How To Upskill And Reskill Your Remote Workforce
This article is part of a series exploring the concept of blended learning for remote and on-site workers. What you are about to read is a fable. The company, AshCom, is fictional but the learning challenges faced by Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and her team are real and commonly shared by learning teams in large organizations. It is our hope that you will be able to connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. We also invite you to read the first eBook in the series.
An Unusual Relationship
Laszlo, the Chief Human Resources Officer at AshCom, had known and worked with Kathryn, its Chief Learning Officer for many years. Their professional relationship was a bit unusual in that most of the time, Kathryn would have reported directly to Laszlo in his role as CHRO. When Kathryn was hired, she asked to report directly to the CEO. Laszlo, who had been at AshCom only a few months longer than Kathryn, could have protested, but he chose not to.
His decision was based on more than a desire not to rock the new boat he was in or cause a problem with Kathryn right at the start. He reviewed her resume—which included multiple learning leadership positions of multi-billion dollars companies— and decided there was no reason to make the case that Kathryn should report to him. Some of his peers might have questioned his decision, but time demonstrated the wisdom of it.
Laszlo and Kathryn developed a solid working relationship based on the respect each had for the other’s skills, passion, and professionalism. Their leadership added significant value to the 7,000-member AshCom team.
Laszlo was deeply impressed with the work Kathryn’s learning team had done in developing a Needs Analysis System, a mobile app and custom authoring tools, and, most recently, a true game that provided enhanced financial literacy to AshCom’s management team. The work was excellent, and the results were impressive.
Each also understood something else. They trusted each other. Both could recall previous jobs where people competed for credit and good standing in the eyes of the CEO or board. That was not the case at AshCom nor was it a game either of them enjoyed or played particularly well. Simply put, they made a great team leading the people side of the company.
When Laszlo wrote an email with “Two Issues” as the subject line. Kathryn read it immediately. Laszlo asked for an hour to discuss remote work and the skills gap. He provided no context. These were not topics they had previously discussed. Uncharacteristically, he said there was some urgency to have this conversation. Kathryn reserved the conference room for the requested 60 minutes and sent an invite. Laszlo accepted.
After only a brief period of catch-up, Laszlo came straight to his concerns.
“I must begin by telling you that I have two problems to solve. Maybe challenges is a better word. At first, I didn’t think they were related. Maybe they aren’t. But I’m starting to think maybe they are. You have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m talking in circles.”
“A little,” said Kathryn. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
After a moment, Laszlo said, “Let me start again. I’ll start with the big picture. You’ve seen the numbers. Our sales are up but our profits are flat. After we acquired Globex and their 2,500 employees, we assumed our revenue would go up and it did. But our profit isn’t keeping up.”
“Why do you think that’s happening? Is this where the ‘two things’ come into play?” asked Kathryn.
“That’s the complicated part,” replied Laszlo.
Helping The HR Team
He continued, “I’ll start with the easiest one. Part of my job is to help my HR team build the whole AshCom workforce. That means we can attract great talent, help develop them—which is a big part of what you do—and retain them. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. You are involved in all three. Seeing these three things happen is one of the most fulfilling parts of my job here.”
Kathryn nodded in agreement.
“I have a weekly call with our entire HR team on Monday mornings,” said Laszlo.
Kathryn smiled. “I know all about that. At some weird time, right? Like 9:13?”
“9:17,” said Laszlo. “You can tease me, but it works. Everyone is on time, and we are done in 13 minutes. Anyway, something keeps coming up, and I’m wondering if it is part of our profitability challenge. We have a lot of jobs available, and we are hiring more people, but I’m not sure we are attracting the people we need.”
“Why do you think that is?” asked Kathryn.
“I have to do more digging,” said Laszlo, “but something that keeps coming up in our weekly call is our willingness to offer flexible schedules. Not just people wanting more options for when they work. It is more to do with where they work. We are getting asked about our willingness to allow people to work from home. Work remotely. Are you hearing that in your circles?”
“I am,” said Kathryn. “Some of my own learning team members have asked about it.”
“I’m hearing that too from people who already work here,” said Laszlo.
“So,” said Kathryn, “what does that have to do with me and the learning team?”
Laszlo thought for a moment. “Giving people great learning experiences is essential to our success. It helps us attract people, develop them, and retain people. How can we do that if people are working remotely some of the time? Or even all of the time? This isn’t my only consideration, of course, but it is something at the top of my list.”
“Got it,” said Kathryn. “I’ll get my team together, and we will do some brainstorming on this in case you decide to pursue offering remote options to some of our team members. What’s the second issue and why do you think they might be connected?”
“Like I said,” replied Laszlo, “I’m not sure they are. Let’s talk through the second issue and see what you think.”
Laszlo continued, “In brief, we have a skills gap. I met with Akihiko, our COO, and he sees some troubling trends. We had a beer the other night and he laid out some disturbing data points. We both suspect they are also contributing to our flat profits numbers.”
“Sounds serious,” said Kathryn.
“I think it is,” replied Laszlo. “That’s why I’m here. Let me map it out on the whiteboard.”
“Just a quick overview,” said Laszlo when he finished. “I mentioned global competition when we sat down. To compete, we need to find more efficiencies in our manufacturing processes. That means we get more time with our machines and tools running.”
“And when we hire new operators to use them” replies Kathryn, “we have to shut down machines so new people can learn how to operate them, maintain them, and repair them if necessary. So, we need to find more ways to give people the machine learning experiences they need without shutting down machines. Or at least minimize it.”
“Exactly,” said Laszlo. “Then there is the matter of people. Every time someone retires or moves to another company, we lose skills and knowledge that are vital to our success. Those taking new jobs are one thing, but the retirements are really adding up.”
“While all this is happening,” continued Laszlo, “we are also finding that there is less interest among young people in working in a manufacturing setting. For those who are, they seem to come in with lower skill levels.”
“I’m tracking you,” said Kathryn. “You need us to speed up how we give people the knowledge and skills they need to be successful at their jobs.”
“And that all ties back to profitability and our ability to compete globally,” said Laszlo.
Upskilling Remote Workforces
“To summarize,” said Kathryn with a slight grin, “all you need is to figure out how to bring people with lower skills up to speed more quickly in the context of a growing number of retirements. And we need to do that without shutting down machines so that we can increase efficiency. I’m guessing you also want us to do that without taking technicians off the floor.”
“I failed to mention that yet,” said Laszlo, “but yes. That needs to be part of the solution. That reminds me of something else. These changes, whatever they are, should also lower the number of defects in our manufacturing process.”
“Because we might lower costs related to developing people,” said Kathryn, “but if that results in lower quality and all sorts of rework, we will lose any efficiencies we gain.”
“Correct,” said Laszlo.
“And we are supposed to figure out how to do all this while you think about whether or not we can still give team members the learning experiences they need while some of them work remotely?”
“Simple, right?” said Laszlo with a smirk.
“Sure,” replied Kathryn.
Laszlo sighed, “The COO brought the skills gap to me. My HR team keeps bringing up the call for remote options. I don’t know if they are connected. Maybe they aren’t. I don’t mean to dump my problems on you and your team, but I don’t know where else to turn. And your team has done some incredible work in building learning for our sales team and our management teams.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere?” said Kathryn.
“I figured it couldn’t hurt,” replied Laszlo, “but I meant what I said. Your team is impressive. Can you help?”
“I can promise that we will dig into both issues and see where our discussion leads us. My team is a really talented and thoughtful group of people. We will at least come back to you with some clarity.”
“That would be deeply appreciated,” said Laszlo.
After Laszlo left, Kathryn remained in the conference room, staring at what he had written on the whiteboard. She loved thorny problems with high stakes, and this was both.
Download the eBook Beyond Blended Learning: A Winning Formula For Remote Workforce Talent to discover how AshCom overcomes its L&D challenges using innovative blended learning strategies. Also, join the webinar to uncover valuable insights that will help you improve your L&D planning and learning delivery.