More than ever, we must retrain the workforce

Maria João Oliveira

Human Resources Director, Abaco Consulting

Opinion article by Maria João Oliveira, Human Resources Director of Abaco Consulting, for HR Portugal [PT Only]:


In recent years, much has been said about requalification of human resources, due to the talent shortage that has been noted and that the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified.

In this sense, countless companies and Human Resources departments have been forced to enhance and retrain their workforces for the future. This means that they felt the need to train and educate their employees in distinct and disruptive areas, so that they have more capacity and soft skills to adapt to new realities. Something that in theory seems simple, but in practice is quite complex.

However, this need to upskill talent was recognised by other organisations long before the global health crisis; like performance appraisals and policy management, filling training gaps has always been a responsibility present in the HR department. However, the speed with which Human Resources implements these types of qualification initiatives is that it only accelerated at a time of crisis with the Covid-19 pandemic. Thus, as social, business or macroeconomic conditions change, these professionals must re-imagine the workforce in the future.

Unfortunately, there is not and most likely will never be a guide to a successful training plan, as companies’ needs vary over time. Since March 2020, private companies have channelled their efforts into hiring and upskilling employees and improving their performance, while public service entities were already in the midst of retraining – giving employees greater or more strategic responsibility as smart technology became part of the routine. While the specifics and intensity of training efforts varied from sector to sector, the Covid-19 crisis forced companies to focus quickly on upskilling their employees.

Several qualitative and quantitative surveys show that companies face a talent war, aggressively recruiting candidates with the same or similar skill sets. For some of the positions, it may be less expensive to train the company’s existing employees to fill a higher-level position – or an entirely new role. However, it is a time-consuming process with a fairly high degree of complexity. Thus, it is imperative to combine effective recruitment with a training strategy, since investing in the workforce improves retention, productivity and innovation.

Today, however, there is more urgency. Commitment to upskilling and reskilling was one of the keys businesses needed to survive the Covid-19 crisis, thriving soon after the pandemic ended, as well as nurturing an organisation’s long-term stability and growth.

The trick is that now and for the foreseeable future, HR professionals need to strike the right balance between hiring, training and firing. Understanding organisational needs and being able to respond to them quickly will be key, not only for the careers of HR professionals, but for all organisations.

The path of remote work for qualification and requalification

Currently, we are already in the final phase of the Covid-19 health crisis and hopefully it will continue, in which companies and even people in general, are already starting to normalise their lives and, in this sense, it is important to look at the business context and understand how organisations have managed to change so much in such a short time. At the end of 2019, if any HR director walked into the CEO’s office and suggested that the company should immediately start planning for the future with a focus on remote working, they would most likely be ignored. The truth is, hybrid working is the future of the working world today.

The main learning is that companies have shown that they are more agile than initially thought. So if everyone can transition to remote working and still manage to be effective and efficient, surely an organisation can train employees with new skills, to meet business objectives. Offering these new skills in a hybrid working environment will be a challenge, but also a necessity. And it is important to be aware that we are constantly acquiring knowledge.

A few decades ago, in Human Resources departments, changing records that were on paper to computers was a rather slow and complex process. However, nowadays, this kind of work has moved to Artificial Intelligence systems. This means that Human Resources is enhancing its work and its role in aligning training goals with company needs.

A relevant and agile training strategy, ready to be implemented at any time, represents an opportunity for Human Resources in the search for the best talent for the organisation. This is the only way to ensure they have the best people in their teams.