3 Keys To Successfully Upskill Your Workforce Virtually

Abby Stemper
June 23, 2020

As companies freeze hiring and reallocate resources in a post-COVID-19 economy, investing in existing talent is more important than ever. Here are 3 things employers should keep in mind as they shift training and professional development programs to virtual environments. This post is authored by Abby Stemper, Director of Product Management and Delivery at Grads of Life.

The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically and fundamentally altered our economy — demand is shifting rapidly within and across industries, and businesses are facing serious resource constraints as they work to adapt. To keep up with the changing climate in cost-effective ways, employers must find ways to upskill and – in many cases – reskill their workforce quickly and virtually. Whether employers are reskilling workers to confront new customer service challenges, or cross training employees to support new products and services, some common strategies apply to ensure learners remain engaged and training remains effective in a virtual environment.

In the last few months, Grads of Life has quickly adapted our professional skills bootcamp for Opportunity Talent, historically delivered through a high-touch, in-person training methodology, to a virtual environment. When it comes to what works for virtual training and professional development, here are three things that we have kept at the center of our approach.

1. Creating opportunities for quality, authentic engagement is as important as skill-based training.

More than ever, people are looking for ways to recreate in-person connection in the virtual space – and the most effective educators and trainers know how to leverage this kind of connection to facilitate learning. Before defaulting to large-scale webinars or off-the-shelf online courses, look to training that prioritizes engagement and connection. Bring your teams together to participate in group discussions and challenge one another’s thinking, and use simple collaboration tools to facilitate visual and interactive conversations. And before you dive into the learning, set norms for your virtual engagement – cameras on, be on time, everyone participates, no exceptions. Set the expectation that this space is one for learning and engagement, and folks might even forget that they’re on Zoom. With that in mind…

2. Zoom is not a classroom. Find ways to balance the benefits of real-time engagement with the real advantages of quality asynchronous learning. 

Adapting a high-impact in-person training to a virtual space requires more work than setting up a Zoom link. Not only is an all-day video training exhausting, it is also not the best way to learn, practice, and apply a new skill. Asynchronous – or self-paced – training materials optimized for online learning provide the learner with a much-needed space to process, reflect, and store new information at their own pace. “Self-paced”, however, does not have to mean “zero structure.” Be thoughtful about building in supports (opt-in working sessions, nudges, progress reports, and incentives for hitting key milestones) that provide the structure required for so many learners who have little prior experience with self-paced instruction.

3. Set the Bar High: Don’t underestimate your team’s willingness to learn and engage virtually, even in a pandemic.

Traditionally, professional development can feel like a burden – more time and more work – but our new normal presents an opportunity to enhance its value. In every industry, people are hungry for guidance on how to navigate this unfamiliar world and for connection to others who are doing the same. High quality virtual training can be a powerful tool to help teams achieve both of these outcomes. Remove blockers that might impede engagement in training – prioritize getting your teams connected to the platforms and technology they need, dedicate weekly meeting blocks for training, and celebrate learning milestones. With an open runway, people will feel more equipped and empowered to prioritize their personal and professional development goals.

There is no shortage of online courses that claim to support upskilling and professional development – and they are definitely not all created equal. If you want the learning to “stick,” create a virtual training experience that is communal, dynamic, and accessible for all. When done correctly, virtual upskilling is a win-win – employers will see increased engagement and performance from their teams, and workers will feel both valued and supported with the tools they need to thrive during and after the crisis.

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Abby Stemper is a Director of Product Management and Delivery at Grads of Life. She leads the development and delivery of Grads of Life's in-person and online professional skills bootcamps. Abby has dedicated her career to teaching and designing high-quality curriculum and learning experiences for Opportunity Talent. She started her career as an educator in a no-excuses charter school in Boston, and has served in the workforce development space in the Bay Area for the last 7 years.