicators), then the scenarios where performance is critical (the when), then finally figuring out the learning outcomes (what and the who). Having a clear line of sight from the learning outcomes to business rationale will increase the likelihood of impactful reskilling.

2. Develop learning journeys instead of purely event-based training

Event-based training consists of workshops, e-learning modules, webinars, where the focus is on learning acquisition and retention. However, we know that relying on event-based training is ineffective. There is a difference between acquiring knowledge during training and applying it on the job. The effectiveness of training depends ultimately on whether the learned outcomes are used in the workplace. Therefore, we suggest designing learning journeys that focus on skills application and performance improvement. This includes scenarios, manager support, and journaling/reflecting. Learning journeys can also be designed to be bite-sized, reduce time away from job, and provide a more natural pace of learning. Online learning experience platforms can be designed to do this in a way that is social and engaging.

3. Help employees find the motivation to deal with the change

One executive of a mid-sized BPO recently told us that the problem isn’t the skill mismatch, it’s a “motivational mismatch”. Some workers don’t seem to be motivated to learn and adapt. Ultimately, employers will have to tap into workers’ own motivation for training. Understanding what those motivational barriers and fears are important. For example, a culture that allows honest communication will help organizations learn ways to remove these barriers. However, in these uncertain times, it is also important to tap into a bigger purpose of the organization and create a strong rallying cry and inspire action. These elements can be difficult to execute without strong organizational culture, which brings us to the next point.

4. Keep learning initiatives agile and scale up when proven

Perfect is the enemy of good. Change doesn’t need to be overnight, but it can certainly start small like in a department or a team. For example, a reskilling plan can target a group of workers that are strategically important, and start on a small scale. You can rely on support from senior levels of the organization, and less complex plans to demonstrate that it works. Even if the work culture is challenging, focusing on small successes like this can fuel more change to happen.

5. Empower HR (human resources) and L&D (learning & development) teams

We have talked to too many HR and L&D people who are overwhelmed with the work that lies ahead of them. Many are seen as back-office performing merely an auxiliary function. It is time for these functions to rise up to the challenge, and for senior leaders to recognize their strategic importance. Keep the training budgets or regret it later. Use the budget to make skills building a key strategic lever for adapting the business model. Finally, use the resources to develop new ways to train people, especially using digital tools to replace in-person classes and experiment on more engaging formats to ensure training impact.

Speaking of employee preparedness, jobseekers have difficulty passing BPO job interviews due to the lack of English skills. BagoSphere’s programs empower jobseekers with English, interview, call center, and human skills to launch a career in the growing BPO industry.

We run two types of initiatives here:

  1. BPO Job Seekers Training Hub — a Facebook community of BPO job seekers and professionals allowing them to access free, industry-led, and bite-sized content aimed at helping unemployed and entry-level talent develop in-demand skills such as English communications, interpersonal skills, and career development.

2. Career preparation BPO — a one-month, intensive program to help members who are seeking a more structured pathway to BPO employment. It features blended learning, mock interview practice, and feedback, as well as direct referral to hiring partners. Graduates also earn a certificate from the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED).

We also continue to consult with employers and develop training programs to help them to reskill and adapt their workforce to the new normal. While doing so, we are helping them recognize talent pools that they might want to develop for the long term.

A few years ago, Markel Serva joined our training program which focused on equipping underemployed youth with the skills to enter the IT-BPO industry. Markel was working simultaneously as a farmer, tricycle driver, and laborer. He was earning 5,000 Philippine pesos per month.

BagoSphere was ultimately able to help him obtain the skills to get a call center job that tripled his earnings. He subsequently joined BagoSphere. First, he worked as a recruitment associate and did so well that he was promoted as a recruitment officer and then now as a trainer. In 2019, he was tapped to help set up a new training center for us in Iloilo City. Now, he’s supporting his family and working to help others in his community. This is my favorite impact story because Markel has transformed himself from a beneficiary to a champion of life-long learning. And he showed people that the seemingly impossible is possible. It just takes hard work and time.

If you are looking for help to join the BPO sector, you are invited to join our community: BPO Jobseekers Training Hub

If you are a BPO recruiter, we would love to partner and help brainstorm ideas on running near-hire programs without your usual overheads.

If you are a BPO professional and looking for online volunteering opportunities, we would love to see how you can help our students make informed career choices and provide students with support and advice in these uncertain times.

If you are in Management, L&D or HR, I would be more than happy to learn more about your views on human skills and how we can solve the unemployment problem together.

I can be reached via Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zhihanlee/

About the Author

Zhihan Lee is the co-founder and Group CEO of BagoSphere, a Philippine-based education company that works with employers to develop workforce training programs, and then trains promising jobseekers to fill in-demand jobs. Zhihan worked at a medical-tech start-up in Stockholm before venturing into rural India to work with a social enterprise involved in rural IT outsourcing. Graduating from the National University of Singapore’s Engineering Science Program, he studied entrepreneurship at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship & The Royal Institute of Technology. For his work at BagoSphere, he was named as a Global Good Fund Fellow in 2016 and an Ashoka Fellow in 2018.

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