July 2020
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Attitudes Toward Outskilling Have Evolved

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Employers are increasing their attention on and beginning to implement programming to outskill employees.

Training and development has been and will continue to play a critical role in organizations. But it's not just existing training content designed to hone and increase employees' skills that is part of a retention and internal promotion strategy. Now talent development professionals will likely play a role managing and administering outskilling curriculums. Through such programs, workers fated for furlough or layoff receive training from their employer for career opportunities in other organizations and industries.


While it's tempting to link the increased attention on outskilling with COVID-19, findings from a Penn Foster survey in early 2020 indicate that the practice has been top of mind for business leaders since before the pandemic. At the time of the survey, half of CEOs said they anticipate job displacement in their company within three to five years, with automation being a key factor. In the wake of mass disruption to businesses because of the pandemic, experts say companies' adoption rate of outskilling programs is likely to increase.

"Historically, business leaders—both L&D professionals and the C-suite—have understood the value of outskilling but not invested in it as an urgent priority," says Dara Warn, chief operating officer of Penn Foster. "And while the pandemic didn't create the need for outskilling, it very well may have accelerated the momentum at which outskilling programs become available at leading employers."

Outskilling advocates cite numerous benefits, such as success stories of participants landing higher-paying jobs; organization brand and reputation and being seen as socially responsible; and a significant reduction in layoff-related lawsuits.


However, the Penn Foster survey findings unveil a significant say-do gap among respondents. While 80 percent of businesses say they see value in outskilling, only 40 percent support that value with any kind of programming. Experts point out there is evidence of an evolving attitude toward outskilling, and they anticipate the practice will continue to grow in importance.

"We're already seeing employers adopt new ideas in response to COVID-19, like Verizon and Accenture's effort to connect laid-off or furloughed workers with new job opportunities," says Warn. "Findings like this may spark renewed urgency to invest in emerging approaches to workplace learning, like outskilling, that can help workers navigate the shifting landscape."

About the Author

Derrick Thompson is a former writer/editor for ATD.

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