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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Odgers

The Amazonian Quest of Upskilling 100,000 Employees

To say the term ‘upskilling’ is trending is an understatement. This is thanks to e-commerce giant Amazon’s announcement last week to invest a whopping $700 million by 2025 to train 100,000 of its employees — one-third of its US workforce — for highly skilled roles and in-demand jobs.

Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 pledge is a bold, wise move to future-proof the company’s workforce while advancing employees’ careers and creating a culture of care.

And Amazon isn’t the only company putting its eggs in the upskilling basket. A recent report from ManpowerGroup® revealed that as automation and digital transformation continue to grow, 76% of companies plan to upskill their workforce by 2020, up from 28% in 2011 and a 21% increase from last year.

Cutting redundant jobs never feels like a win-win. Upskilling is about creating an agile workforce who are supported continuously to develop skills and their carer. It is a real turning point to see large employers respond to the World Economic Forum's paper on Accelerating Workforce Reskilling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Opportunity for Employees

The Amazon Upskilling 2020 pledge is a terrific opportunity for employees to develop skills and carve out a progressive career with the company. The pledge to Amazonians is a smart move. It solves the problem of talent pool shortage for high-demand jobs and avoids recruiting and onboarding costs for skilled technical and non-technical roles. Plus, the organisational flexibility and agility needed to fulfil newly created job roles is gaining pace.

Think about it … the job profiles needed today look quite different from even 5 or 10 years ago.

Here’s an example: A quick Google search on “data scientist jobs” provides 3.1 million results - seriously! Now, there may be some duplication of roles advertised across job sites and other content mentioning this key phrase, but this is quite mind-blowing. It was only in 2012 that Harvard Business Review called it “the sexiest job of the 21st century.”

For a non-technical example, I draw on my 20+ years of experience in the marketing industry. While creative thinking, campaign ideation, and content creation are essential to any marketing team, marketing execution has become highly technical in itself. Technology makes things possible that weren’t available 20 (or even 5) years ago.

Now, I spend at least 70% of my day using marketing technology, whether it be for improving content plans, optimising website content, or strategising inbound and paid search programs. With the abundance of new technologies, we see emerging specialised roles such as growth hacker, inbound marketing specialists, and content strategists.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if, in addition to self-learning and gaining on-the-job experience, your company supported your career development and upskilled you to move into positions in demand rather than moved you out?

The Opportunity for Businesses

An upskilling program is not just a feel-good exercise. The benefits from improved productivity and reduced cost of hiring and onboarding are all upsides for businesses.

Loyalty built two-ways between employer and employee is increasingly rare and upskilling is becoming an essential investment, especially when the talent pool is highly competitive or diminishing. To me, the investment far outweighs the cost of doing nothing.

What is Upskilling All About?

Upskilling is a people-first approach that invests in updating and building new knowledge and skills, which may be required to stay up-to-date in the same job. For example, some industries, including medical, financial, and legal, mandate upskilling and even recertification. In other cases, such as in the sales profession, upskilling to learn about new products or hone sales skills is simply needed to stay relevant and competitive.

Effective Upskilling

Once the HR piece of a formal upskilling program is in place with clear objectives and expectations set for employer and employees, it is time to execute. There are endless ways to upskill, but to ensure optimised outcomes, you need to set metrics and be able to measure program effectiveness.

Initial training is needed, whether in the form of group training sessions, online learning modules, microlearning, or a blended program. Regardless, it is critical to reinforce the learning content in an engaging way.

Breaking down content into real-life scenarios tests understanding and application in the field and makes the learning process highly relevant. From learner responses, learning program managers can identify knowledge and skill gaps — which is powerful data. These insights can trigger progressive actions such as coaching to the gaps of individuals or rolling out remedial training where there is the most need across cohorts.

We should all commend Amazon and others for setting the tone on how to strategically prepare both a company and its workforce for a rapidly evolving workplace fuelled by digital transformation. As Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 pledge exemplifies, caring for your employees isn’t just about fun perks; it’s about authentically investing in and delivering on an interest in their future, which is a win-win for everyone.

Now, all eyes will be focused on Amazon's delivery and measurement...I look forward to seeing how this story plays out.


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