Analysis: How to tackle resistance to upskilling in your marketing team

Malaysia saw a 0.1% increase in employed individuals last December to 15.22 million, with communication and information being one of the economic sectors that saw a continued increase in hiring activity, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia. On the other hand, the unemployment rate in December 2020 stood at 4.8% or 772.9k as compared to November 2020, which had 764.4k individuals. The Department of Statistics Malaysia said the labour market condition last December was still influenced by the health crisis and economic consequences has caused slower recovery momentum in the labour market.

The pandemic has not only forced businesses to evolve and go digital, but also pushed individuals to upskill and reskill to remain relevant. According to Hays, the drive to learn and upskill is important to majority of professionals in Malaysia (94%), especially in the areas of digital and remote working skills and e-learning. Malaysians are now prioritising digital skills development (89%), reskilling (83%), and e-learning opportunities (78%) over all else.

It is understandable that in such a challenging age when brands are trying to pivot and adapt, taking the time to assess the team's current and future skill needs might not feel like a priority. However, Hays Malaysia MD Tom Osborne told A+M if companies make upskilling a priority right now, it will pay off not only for the business but also as a reminder to the team that even in these unprecedented times, their development and progression is still of utmost importance to the leaders. Osborne added:

Just because your business is presently dealing with the immediate impact of the coronavirus crisis, you should not overlook investing in the skills of your staff.

Doing so can help your organisation cope with today’s fast-changing and uncertain corporate landscape.

Similarly, Sruthi Nambiar, Randstad Malaysia’s associate director, sales and marketing, said an employees' existing workload may be too overwhelming, hence deterring them from connecting with their peers and finding new solutions in their own time. On top of this, some employees might also not know where to start despite having the fear that they might lose their jobs if they do not upskill. 

"While there is a business expectation on marketers to deliver on-the-job, employers should provide guidance and some directions to their marketer’s career progression in the company so that they know what upskilling programmes to attend," Nambiar said. She added that companies can also give marketers the flexibility and autonomy to discover new marketing trends that could potentially make their jobs easier and be more competitive.

Meanwhile, another reason why employees might be resistant to upskilling is because they do not understand how it relates to them, a spokesperson from Malaysia’s Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) told said.

Oftentimes, the training or skills need is determined or based on the leader’s perspective, which normally aims to push the organisation's agenda but disregards the employee’s context.

Hence, the spokesperson said employees are disconnected as they do not see how the training is beneficial to their job performance and overall success, making them resistant to upskilling.

To deal with this, it is crucial for companies to make training part of the company culture by getting company leaders to attend a training programme, so as to spur engagement and motivation. HRDF's spokesperson added that encouraging a growth mindset among all levels of staff means building regular training and learning into the company. It is also important for companies to develop a two-way skills transparency between the organisation and the employee.

"Create channels for employees and the organisation to exchange skills information, which facilitates a better match between employees and their organisation to pursue mutually beneficial and flexible skills development," the spokesperson said.

What drives individuals to upskill?

The desire to upskill stems from different factors, from improving future career prospects to boosting self-satisfaction. HRDF's spokesperson said upskilling allows an individual to accumulate a variety of skills in different areas, which can ease the transition to a new job, a new company, or a new profession altogether.

"At the end of the day, the best employees are the ones that create value for their companies. Workers who upskill are likely to exhibit stronger problem-solving abilities, a higher level of productivity, and better performance overall," the spokesperson said. At the same time, learning new skills opens an individual up to new interests and knowledge. In this case, HRDF's spokesperson said it is no longer about self-improvement but also performance, morale, and motivation. 

In support of adapting to change and achieving agility and transformation, HRDF has developed the UpskillMalaysia platform to centralise the upskilling and reskilling initiatives across ministries or agencies. It has also launched a new e-learning hub, e-LATiH, to encourage online learning during COVID-19. On the other hand, other factors that motivate individuals to upskill or reskill also involve the fear of job loss or a desire for a promotion or pay raise, Randstad's Nambiar, told A+M.

According to her, if the opportunity to upskill is not readily accessible or available with the current employer, employees will start looking for a new role in another company. Nambiar speaks from experience, having witnessed some employees who are willing to draw the same salary after they have switched employers, as long as they have the opportunity to be exposed to new marketing technologies and techniques.

The pandemic has also changed the job requirements of a marketer. As such, traditional marketing techniques such as cold calling or sending out newsletters are no longer as effective as they used to be in terms of lead generation. Instead, Nambiar said marketing professionals in the new decade must be resourceful, creative and innovative.

According to her, marketers are required to optimise digital channels such as social media to promote the brand and engage with their target audience. They should also always be on the lookout for new digital solutions, such as AI assistant, automated CRM or even virtual reality to help enhance the customer experience.

"There is an urgent need for marketers in Malaysia to upskill themselves to keep abreast of the latest trends and remain employable. Individuals who have applied these new digital marketing techniques in a real-life situation and demonstrate an interest to learn are highly sought-after," she said. Nambiar explained that in turn, they will also be able to receive more job opportunities and negotiate for a higher salary when looking for a new job.

Separately, a recent survey by LinkedIn found that specialists in the areas of digital marketing, eCommerce, content creation and PR are in demand in Southeast Asia nowadays, as the need for digital and soft skills grows amidst the pandemic.

Digital marketing specialists, social media managers, eCommerce coordinators, copywriters, podcasters, PR managers, and PR coordinators are some of the roles that are popular right now, LinkedIn found. Additionally, the skills in demand today include lead generation, social media marketing, SEO, Shopify and video editing.

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What incentives can companies give to upskill?

While it is rewarding to receive monetary incentives for upskilling, HRDF's spokesperson said if the company is committed to offering incentives, it should consider changing the programme to equate earning the incentive with demonstrating job competency, rather than finishing a programme. Possible incentives could include educational rebates, increased development and training budgets of the company, as well as study leave. 

Although there are obvious benefits to upskilling, employees at times need an extra push to take the first step especially when businesses have to revise their objectives, resulting in employees have more on their plate. Hence, companies can start by creating 15-minute web-based training modules that cover a topic or a special area. This would even allow employees to enhance their skills during short workday breaks, HRDF's spokesperson said. 

Alternatively, companies could encourage employees to prioritise development, by putting a one-hour block in their diaries every few days to join a webinar or research a particular topic, Hays' Osborne said. Firms could also assign team members time to work on a stretch project. Besides setting aside time, learning and development could also be made central to the team culture and part of the weekly routine, rather than just having a one-off webinar on certain occasions.

"One way to achieve this is to hold regular team meetings to talk about what everyone has learnt that week, or maybe what skills they are currently working on developing in their upskilling projects," Osborne said. He also suggests companies ask a team member to host the call each week, tasking them with giving a quick 10-minute seminar on something interesting they recently learnt.

Having an internal mentor will also help spur employees to upskill, as senior colleagues can offer the objective advice and support other employees require to adapt to the changing times. According to Osborne, the employee could even be one who was once in a similar role, which will allow them to help the mentee identify skills gaps and support their immediate and longer-term career goals.

To further drive home the importance of upskilling and help jumpstart the journey for employees, companies could also consider setting up group chats for this specific purpose. Employees can leverage this to share links to items and resources that have inspired them lately, such as podcasts, upcoming webinars or TED Talks.

At the same time, leaders should also remember to focus on their own development by building some of their soft skills such as communication, emotional intelligence or leadership. "After all, learning new things or developing particular skills will also help to develop and improve your team as a whole," Osborne explained.

In addition to upskilling, there are also other ways for companies to encourage employees to think out of the box. According to Randstad's Nambiar, businesses should not dismiss ideas from the marketing team, no matter how experimental they sound. "Marketers are the drivers of change within the organisation. When armed with the right resources and tools, they can help drive cost efficiencies and connect the organisation with the target market for higher returns," she explained. Furthermore, Nambiar said strong marketing teams that produce innovative outreach campaigns that will attract other marketers, which will help improve the company’s ability to attract and retain good talent.

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