Sandra Presley attends a job fair for restaurant and hotel workers in Torrance, California,

A big dive into the talent pool

The pandemic’s churn of the job market has revealed how much workers want to learn new skills. Employers are responding.

As the pandemic eases in the United States, many employers are scrambling to find workers. In April, a record number of Americans quit their jobs. Worldwide, 40% of employees are ready to resign, according to Microsoft Research. Many seek a better work-life balance or simply more pay. But amid this workplace churn, companies are also recognizing what already exists in their current employees: an eagerness and potential to learn new skills in order to create new opportunities.

A survey in May by Prudential Financial found nearly half of American workers say the pandemic has caused them to reevaluate their skill sets. About 1 in 5 have put a greater priority on pursuing education or learning a new skill. Of those that plan to leave their jobs, 6 in 10 have sought training on their own since the start of the pandemic.

These numbers reflect a mass retooling of the capabilities of Americans. Companies such as JPMorgan Chase and Walmart have responded by offering new training that helps employees do their jobs better (“upskilling”) or learn a new field of skills (“reskilling”). In May, for example, Levi Strauss & Co. offered workers an eight-week course in digital skills to help the clothing giant adjust to a rapid increase in customers buying online. 

Overall, more than two-thirds of U.S. companies began last year to invest in reskilling or upskilling to deal with the effects of the pandemic, according to a survey by TalentLMS, a company that offers online training. One reason, according to the consulting firm McKinsey, is that it can cost far more to recruit a new employee compared with the cost of reskilling an internal employee.

Employers also seem less impressed by a job applicant’s formal education. In the past year, LinkedIn has recorded a 21% rise in U.S. job postings that promote a person’s skills instead of their qualifications. And the number of job openings that don’t require a degree rose by nearly 40%.

Even before the pandemic, a survey by the World Economic Forum found the pace of change in industries will require more than half of employees to acquire new skills by 2025. Two of the top essential skills, according to the survey, are active learning and innovative thinking. The world may already be well on its way to meet the 2025 target.

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