Chief Learning Officers Discuss the New Order at Workplaces in a Skill Economy

Vikas Joshi
June 1, 2021

What changes are coming to workplaces around the world? What factors are at play as the world muddles through COVID-19 at different stages? How is the skill tsunami reshaping work? At a recent Harbinger Power Hour, an online fireside chat, I had the opportunity to understand the thoughts of two corporate Learning and Development leaders on this exciting topic.

As digitization disrupts and transforms businesses, it reshapes existing jobs and creates completely new roles. Although this is exciting, it also opens large skills gaps. Matching people with the right skills is critical to creating an inclusive and sustainable workforce. A report by PwC states that large-scale upskilling and reskilling initiatives could boost global GDP by $6.5 trillion and create 5.3 million net new jobs by 2030. Thankfully, organizations are moving towards making this a key focus. According to a recent Workplace Learning Report by LinkedIn, upskilling and reskilling is the top priority for almost 59% of L&D professionals globally. This is, in fact, a 15% increase since June 2020. Clearly, L&D leaders have a task cut out for them to bridge the organization’s upskilling needs with the learning initiatives.

I explored how these leaders implement reskilling and upskilling initiatives to develop workforce strategies that are based not only on skills requirements but also newer expectations of the organizations on all fronts. What I found were three key factors reshaping the workplace and establishing a new order: diversity and inclusion; gig work; and remote work.

Diversity & Inclusion

How do learning leaders see the future of diversity, inclusion, equity, and allyship in the post-covid world? Joti Joseph, a seasoned L&D leader and Power Hour panelist, was unequivocal: Diversity and Inclusion and Equity and Allyship should be a part of our future, forever. I define them as unconditional values. Is it going to be easy? Absolutely not. There is a chance that things may get worse before they get better. But the power of individuals, communities armed with the reach of social media will keep these values front and centre.

Ken Hubbell, a Power Hour panelist, stated that diversity issues are not limited to gender and race. His thoughts pointed to other nuances of D&I: Other areas of diversity and inclusion have also risen to the surface. For example, the needs of introverts have really come into being, as many now working from home have experienced both liberation from their extroverted peers and yet still have to assert inclusion for conference calls and Zoom sessions. Allies in this new era will be important for those returning to office as the pecking order kicks back in.

Gig workers

The pandemic has put the “gig economy” back in focus. This term, coined by former New Yorker editor Tina Brown at the height of the global financial crisis in 2009, refers to contingent staff hired specifically for the duration of a short project – a gig. The move to gig workers affords access to a diverse talent pool and better fiscal management.

How do learning leaders look at these contingent employees? Joti Joseph emphasized that an inclusive culture is a requirement when thinking of having a gig workforce. Here is her view: An inclusive culture means that gig workers and vendors are not seen as external to the ecosystem. So, all learning resources/experiences should be as accessible to them as to employees within the organisation. You never know when the gig worker will become permanent and the permanent will become gig! The CLO and her function are in the business of lifelong employability of the individual, irrespective of whether they belong to the organisation formally or not.

As we leave behind the current ways of working and move ahead, so do relevant skills. How can companies keep up with this endless treadmill and hit their KPIs? Ken Hubbell pointed out a strategic advantage of gig workforce: Gig workers do provide a system for allowing better attrition in areas of continuous change. Gig workers can also bring new perspectives and skills to bear often times more rapidly than trying to upskill in-house employees. At the same time, current employees should be supported in side hustles as it provides opportunity for growth they may not have internally and they can bring new skills back with them.

Remote work

Several companies have moved to remote or hybrid working models. Work-from-home models promise greater access to talent, increased productivity for employees thanks to work-hour flexibility, and lower infrastructure costs for businesses.

At the same time, increased levels of stress due to social isolation and increased number of work hours have led to businesses becoming more sensitized than ever before towards employee wellbeing. What new demands do remote workforces put on L&D leaders? Several, according to Ken Hubbell: We see a continued and growing need for more training in the area of teamwork, especially in agile project management. Other areas of focus will include AI, communications, consulting, and technology upskilling.


These top-rated factors have enough strength to bring a fresh, new order to workplaces. With a culturally intelligent approach, businesses can create a resilient, digitally strong, agile workforce. It’s an exciting time for L&D professionals to do their bit in bettering the KPIs for the post-pandemic world. Here is the recording of the Power Hour mentioned earlier. I look forward to knowing your thoughts.

The author thanks …

Joti Joseph is an L&D leader who has had a 26-year career with Standard Chartered Bank. As a member of the bank’s central learning team in Hong Kong, she curated and created learning solutions for client engagement and professional development. Her last two roles saw her leading a learning transformation project and implementing a learning experience platform.

Ken Hubbell is the Senior Vice President of Instructional Design Strategy & Innovation for Wells Fargo Bank. He currently leads a team of 60 learning specialists and innovation experts for the bank’s L&D organization that serves the needs of over 270,000 employees. For over thirty years, Ken has been in the business of creating award-winning solutions and leading the transformation of learning programs for a variety of companies and agencies.