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Build your own unicorns: Reskilling lessons from Amazon, the Air Force

Reskilling allows companies to align people to problems. That’s why Amazon, the Air Force, and others are making moves to reskill existing workers.

Jun 08, 2023 • 4 Minute Read

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  • Learning & Development
  • Business

Let’s say you run a company. You have workers that do X but need workers that do Y. What do you do? The traditional tactic is fire-and-hire. Morale-crushing layoffs or pricey buyouts once seemed the no-fun-but-unavoidable reset required. But given the hassles of recruiting new talent in today’s insanely tight labor market, many organizations are finding value in another option. And it’s one that benefits employer and employees: retraining your in-house workers. Finding a unicorn may be impossible — but making one? That’s maybe not so far fetched. (See: CRISPR. See also: Reskilling.) Reskilling allows companies to easily align their people to their problems. That’s likely one reason why Amazon, the U.S. Air Force, and other massive players are making serious moves to reskill their existing workers, as detailed by the The Wall Street Journal and Amazon’s approach includes a 16-week training session that catapults employees up several branches of the skill tree — from the warehouse to the data center. The move doubles worker earnings (a win for workers) while more quickly on-boarding data technicians (a win for the business). Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Cyber Command is seeing similar benefits in reskilling people with seemingly unlikely backgrounds. Staff report reskilled maintenance workers without computer backgrounds to be among the most proficient cyber operators in the force. (It’s sort of a Good Will Hunting situation, but rather than waiting for some secret blue-collar genius to solve their problems, they actively trained him.) The Air Force’s case also shows how an organization can turn a potential need for reductions into an opportunity for advancements. When a new model of aircraft slashed the number of personnel needed for upkeep, the National Guard used reskilling to realign workers’ skills with its objective to build out its cyber forces. But what if you’re not, say, the biggest internet company in the world or a branch of the military? How can you and your organization make the most of reskilling?

I could tell you, but I’d have to reskill you

Reskilling can be mutually beneficial to employee and employer, but it requires a break from the old ways of thinking. The first step is to get into a reskilling mindset. Understand the benefits and preach them to all who will listen. For the business, the need for high-tech workers is now outpacing the supply. Rather than luring in that one-in-a-million candidate, you can transform trusted team members who already know the company’s ins and outs with the skills you need. For the employee, reskilling means a career development path high above the humdrum offerings of middle management. This can mean better employee retention for the company. “Wait,” you might say. “Won’t they just take the training and run?” Maybe, but probably not. In reality, investment and career support are more likely to be met with appreciation and renewed loyalty. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees say they’d stay at a company longer if it invested in their career. And with titans of business like Amazon and JPMorgan revving up reskilling efforts, it’s safe to assume this isn’t a fear for them. For the company, not losing workers to layoffs or quitting can quickly add up. Each ex-employee comes at a cost of months of lost productivity while backfilling, typically around 1–4 months according to LinkedIn. Then there are the weeks lost while the new girl or guy learns the ropes. For the employee, reskilling offers a chance to explore new possibilities. Realizing you shouldn’t have picked your career based solely on that online quiz you took in ’98? Reskilling is a chance for a new direction — and to hone existing skills. The company also benefits by avoiding a layoff — keeping productivity, employee morale, and Glassdoor ratings intact. And for the employee, not getting laid off is probably preferable to getting laid off.

The reskills to pay the bills

When you’re ready to reskill you can either start small with individuals looking for a change or swing entire groups over to transform the business without breaking up the team that brought it this far. However you do it, find the right tools to support it. For reskilling around cloud skillsets, A Cloud Guru has tools designed to help employees and employers. From multi-week crash courses on cloud readiness for a quick, momentum-building boost to tracks that guide a student from beginner to pro and include certification. And all courses are engineered to be highly engaging, to teach the way adults actually learn.

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