Organisations struggling to keep pace with new skills required due to pandemic – DCU research


Organisations are struggling to keep pace with the new skills needed in their workforces, an issue which has been heightened due to the pandemic, according to new research from Dublin City University.

Large-scale trends such as the shift to digital business models and the increased adoption of workplace automation, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics have been accelerated due to the pandemic, putting an increased premium on learning and development as a means of equipping companies to handle both long-term challenges and short-term crises.

The research also has important lessons for those worried about long term developments in work and how individuals can keep their skills updated to ensure their ongoing employability. 

The research was carried out by David Collings and John McMackin from DCU Business School and funded by Skillnet Ireland and the Irish Institute of Training and Development. It involved over 300 professionals including CEOs and senior HR and business leaders worldwide*, has found that relatively few organisations had strong L&D programmes in place before the pandemic. Those companies that did have strong programmes in place, have proven to be more responsive and agile.

  • Prior to the pandemic 4 in 10 participants identified preparing for the future as a high or top priority for their organisation
  • Only 30% were confident in their ability to meet future skill needs
  • Many organisations’ L&D budgets were initially cut or frozen in response to current economic conditions, with most face-to-face training halted (at least in the short-term)
  • Those companies that did have strong programmes in place were more responsive and agile

Speaking about the research findings, David Collings, Professor of Human Resource Management at DCU Business School, said:

“Before COVID-19, technology was already changing employee and customer behaviours in dramatic ways, but the pace has now increased.

The timing of our research gave us a unique perspective as we got to speak to company leaders before the pandemic and continued to speak with them throughout the crisis. We found that those companies that had a strong, long-term L&D orientation going into the pandemic were well equipped to handle the short-term pressure that it created and to adapt quickly to the new ways of working. 

This is a clear case for making investments now to build for the future, and some organisations are already making that change.”

The research identifies a number of core practices that companies can implement to improve their L&D efforts and equip themselves to thrive in both then short and long terms. Recommendations include:

  • Establish a skills baseline – conduct an inventory of the current skills and capabilities of your workforce, as this inventory is crucial in understanding current capabilities, identifying skills gaps more quickly, and taking action to fill any deficits.
  • Design learning to accommodate evolving conditions – while many organisations have halted training and development programmes due to the current pandemic, the authors recommend a shift from formal, event-based training to a more organic approach throughout an employees’ workday. By blending technology, strategic partnerships and internal processes, top-performing companies create learning opportunities. These could include video clips on YouTube or active discussions on collaboration platforms such as Slack, Zoom, Facebook Workplace, or Microsoft Teams.
  • Stay agile and adapt over time – while during the first few months of the pandemic, the initial requirement for L&D teams was to support employees working from home. However, priorities quickly shifted to a focus on well-being and mental health, and then to helping teams to collaborate in new ways through virtual channels.

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