By Andy Choquette
During my time serving in the military, I came to understand that training is not just a part of the job, rather it’s the very backbone of survival and success. We live by the mantra, “Train like you fight, fight like you train”. This isn’t just a catchy phrase; it’s a lifeline that ensures we’re always prepared for current and future threats.
While they don’t always get it right, the military’s approach to training offers invaluable lessons for the business world. In essence, the ‘battlefield advantage’ translates directly to an organisation’s competitive advantage in the market.
One of the most striking differences between the military and the public and private sectors is how they acquire expertise. While businesses tend to hire their experts, the military trains theirs – and this is a critical distinction. But we’re now seeing a shift in the corporate world towards internal upskilling and reskilling, knowingly or unknowingly adopting the military’s model. Why? Because traditional educational institutions are struggling to keep up with the rising demand for skilled labour.
A workforce in flux
The very fabric of the workforce is undergoing a transformation. Emerging technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence are augmenting our capabilities and redefining job roles and skill requirements. According to the Future of Jobs Report 2023 from the World Economic Forum, an estimated 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted in the next five years. As a result, six in 10 workers will require training before 2027, but only half of all workers are seen as having access to adequate training opportunities today. This presents a dual challenge and opportunity for business leaders.
Gaining a competitive edge through upskilling and reskilling
Upskilling – enhancing current skills for an existing role, and reskilling – acquiring new skills for a new role, instil workforces with a level of adaptability that is invaluable in today’s volatile market. When external conditions fluctuate, a well-skilled workforce can pivot with a level of agility that will help organisations maintain their ‘battlefield advantage’ and keep ahead of the curve.
Committing time and effort to programs that make employees experts in their fields also creates a business culture of continuous learning, where good people are nurtured, enhanced and can be mobilised across teams as needs change.
While there is an initial financial outlay associated with training programs, the long-term ROI far outweighs the investment. Generally, the cost of training existing employees is also lower than the costs associated with recruiting and onboarding new talent.
An approach that seeks to create experts rather than hiring them also fosters greater loyalty amongst employees who are increasingly seeking opportunities for professional development as a driver for remaining with an organisation.
A pragmatic approach to upskilling and reskilling
The initial phase of any upskilling or reskilling endeavour should involve a comprehensive audit of the existing skills within an organisation juxtaposed against current and future market demands. This dual analysis serves as the foundation for a targeted skill development strategy.
Upon establishing a clear understanding of the skills landscape, the next logical step is to map these skills to a structured framework, such as the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). This ensures a systematic approach to skill development, aligned with both organisational needs and market value.
Once an organisation understands the skills they need, the focus then shifts to training. Effective training is the critical component in enhancing employee expertise. When developing programs, it’s important to note the efficacy of training can be magnified through personalisation. For example, using psychometric assessments to identify an individual’s preferred learning style then creating a blend of traditional coursework, micro-learning modules and experiential learning best suited to them can offer a more well-rounded and impactful educational experience.
Similarly, aptitude assessments can be used to match employees to skills or career pathways they’re likely to excel at, so training budgets are spent on getting the right people upskilled or reskilled for the right roles.
As is the case in the military, the conclusion of formal programs should not signify the end of the learning journey. Post-training mentorship can offer invaluable support, aiding employees in the practical application of newly acquired skills. This mentorship can take many forms, ranging from one-on-one consultations to group workshops.
Change management: Influencing the human element
The introduction of an upskilling or reskilling initiative often represents a significant organisational change that necessitates meticulous planning and communication. Employees must be made aware of the rationale behind the initiative, the benefits it will afford to them – including professional development and role mobility opportunities – and the resulting expectations. Resistance to change is a natural human tendency, and it is incumbent upon leadership to facilitate a broader shift in thinking if they are to reap the benefits of upskilling and reskilling their workforce.
In the fast-paced, technology-driven world in which we live, adopting a military mindset when it comes to training is fast becoming a necessity for businesses eager to future-proof their operations. By investing in the continuous development of employees, organisations are not merely enhancing satisfaction and retention; but also fortifying their competitive position in an increasingly complex business landscape.