Outside the Box: Companies can’t just wait for the skills they need to show up—they need to train the workers they have

As the nation emerges from the pandemic’s economic fallout, workforce trends are under way that could constrain the long-term recovery. The changing nature of work and lost learning opportunities will threaten to stretch a national skills gap into a skills canyon.

Skilling must be at the cornerstone of the nation’s recovery. Employers who reimagine how they train their workers and redeploy talent will gain a competitive edge and be well-positioned for long-term success, particularly in an environment where talent is increasingly on the move.

Low-wage work is in high demand, and employers are now competing for applicants, offering incentives ranging from sign-on bonuses to free food. But with many still unemployed, are these offers working? Photo: Bloomberg

The changing nature of work

The pandemic has taken the future of work from concept to reality overnight, leading to lasting effects on how we work and demanding new skills to execute. Prudential’s latest Pulse of the American Worker Survey found half of workers say the pandemic has changed how work is done, and recognize they will need to learn new skills to continue to do their jobs. Yet workers’ growing need for skills training comes at a time when they have had limited opportunities to learn on the job due to the pandemic.

Now read: Job openings hit another record high in July

A year before COVID became a household word, there already were about 7 million open roles across the United States, largely due to workers not having the skills required. The number of unfilled jobs has now ballooned to nearly 11 million and may surge higher.

These openings aren’t simply a byproduct of frontline-worker shortages, which are likely to abate as the pandemic subsides. Marketplace shifts, technology adoption and automation are creating new roles and with them a demand for different skill sets.

In the end, it comes down to a simple skills equation. Closing this skills gap will remain a challenge for employers well beyond the dislocations associated with the initial phase of recovery from the pandemic and will clamp down on long-term growth if not addressed.

Moving with urgency

Much like American corporations’ rapid transition to remote work at the onset of the pandemic, we will once again be thrust into a grand experiment. Employers may not have all the answers, but what is clear is that we cannot simply hire our way out of the skills gap. Companies must invest in internal training tools and platforms, while providing time and managerial support so workers can maximize training opportunities.

Further escalating the pressure on employers, today’s workforce is facing an inflection point. Referred to as “the Great Rethink,” workers en masse are shifting their expectations of work, reimagine their careers and leaving their employers behind. Employers will need to react quickly to these phenomena or risk their own growth and the broader economic recovery.

At Prudential
we’ve been highly focused on career development and cultivating a culture of continuous learning to ensure our talent has access to the training tools and opportunities they need to deliver for our customers.

Several years ago, we launched our AI-powered skills-training platform—a foundational component of Prudential’s Talent Marketplace. The platform identifies skills gaps, provides training and matches new skill sets with internal mobility opportunities for our existing talent. Our training platform is complemented with apprenticeships to enhance on-the-job learning and further generate a robust talent pipeline.

Under this approach, Prudential employees have logged well over 100,000 skilling hours during the pandemic, and in the past six months alone, we have received more than 5,000 internal applicants for open positions, more than 50% of which have been filled with our existing talent.

Winning the long game

While eliminating the skills gap entirely will likely require an “all of the above” approach—including a public-policy response and partnerships with academic and other institutions—employers who provide skills-training opportunities and support will be well-positioned for the long term.

 By training workers and creating internal mobility options, companies will be able to redeploy talent into roles that can deliver the highest value. The companies that do this well will maximize their talent advantage while helping to shrink the skills canyon and fast-track the nation’s economic recovery.

Rob Falzon is vice chair of Prudential Financial, Inc. and a member of Prudential’s Board of Directors.

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This post was originally published on Market Watch

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