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Why transferable skills are the future for the frontline

by Sean Oliver, on August 11, 2020

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Recently, the Workforce Institute shared another podcast in their series on Being Present: A Practical Guide for Transforming the Employee Experience of Your Frontline Workforce, between the WFI and John Hollon, a longtime board member at the WFI and an award-winning journalist. Hollon’s chapter in the book is called Rethinking Frontline Hiring with an Eye Towards Transferable Skills. 

In the conversation, Hollon talked about how important transferable - also sometimes referred to as ‘soft’ - skills are. He explained that transferable skills include being able to work well with others, and are mainly noted for how well they can apply to a wide range of job descriptions, roles and even departments. Hollon argued that transferable skills are more in demand and more critical than ever now, in the wake of COVID-19. Read on for our main takeaways from Hollon’s conversation with Joyce Maroney, former Executive Director at the WFI. 

  1. In a COVID-19 world, agility is king 
    Successfully navigating the COVID-19 pandemic requires that leaders and their workforces be more agile and flexible than ever before. As a variety of issues have cropped up - scheduling, health, family, etc. - for employees, the need to move people around and have people take on new roles with little notice is what Hollon calls, “the essence of the importance of transferable skills”.

    Transferable skills lend themselves to this agility: when you have more employees who can easily move from one role to the next, you’re automatically in a better position to weather the storm of a crisis.

    Companies that are thriving or managing to keep their operations moving ahead during this time are the ones that invested in helping people learn/become able to move around and take on lots of different positions.

  2. Transferable skills open up the talent pool
    A quote from the podcast that stood out to us was Hollon saying that cultivating transferable skills among your workforce leads to “not pigeon-holing” your employees. Rather than limiting employees to the job description they onboarded with or the functions they perform day in and day out, offer them opportunities to grow and push themselves.

    Hollon strongly believes and pushes the idea that people who understand the culture of their workplace are extremely capable of learning on the job and just need a push. By allowing for these types of opportunities, you will get insights into who your top performers are, and who is far more capable than you may have previously thought. 

  3. The time to invest in these skills is NOW
    While it may make sense to many organizations that transferable skills are important during a crisis, they are still just as useful and impactful in the average day-to-day work life for organizations. However, Hollon points out, that’s the whole point: “the time to be really thinking about the need to be agile, to have a flexible workforce and to help people develop transferable skills is when things aren’t yet in crisis mode”.

    Approaching  from a mindset and place of preparedness rather than scrambling makes an organization much more flexible and likely to succeed in the long run. Whether that’s a global pandemic, or simply a routine call out, you never want to end up in the position of only having one person who can serve a critical function for the business.

  4. How to prepare
    Hollon’s best advice to prepare for whatever comes next - or just this ‘new normal’? He advises organizations to focus on: 
    1. Training
    2. Job and knowledge sharing
    3. Employee engagement
    4. Giving opportunities to your employees to succeed and grow in new roles and skill sets
How do you and your organization approach transferable skills? Let us know on Twitter


To hear more from John Hollon on how important transferable skills are during today’s climate for frontline workers, tune in to this podcast from the Workforce Institute

Topics:COVID-19Best PracticesEmployee Engagement