Tom Barkin, president of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, recently predicted that some of the jobs lost in the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic may never come back. This prediction comes in an economy where automation is already set to displace 75 million jobs by 2022, forcing many workers to quickly adapt their skill sets for the future.

However, times of crisis also bring opportunity. While digital transformation and automation are set to displace millions of jobs, they’re also predicted to create 133 million new ones. For this technological revolution, employees will need, on average, 101 days of upskilling before 2022. Your workforce must be ready to interact with technology in the workplace more frequently and learn how to navigate newly automated workflows.

With disruption from automation colliding with the pandemic, how can you set up your employees for success? As we climb out of the COVID-19 downturn, companies that ignore the need for upskilling programs will face significant talent challenges. Without a well-trained, digitally agile workforce, it will be difficult for organizations to build internal momentum for future transformation initiatives. To help your organization develop such a workforce, here are four keys to building a successful citizen-developer upskilling training program now:

1. Use a No-code or Low-code Model

There’s no denying that the creation of an effective upskilling program takes time and effort. But it shouldn’t be difficult for employees to start quickly applying their new skills in the workplace.

With the advent of no-code or low-code development platforms — software programs that enable users with minimal to no programming knowledge to build applications — learning new technology has never been easier. This type of software allows non-technical employees to learn and master technology that is user-friendly and adaptable to their business processes.

Partner with your information technology (IT) team to find the right no-code or low-code platform for your organization’s needs. Then, identify power users within your organization to aid user adoption, enabling employees to understand technology at a faster pace and effectively apply it to their workflows.

2. Train Leaders and Managers First

The need for upskilling isn’t limited to employees — it also applies to your organization’s leaders. For your upskilling initiative to succeed, leaders and managers need to learn how to manage with new technology in the picture.

To lay the foundation for upskilling, train your executives and managers first. Starting with your leaders will help your organization leverage newly upskilled citizen developers to transform your operations with modern digital technologies. Leaders will need to plan shifts in roles and responsibilities, carve out time for citizen development to occur, and redeploy resources that save time as a result of automation.

3. Equip Employees to Be Part of the Change

Once company leaders are aligned with your upskilling program, the next step is to address the needs of your employees. It begins with evaluating their baseline skill sets and interest to identify the best initial candidates for upskilling. Often, these employees have demonstrated potential by performing advanced work in business applications like spreadsheets or customer relationship management (CRM) tools. They also have a problem-solving mindset, are relentlessly focused on improving efficiency and are unafraid to shake up the status quo.

Encourage employees across functional areas to identify specific processes that could benefit from modern digitized workflows to automate common business tasks. Additionally, help employees identify the repetitive and time-consuming aspects of their roles that could be automated to save time and resources.

For example, if your warehouse workers spend hours documenting damaged vehicles using paper forms, demonstrate how digitizing the process could give them hours back. Or, if your legal team spends days manually reviewing contracts, determine the amount of time they could save by identifying changes or edits through natural language processing (NLP).

Building your upskilling program around employees’ needs also quells fears about potential job losses. If workers see you’re building the program to improve their jobs — not replace them — they’ll embrace automation and required training.

4. Create New Career Opportunities

Your upskilling program should extend beyond improving employees’ skills. It should also create opportunities for your workforce to consider new career paths and opportunities in your organization. In successful upskilling programs, employees leverage the time they save on repetitive tasks and the technical knowledge they gain to grow their careers.

To keep employees engaged, incorporate certifications and career paths in your upskilling program. Individuals who successfully incorporate their new technical skills into their roles are potential candidates for future management jobs. Also determine which employees are leveraging the time they save to work on other projects. Could their skills be well suited to a customer-facing role? What other areas do they excel in when repetitive tasks are removed from their workflows?

By giving employees the opportunity to grow their careers through upskilling, you can incentivize them to improve their skill sets. It’s a win-win: Employees gain valuable skills in growing technology fields, and business processes improve as a result.

The coronavirus recession and the rise of digital transformation have created an urgent need for upskilling. By developing an upskilling program that targets the needs of your employees as well as the needs of your business, you can position your company — and your workforce — to realize important benefits both now and over the long term.

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