What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About Upskilling and Reskilling

How can organisations ensure that their workforces are future-proof?

23 Sep 2020 Articles Best practices

COVID-19 has forced us to rethink business models and find innovative digital ways to engage customers. Organisations that have been actively building up digital competencies before COVID-19 have the agility to adapt during this period, and bounced back more quickly.

As the global economy evolves at an unprecedented pace, employers need to pursue a reskilling agenda that ensures that their workforces are digitally competent and resilient to tide through the current crisis and the challenges that lie ahead.

How Some Organisations Have Transformed

Banking – The banks have been actively restructuring their workforce and equipping their employees with the necessary digital skill sets such as technology troubleshooting, data analysis and cyber security for years. This ensures that they remain relevant as more customers prefer online banking and to better serve them as technology continues to overhaul jobs in the financial sector1.

Consumer Goods – Traditional wet markets stallholders debunked the myth that digitalisation is limited to only some sectors. These owners learn how to sell online via Facebook Live to accommodate, reach and engage with more shoppers during the Circuit Breaker. This was accomplished through the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s Stay Healthy, Go Digital campaign, which aims to show how some activities can be continued using technology2.

As e-commerce booms during COVID-19, tour agency, Nam Ho, seized the opportunity and is gearing up to open an online store that sells popular snacks and produce from overseas. Nam Ho is also looking at venturing into logistics and warehousing to accommodate the growing demand in this sector. Moving forward, there are plans to expand to accommodate both travel and logistics services. To take on these new and very different tasks, it has sent most employees to attend courses such as the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications3.

Tourism – Another travel agency, TourHQ, also sought new business opportunities when conventional leisure travel became impossible. It converted their usual walking tours into hour-long, live-streamed experiences. To help tour guides stay afloat and enable them to continue to conduct tours, albeit virtually, the company invested in training them in filming, framing shots, and how to engage with viewers online. The revised online model opened up business possibilities previously never thought of, such as catering to larger virtual tour groups and expanding their scope of tours for new audiences4. While virtual reality (VR) travel has existed since before the pandemic, businesses had not seen a pressing need to adopt them earlier. With VR expected to boom in the next 5 years, live streaming could become the new way of travelling5

The pandemic has shown us that we will not always have the luxury of sticking to traditional ways of operating. Organisations need to evolve to survive and build workforce capabilities required to venture into new areas. Here are 3 things organisations can consider when deciding how to strengthen the workforce’s capabilities.

Moving Forward, What Should Organisations Do?

1. Align People Strategy with Business Outcomes 

Employers need to view the upskilling of their workforce as a long-term investment for the business. In the long run, reskilling existing employees to adapt and adjust with business changes will be less costly and disruptive than retrenching, re-hiring and re-training employees with economic and business fluctuations.

Recent polls have shown that 80% of businesses have increased their digital transformation budgets in the rush to adopt online tools more quickly6. Indeed, this is a vital moment for employers to pause and consider:

  • What abilities and aptitudes will the workforce require for the business to stay agile and competitive?
  • What is the business recovery model and new business goals?

By paying close attention to Industry Transformation Maps, employers will be able to identify the services and skills the organisation would need to stay ahead.

2. Conduct Skills Gap Analysis to Build Critical Skills

Assess what skills each employee has and what gaps need to be filled. Use skills mapping, also known as competency mapping, to create a visual overview of the skills needed at the individual or team level to help your organisation reach current and future business goals. Some considerations for employers include:

  • Identifying a taskforce to evaluate the current skill levels of teams, and identify gaps to be addressed.
  • Identifying 'on-the-job' opportunities to streamline work processes and redesign roles for improved employee performance; for example, automating administrative processes to free up employees to take on higher-level tasks.

The Singaporean workforce is driven and willing to learn. In 2019, 92% of Singaporeans expressed the desire to pick up digital skills if given the opportunity, regardless of age and role7. Employees should be given a fair opportunity to be considered for training and development based on their strengths and needs to help them achieve their full potential. Mature employees, in particular, should not be excluded from upskilling or reskilling efforts. As the retirement age rises, employers should continue to offer them training opportunities, and encourage them to take ownership of their own learning and development to future-proof the organisation and ensure their own employability.

For instance, 60-year-old Becky Chang joined local start-up Moovaz as a shipping and procurement manager, with four decades of industry experience under her belt. To help her transition into her role, Moovaz enrolled her in a nine-month Workforce Singapore (WSG) Professional Conversion Programme for logistics executives8.

3. Tap on Existing Schemes and Funding

Enhance your workforce capabilities by leveraging existing schemes and funding.  For instance, the SkillsFuture offers thousands of courses in a wide range of skills across all industries for employers to mix-and-match to best suit their business needs. Under the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit, businesses that embark on enterprise and workforce transformation will be granted a one-time $10,000 credit.

Industry-specific programmes such as Company-led Training under the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) initiative helps accelerate professional development for fresh and mid-career professionals through on-the-job training that is aligned to the Skills Framework for Infocomm and Communication Technology sector.            


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2 Tan, Audrey. (2020, May 3). Coronavirus: Wet market stalls go online to accommodate shoppers during circuit breaker. The Straits Times, retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/coronavirus-wet-market-stalls-go-online-to-accommodate-shoppers-during-circuit

3 Tang, See Kit. (2020, Aug 21). Companies seek new opportunities to stay afloat amid COVID-19 pandemic. Channel NewsAsia, retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/covid-19-singapore-companies-transform-diversify-13030146

4 Lock, Clara. (2020, Aug 16). COVID-19 heroes: Guiding light in the travel industry. The Straits Times, retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/guiding-light-in-the-travel-industry

5 The future is here, almost: Virtual travel becomes more of a reality. (2019, Feb 24). Today, retrieved from: https://www.todayonline.com/world/future-here-almost-virtual-travel-becomes-more-reality

6 Tan, Sue-Ann. (2020, Jul 21). COVID-19 pandemic has sped up digital transformation in firms: Study. The Straits Times, retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/business/companies-markets/pandemic-has-sped-up-digital-transformation-in-firms-study

One in five S'poreans anxious over tech impact on job: Survey. (2019, Sep 28). The Straits Times, retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/business/economy/one-in-five-sporeans-anxious-over-tech-impact-on-job-survey

Ng, Charmaine. (2020, Aug 20). 60-year-old loses her job, then joins start-up which enrols her in professional conversion programme. The Straits Times, retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/manpower/60-year-old-loses-her-job-then-joins-start-up-which-enrols-her-in-professional