“Continuing education, flexibilization, corporate culture: How the Covid19 pandemic is changing equal opportunities in companies” – this is the (translated from German) title of a study published by “Initiative Chefsache” in March. It shows those who see Corona as an opportunity to finally drive change in the working world at an appropriate pace, that there is still a lot to do. And that, unfortunately, change doesn’t always mean moving forward. The numbers show that the pandemic has had an adverse effect on equal opportunities between men and women. In addition to a lack of flexible working models and a conservative corporate culture, the employees surveyed in the study complain mostly about the lack of up-to-date and appropriate learning and training opportunities.
We have compiled the most important figures from the study and used them as an opportunity to show how things could be improved and how companies can use the pandemic to make learning an integral part of the work culture in the day-to day lives of their employees, break up rigid structures, and promote positive change in terms of equal opportunities.
Status quo: More than half of the respondents (54 percent) say they do not feel adequately prepared for the new challenges by the training offered in the company. This number has increased by 15 percent since the first lockdown in April 2020. The topics of digitization and automation play the biggest role here.
Possible improvements: In order to offer suitable training, companies must do one thing first and foremost: Listen! This may sound simplistic, but it is something that is still not the norm in most organizations. Genuine listening requires really wanting to know and understand how the employees are doing, how they want to work, and what they need to do their job well. To find out, managers need to take time for personal exchange with the people in the company, one-on-one meetings and feedback sessions. To create a good Employee Experience, you have to put yourself in the employees’ shoes and look at what’s going on in the company from their perspective. At that point it becomes clear that a good learning experience is a very individual matter and that employees themselves can best decide what they want and need to learn, when, with whom, and in what environment.
You don’t always need the long weekend seminar, but rather the possibility to obtain advice during ongoing processes and to close knowledge gaps as they arise. Often it may suffice to talk to an expert from another department to acquire missing knowledge. Leadership and communication skills, on the other hand, can be learned and trained as you go, for example with a mentor from the organization. For training in digital skills, reverse mentoring or a generational exchange is a good way for employees of different ages to learn from and with each other – on their own terms and tailored to their needs. Projects that all employees can apply for according to their interests and competencies are also a great way to learn and apply new skills on the job.
All these offerings are ultimately part of a new, agile learning system in which employees are at times learners and at times teachers (or both at the same time) and which evolves with them.
Status quo: Only 26 percent of employees say that their skills are being registered within the company.
Possible improvements: To begin with: This number really blew us away. When you consider that employees and their diverse skills are the most powerful drivers of transformation and innovation that companies have, it becomes clear how much potential is being wasted here. Especially considering it doesn’t take much at all to unearth this treasure.
1. Formats, that make skills visible
There is a whole range of formats and methods that companies can use to make their employees’ skills visible. Formats such as “Open Wednesday”, for example, where all employees come together in a kind of open BarCamp to discuss a wide range of topics. They decide on the topics themselves, depending on what they want to offer or learn.
Or the “task swap”, where employees can swap to-dos that do not match their skills with colleagues. In this way, cross-departmental contacts are made and, over time, a clearer picture of who has which strengths forms.
This strengths-based way of working can be expanded upon by companies looking to think less in terms of large task areas and more in terms of smaller, finite task packages that result from the increasingly fast-changing environment in which they have to operate. Working in roles instead of jobs, in projects and “gigs“, enables employees to contribute according to their skills while at the same time allowing them to take on new tasks at a low threshold.
2. Internal networking promotes transparency
Networking is fun and can be addictive. Anyone who has experienced how the exchange with a previously unfamiliar person can open doors to new possibilities, because information and perspectives suddenly combine to form something new, will want to experience this over and over again. The more colleagues join in, the more the full potential of an organization is revealed, the more easily and quickly learning needs and interests come together, mentoring duos, working circles, job tandems, and countless new opportunities are created.
3. Use data for a Skill Map – identify Skill Gap
Everything that was described under points 1 and 2 does not need to be organized using complicated Excel lists and phone calls, but can be created in just a few clicks with the help of a smart software: Employees enter the skills and learning interests they would like to share and the software then finds corresponding colleagues within seconds. From these interactions, the tool creates an aggregated and anonymized skills map, which managers can use to see which skills are available in the organizations, which are in particular demand, and which learning interests are not sufficiently covered by the existing offerings.
With these three methods and tools, companies now really have no excuse not to capture the skills of their employees and make them available to anyone who needs them for their own or the company’s development.
Status quo: 58 percent of employees say that they get absolutely no information from their employer regarding the skills that will be needed in the future.
Possible improvements: As much as we would like to have a crystal ball that tells us what will be five to ten years from now, the future can not be predicted. Another thing Corona has made very clear to us. And yet companies can develop strategies for dealing with constant change. This includes giving employees the opportunity to develop their skills continuously and on the job without “the one big occasion”.
In addition, certain trends can be derived from learning and networking data in the company (see point 3) as to which skills are particularly in demand. These need to be put into context, for example with the megatrends that every manager should be aware of, whether climate change, digitalization or demographic change. Many companies have been completely caught off guard by the need to let their employees work remotely. Yet for many years now, the advancement of digitalization has offered many opportunities to develop, test and implement new working models. From now on, the rule should be: Don’t sit it out any longer, but become active and help shape change instead of being at its mercy.
In order to get a feel for the skills that will be important in the future, it helps to look left and right, at how other organizations in the same industry are shaping change. It’s not about copying what they are doing, but about collecting valuable impulses and information outside one’s own “microcosm”. Collaboration rather than competition, not just internally, but also through external networking is a key factor in advancing entire industries, for example when it comes to the qualification of junior staff.
In conclusion: The results of the study by Initiative Chefsache are a wake-up call for companies to give their learning culture a much-needed update. Many organizations are sitting on a valuable treasure. The fact that this treasure is out of reach for many, is not due to short-time work (“Kurzarbeit”) and working from home, but because the skills, interests and needs of employees have never been consistently brought into focus. Companies that are now doing things differently are not only creating the basis for more equal opportunities, but also for a livable (working) society as a whole. #itsabouttime