The alarm was sounded in January 2000 by the World Economic Forum, announcing: “The world is facing a reskilling emergency. We need to reskill more than 1 billion people by 2030.” The message was clear, organisations, governments and society need to work together to ensure people around the world are skilled for a workforce of the future.

This emergency did not come as a surprise. Technology innovation, a growing demand for new competencies, changing employee expectations, shifting labour demographics and inclusion/diversity strategies, new workforce models, has been changing the business environment over the past 10 years. More recently the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced a rethink on the role of Learning and Development (L&D) in organisations and how learning can be delivered in the more immediate term. Many CLOs (Chief Learning Officers) and L&D teams have already realised that reskilling, upskilling present the answer to these problems, but that learning as we know it will not suffice. A learning transformation is needed – one that focuses on the connection between continuous reskilling & upskilling while embedding new ways of working at the very same time.

The challenge for L&D teams is to prepare for a new learning future, centred on skills and capabilities at the individual, team and organisation levels; powered by data; and integrating ‘learning while we work’. Successfully making the shift to ‘learning as superpower’ requires organisations to anticipate the eternal market needs, the changing business requirements and design & implement data-driven L&D informed by real-world cases based on contextual relevance with artificial intelligence algorithms in the context of a new technology landscape.  So ‘learning as a superpower’, becomes the competitive advantage.

Two important topics often overlooked in ‘learning  as a superpower’, is transforming the culture.

Psychological safety:

The concept is the basis of trust in the workplace; it drives an organisation’s ability to create belonging and inspires employees to perform at their best. Employees who can be open and honest about their learning needs are more likely to display growth-mindset behaviours, such as taking advantage of provided learning opportunities. Psychological safety is considered a catalyst for learning and growth with benefits include greater loyalty to the organisation, more healthy interpersonal relationships at work, more active collaboration in teams, and higher levels of work engagement driving individual, team and organisational performance. An important enabler of psychological safety is perceived leader vulnerability, which sparks similar behaviour in others. Leaders who authentically demonstrate a need for help or support are fostering a sense of role-model vulnerability, which supports growth-mindset behaviour and a learning culture in their teams. At Xero, an Australian software company at positioned psychological safety at the core of their culture, creating an empathetic and inclusive workplace. Fostering open conversations on topics that matter to employees is not only part of the company’s “human” philosophy,  but keeps leadership close to how workplace culture is really playing out, says Nicole Reid, Chief People Officer.

Fostering unlearning, learning, relearning

Ideally, an employer will provide staff with the ability to continuously unlearn, learn and relearn. Power skills, defined by MIT professor Anant Agarwal as “hard-won and rigorously maintained abilities, such as critical thinking, persuasive writing, communications and teamwork”, help achieve this, supporting personal development and career growth. Unlearning the old to learn the new, at or beyond the speed of change, requires that individuals are given time and opportunities to adapt. It’s not just about acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake; fundamentally, it’s about changing habits as an essential aspect of a growth mindset. Some major organizations are already out front on this issue. Amazon recently pledged $700m to retrain 100,000 employees for higher-skilled jobs in technology. JPMorgan Chase made a five-year $350m commitment to develop technical skills in high demand—in part targeting its own workers. Walmart has already invested more than $2 billion in wages and training programs, including helping workers develop valuable soft skills.

The COVID-19 pandemic puts organisations in uncharted waters, yet L&D teams can take decisive action to help ensure their staff, teams and organisations are resilient. In the context of the urgent global call for reskilling and upskilling, L&D has the attention of the C-suite, and demands new ways to meet the challenge. Learning as an organisation’s superpower should be paramount, to drive productivity and performance improvements across the organisation.