4 Cross-Training Strategies to Future Proof Your Workforce

Today’s workforce is uneasy about their futures. And for good reason – some estimate that nearly 40% of U.S. jobs could be lost to automation in the next 15 years. This fear of automation has left employees scrambling for ways to learn new, transferable skills to ensure job security. One way to help quell those fears? Encourage cross-training.

Not only do employees benefit from learning new skills, but businesses see the advantages of a more effective, nimble and engaged workforce. Unlike the traditional hierarchy of the past, organizations today are flat and agile, so employees need a way to grow. Employees don’t want to be stuck in a narrow role so offering cross-training opportunities will attract and retain top talent. Plus, organizations need an agile, robust workforce to take on unique jobs of the future.

The following four learning approaches are some of the best ways to encourage cross-training with your employees, whether you want them to learn more about a certain topic or actually apply their new skills. Remember, the end goal isn’t necessarily to transition an employee to an entirely new role. It can be to simply expose them to a new area of expertise so they (and you) are prepared if their job function changes, especially in light of rapidly advancing technology.

The quick scan

Motivate employees to quickly seek out information when they need it or when they have an interest. The internet is the perfect tool here. If an employee is curious about a topic, they can Google it or watch a quick online lesson to get a basic-level understanding. Another underutilized method? The art of conversation. Promote an open culture of learning where employees can easily access experts in other fields. You can even give this a boost by turning it into a more formal program where employees set aside 30 minutes every quarter or for a quick coffee with a colleague to learn about a different field in the organization.

The quick scan method doesn’t make an employee fully capable of taking on a new function, but it gives them a taste of a new subject. It doesn’t take much time out of the employee’s schedule, but is a good way to get an employee started on the cross-training journey.

The slow and steady

Employees can build their knowledge over time by taking just 15 minutes a week to do a quick learning session. Setting aside a small chunk of time to devote to learning can have a large impact over time and can motivate employees to seek learning out on their own.  One of the best ways to help your employees achieve this is by implementing a digital microlearning solution that encompasses mobile and video.  Employees, especially millennials, are accustomed to instant access to information so an online learning platform can help meet their needs with short video lessons that they can fit into their busy schedules.

Learning a new skill can often feel daunting for employees, but the slow and steady approach breaks down learning into more manageable chunks that they can eventually build up to an entirely new (or improved) skill.

Article Continues Below

Immersive experience

For some employees, completely immersing yourself in to a new subject is the best way to pick up a new skill. Give your workforce opportunities to attend a conference or an in-person instructor-led session to do a deep dive into a new area of expertise. Mentorship is also a great way for employees to explore a new topic, idea or skill in-depth. Organize a mentorship program where internal experts or leaders volunteer to guide an employee who is interested in learning something new.

Giving employees the flexibility and resources to immerse themselves in a new topic helps them learn a new skill that could be relevant to your organization, and acts as a retention tool when an employee feels valued that you’re investing in them.

Make it stick

Once an employee has built their knowledge, it’s time to apply it. Offer opportunities for projects that stretch them in the area they’re learning new skills in or help them find a leader in the organization that would be willing to provide some extra one-on-one coaching. Have your employees embrace the fail forward approach, by experimenting with their newfound skills and learning from any mistakes. This can be a temporary application of their knowledge or, depending on business needs, it can be something they eventually transition into permanently.

Whether you’re looking to give your employees a taste of a new learning and development approach, or want to fully train your workers to take on new roles, in this age of disruption, cross-training is one of the most reliable ways to future-proof your workforce.

Kevin Wilde is the Advisory Board Chair for online learning platform Study.com, which not only helps students from elementary school through college but also provides a flexible, convenient way for employees to develop their professional skills. He also serves as an executive leadership fellow at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Kevin received number awards for his talent development efforts – including Chief Learning Officer of the Year – during his  34-year corporate career in leadership and talent development at General Mills and General Electric.

Topics