Reimagining Skill Sets: How Recruiters Can Lead Post-Pandemic Reskilling Initiatives

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell
Here in Nashville in 2020, we’ve had to learn lessons in resilience we never could have imagined. Just as we were closing 2019 with one of the nation’s hottest economies, 15 tornadoes slammed the region in a 48-hour period in December. Weeks later, the pandemic struck, making a comparative ghost town out of the city’s famed entertainment district. 
Employers in the hospitality and retail sectors laid off workers by the thousands across the greater Nashville area. At the same time, local employers in distribution, manufacturing, and warehousing struggled to find workers to meet a surge in pandemic-driven eCommerce. The result was an enormous and ongoing gap between the roles desired by job seekers and the jobs actually available. 
It’s a challenge being felt across the country. Nationally, manufacturing added 24,000 jobs in November 2020, yet the overall economy has recovered only 54 percent of the jobs lost since the pandemic’s onset. While so many are in need of work, much of the job growth has happened in temporary roles. Yahoo! Finance reports the number of long-term unemployed people has been climbing, perhaps an indication that would-be workers find it hard to imagine themselves taking the jobs that are actually available right now.
Adaptive Reskilling
Traditionally, employers have used reskilling to adjust their workforces when the required skill sets of a role or industry change. It’s still a viable strategy today, and one that employers are turning to more than ever this year. According to a Udemy survey, 38 percent of the workforce is being upskilled or reskilled in 2020, compared to 19 percent in 2019. When asked about the goals of their upskilling and reskilling programs, 62 percent of organizations told Udemy they were aiming to close the skills gap. Driving organizational growth (46 percent) and improving employee engagement (44 percent) were distant secondary and tertiary goals.
While significant reskilling is taking place, this uncertain, pandemic-damaged economy makes training and development a little less simple. How do you reskill an unemployed aspiring musician into a role in logistics? How do you even convince them — worker and employer alike — to consider it? 
Reimagining Career Paths
As HR professionals who specialize in serving people, recruiters are uniquely positioned to see the opportunities that are available and to understand the human qualities it takes to be successful in a variety of roles. As such, recruiters can help talent think beyond their preconceived notions about work, urging openness to new career paths — not only to pay the bills, but also to fulfill their dreams in new ways. 
I worked with one job seeker who was laid off after 26 years as an office worker. She strongly felt she belonged in an administrative role, and initially, she couldn’t see herself doing anything else. Somewhat reluctantly, she agreed to take work on the assembly line of a local manufacturer. She persevered over several months, adjusting to new physical demands, adapting to new safety practices, and coming to understand OSHA compliance in a whole new way. When she eventually landed a role in the company’s HR department, her newly acquired personal experience with occupational safety equipped her to achieve at an even higher (and more satisfying) level in her new role. 
Rethinking Skill Sets
Recruiters can help both employers and workers reconsider how certain skill sets — even from seemingly unrelated business verticals — can fit new roles. The process involves first identifying the underlying transferable skills of a given job.
For example, restaurant waitstaff and retail cash register jobs may disappear, but think about the core capabilities involved in those jobs: problem-solving, baseline math skills, working well on a team, etc. Many of these same capabilities apply to warehouse or manufacturing roles.
Consider some of the key traits of a hospitality manager:
  1. Leadership
  2. Communication
  3. Organizational skills
  4. Customer service
  5. Problem-solving
  6. Interpersonal skills
  7. Approachability
  8. Self-motivation
There are clear correlations between these and the required skills listed in this recent job posting for logistics and distribution managers:
  1. Interpersonal skills
  2. Logical reasoning and problem-solving skills
  3. Ability to think creatively
  4. Interpersonal skills
  5. Data analysis, including working with electronic data
  6. Logical reasoning
  7. Time management
  8. Ability to plan ahead and deal with unexpected changes
Recruiters can identify high achievers with adjacent aptitudes and skills who can readily be trained to meet a business’s current needs. It’s a whole new way of looking at candidates, really examining the person, their demonstrated traits, and their potential, rather than strictly matching a worker’s experience from one job to another.
Of course, it’s not just about convincing candidates to be open to new roles. Recruiters also have to help employers define their job requirements more broadly. When staffing pros vouch for candidates, they can help reduce an employer’s sense of risk. Recruiting firms can also get more directly involved in retraining job seekers. For example, at Hire Dynamics, we offer the Sherita Jackson-Gardner Memorial Scholarship to help candidates get funding to pursue a GED or attend a trade school.
Catalyst for Change
The past year has posed challenges to employers and job seekers alike, and navigating the uncharted waters we now find ourselves in requires ample innovation and ingenuity.
Employers willing to rethink both hiring and their commitments to ongoing training are reaping the rewards. Similarly, by connecting workers with new opportunities, recruiters can help talented candidates expand and apply their skills in new ways — and, often, find meaning in new career paths.
Wherever the coming years take employers in Nashville and across the nation, the ability to build workforces with strong core capabilities and transferrable skills can provide every organization with the flexibility it needs to succeed.