Retool your skills to stay employable

It is like the periodic physical examination everyone should have

By Rafael Castillo M.D.

This pandemic has turned our world upside down. Unless we’re able to adapt adequately to its demands—the various paradigm shifts it entails—our economic or financial health may be compromised. We may survive the pandemic’s threats on our physical health, but we may succumb later to malnourished financial health because of pay cuts and unemployment. When push comes to shove, those with multiple or sufficient skills will be retained by most companies and spared from unemployment.

A patient texted me a few days ago asking if he could stop taking his medicines. He was laid off from work two months into the lockdown, and whatever separation pay he got will not last more than a year, and he’s trying to cut all expenses that are not that essential.

I asked him, “Do you not consider your health and your life essential?” He had a heart attack a few years ago and although his condition is stable, he has a high risk of having another attack, or related cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and life-threatening irregularity of the heartbeat. It may be more expensive in the long run if he stops taking his medicines and gets hospitalized, disabled, or worse, dies from the complications of his condition.

Upgrading skills

The crux of the issue, though is, how can one remain employable, productive and financially healthy during crises like what we’re in?

I’m not a doctor of financial health, but one of my advocacies is to help provide strategies for local employment for our countrymen, so that many mothers and fathers don’t have to work abroad as overseas Filipino workers and be separated from their families.

I see two important stratagems that can make anyone financially healthy locally. These are constant retooling or upgrading of skills, and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship has been frequently tackled in media and fora, so I’ll focus on retooling.

Everything we do now, and how we work, is different from five years ago or longer. Retooling or reskilling either means developing new skills or building up on whatever skills one already has to equip him or her better in the performance of his or her work.

Retooling of skills should be part of the HR (human resource) program of all companies and organizations, and if not, on one’s own initiative, one must continue to learn new skills that can make one capable of performing in whatever jobs are available. This will help make human resources still indispensable in the advent of robot technology and AI (artificial intelligence).

During the long lockdown we just had and still have in other areas, we should have taken the opportunity to retool ourselves. There are a lot of online courses. Some are even free, while others come at very reasonable costs.

Worthwhile investment

I have a couple of patients who learned baking and cooking from scratch during the lockdown. Now they’ve started a business selling their cooked and baked items, and it’s helping pay their monthly bills. They started with Facebook friends and relatives, but by word of mouth, they now have more regular customers in their villages.

A retooling program for its employees will also be beneficial for all organizations. The HR departments should have a periodic assessment of the changing needs mandated by the dynamic changes in organizational objectives, technology and unexpected exigencies, such as the pandemic. We have a markedly changing world, with unpredictable twists and shifts, requiring more skills and harnessing technology more.

Private or nongovernmental agencies or organizations are relatively more quick to adapt to these dynamic changes and need for retooling, compared to government organizations; hence, the need for heads of governmental organizations to be more conscious of this important challenge.

Organizations that don’t provide retooling/reskilling programs for employees are more likely to lose them, or have a faster turnover of employees. So, it’s a worthwhile investment for all organizations and must be adequately provided for in the budget.

Meaningful work

All organizations must have stats on the rolling duration employees stay with the company or organization. If the average stay is less than three years, it would suggest that the employees don’t find themselves growing in the company or organization, and would like to look elsewhere to grow.

Compensation or salary is not the most important determinant of why employees stay. The number one reason is their feeling that they are able to work meaningfully and contribute to the organization’s goals, and they’re growing professionally year after year. This can be achieved only with regular assessment of the skills they need to develop so they can be properly equipped to do their job. Retooling achieves this objective.

Retooling programs must be individualized or customized and not generically designed for all employees. Different strokes for different folks! The HR department of each organization or company must regularly assess the skills all employees have vis-à-vis the skills they need for their current jobs. In many instances, there may be a mismatch between employees’ skills and required skills of the position. This could be remedied by either retooling or reassignments of the employee.

50 years and older

Even old dogs can still learn new tricks. Even the relatively older members of the organization (50 years and above) should also benefit from retooling/reskilling programs. Usually there is a tendency to prioritize younger employees, but this should not be the case. The older employees may be occupying more sensitive positions, and therefore, require more skills to equip them better in their positions or jobs.

Retooling should be considered a major strategy whenever organizations set new strategic goals or vision. Human resource is a major resource vital to the execution and attainment of all strategic plans.

Retooling of skills is like the periodic physical examination everyone should have to find out what should be done to keep the body in tip-top, holistic health.

Every year, everyone must ask oneself, “What new skill did I learn this past year?” If every Filipino has a retooling-oriented mindset, I believe this will be a major factor that can make us a financially robust, first-world country a few decades from now.


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