April 17, 2020 The Real Future of Work Part 3 – The Evolution of Employee Upskilling

Welcome back to our Future of Work series—innovation discussions around remote workforces, virtual and distributed talent, and the organizations tapping the talent economy to drive enterprise productivity and innovation. You can read and listen to both part 1 and part 2 , but to quickly recap:

  • Part 1 focused on the new Future of Work and how platforms that earn the trust of both sides of the marketplace are best positioned to succeed for both the talent and the enterprise.
  • In Part 2, we took a deep dive into the booming world of remote work, the stats, the benefits, and what happens after the boom when remote work and distributed, virtual teams become the norm.

That brings us to part 3, the evolution of employee upskilling.

Towards a reskilling revolution

At the time of this writing, we are very much in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic here in the US. A few short weeks ago, one of the major topics on the mind of enterprises and CHROs alike was employee upskilling and driving a future of work vision that included sincere investment in re-training and skills training programs for current full-time employees.

Upskilling has become a huge business unto itself in America and across the globe, as enterprises view it as a major component of their workforce retention strategy. The philosophy is that enterprises recognize that many of the new skills they need to stay competitive and productive aren’t currently in-house. They’ve got good people hired—people they can trust who are dependable and have a good track record—yet their skill sets are becoming obsolete, outsourced, or overtaken by advances in AI.

The World Economic Forum put out an extensive study in January of 2019 titled “Towards a Reskilling Revolution”. The key findings suggest that the US can invest ~ $34Billion dollars in reskilling approximately 1.4 million workers, up-leveling those individuals into higher paid roles in areas of predicted need. This seems logical. However, this move—being touted as a key focus for the Future of Work— is a linear move, rather than an exponential one.

RESKILLING To wIEld the talent economy

In Part 1 we discussed that most Future of Work conversations focus on reskilling, upskilling, and what the future labor force looks like when AI is woven into the fabric of the enterprise at scale. Our perspective is that a narrow Future of Work discussion is missing the talent economy completely. Maybe you know it as the gig economy or crowdsourcing or a different name, but if you’re not including open talent models and platforms in your future of work vision, then you’re missing the most important movement impacting the real Future of Work.

So, is traditional upskilling or reskilling an employee a bad idea? No. It’s not an either/or scenario. Instead, a concept of workforce transformation that’s focused on teaching current employees how to wield the gig or talent economy for the enterprise can be a more effective use of training investment for both the individual and for your organization.

What does it mean to transform a workforce?

So, what do we mean by this vision of reskilling? What does it mean to transform a workforce, or even just an individual by showing them how-to use on-demand, remote talent for enterprise work? A few thoughts on what this education might feel like and cover:

#1 – Understanding the Potential for Remote Workforce in the Enterprise

There’s an art to taking enterprise blinders off individuals who have always “gotten things done a certain” way, enabling them to become aware of alternative ways to produce or execute for their organization.

#2 – Training on what work is potentially a great fit for crowd (or outside talent) and what work is best suited to stay in house

This is another important layer of education. Once employees are aware of what’s possible through an on-demand remote workforce, it’s just as important for them to become educated on what type of work and innovation they normally do that are good fits for external crowds. And very importantly, which work simply is not. This will increase focus and the understanding of good fit vs. poor fit, which will drive efficient practices for your organization.

#3 – Hands-on training with platforms like Topcoder, Verblio, Tongal, HackerOne, and many others

There are many platforms that operate in the talent economy and whose primary function is delivering a remote workforce and outcomes to you. Where Topcoder focuses on digital and technology talent to help you execute tech projects faster, Verblio focuses on content creation through a curated crowd of quality writers. The point being that different communities and platforms offer up different specialized skills important to enterprise productivity.

In part 4 of the series, we’ll discuss some of the differences in models that exist and why we believe some are stronger than others by being more equitable to the talent and providing certain protections that avoid an economic “race to the bottom” for the talent itself.

#4 – Dedicated innovation and execution budget provided to the trainees so that they can experiment on the platforms while producing real-world outputs the enterprise can use

This one is simple. Once they are aware and trained, it’s about empowerment. This includes dedicated budget and cultural guidance to encourage the uptake and usage of talent platforms.

There is more to an effective workforce transformation strategy than just these 4 elements, however, they serve as good milestones to think through and plan towards.

why this vision of reskilling is the way forward

In addition to ways in which enterprises can map out this alternative future of work reskilling for their workforce, it’s important to understand why we believe this is a more effective path to reskilling in general. We have 3 main reasons that support our point of view.

#1 – The Future of Work is remote (and it’s accelerating)

Before the acronym COVID came into our lives, remote work was already accelerating at an impressive clip. We spent Part 2 of this series discussing a number of studies pointing to why employees enjoy and desire more opportunity for remote work. Now, with the accelerant that is the Coronavirus, millions and millions more in the workforce AND students who are tomorrow’s workforce, are suddenly distributed and working virtually. Microsoft Teams, Zoom video, and other suites and tools that support remote work are booming. People will experience remote work and demand it be at least a part of their work experience in the future. And for the enterprise, there are lots of perks to having a more resilient workforce that utilizes remote work, at least part of the time. The pre-COVID studies show us that remote workers tend to be more engaged and therefore more effective. It will be interesting to see the research that emerges in a post-COVID world studying the overall % of organizations that open up remote work policies due to increasing demands for this flexibility.

#2 – The productivity of the individual (and the enterprise) skyrockets through the understanding of how to wield remote, on-demand talent

Individuals, small teams and organizations that use on-demand talent platforms at scale increase their productivity in very sincere ways. We’ve witnessed this hundreds of times over at Topcoder. Individuals within an enterprise, say a Sr. Manager of Engineering or a Director of Innovation, or VP of Analytics, folks who own product or own a program at a company—when those individuals learn, experiment through, and then scale their use of external, remote talent, the productivity of their team skyrockets. In our experience, these individuals:

         # 1 – Grew their FTE team

         #2 – Received larger and larger budgets

         #3 – Were promoted rapidly

#3 – The pace of execution and innovation is unmatched with the combination of traditional labor + remote on-demand workforce talent

The final reason we believe and champion training your workforce on how-to wield on-demand remote talent is because the pace at which innovation can be attempted is unsurpassed. Right now, during the middle of the coronavirus outbreak, we’re working with an innovator named Soofi Safavi who is bringing a new telepresence fitness application to market in about 14 days. 14 days, from Doc Emmett Brown Flux-Capacitor a-ha moment to a live MVP of his application. He and his team are building the app during social distancing and executing through 100% distributed remote talent. I encourage anyone reading to also check-out our Wizard.Fit series where we are covering, in near-real time, the build, the process, and the collaboration tools and platforms facilitating an in-unison sprint with remote, external talent.

While Wizard.Fit offers one example, there are many more from the likes of T-Mobile, Microsoft, NASA and others on the Topcoder blog and YouTube channel.

The world is accelerating to remote work

To close out, let’s revisit the purpose of upskilling and reskilling programs in the first place. Enterprises are investing so much in re-skilling so that they can a) retain their quality talent by providing them new opportunities to grow their careers and b) to get the very most productivity out of them.

What do you think happens when an individual is empowered to innovate, when they receive larger and larger budgets because their production is comparatively higher than their counterparts, and because of their increased productivity, their team grows? If the purpose of reskilling is to retain good talent and to maximize their productivity for the enterprise then what seems like a smarter choice to you?

Teaching them a new specialized skill?


Teaching them how to wield specialized skills on-demand?

Which one do you believe can have a greater impact?

If you’re ready to lead your organization forward with on-demand talent, let’s talk.

VP, Marketing


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