• Michael Huskey

Does Corporate America Need An Off-Season?

As we are dawning on the 4th industrial revolution, many legacy companies are getting disrupted and challenged at every turn. The skills and talent that is required to compete in this new age are in short supply. Because of the limited amount of this talent, I think companies need to think beyond just hiring people with expertise but how to create learning and development pipelines. That will allow them to take their current employees and turn them into the employees of tomorrow.

As an employee of a legacy company, I am proposing a solution that can give companies trying to compete in the 4th industrial revolution a fighting chance. Some may think it is out there. I agree. But trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is not a viable solution either.

Inspired by Sports

I think corporate America should offer its employees an “off-season.” To learn and develop new skills. Every sport has an off-season. A time players can step away from the game. The players who want to continue playing at the highest-level take this time to improve in their weakness or add a skill they didn’t have the prior year. The off-season is what allows players to get better. Rarely, do you see a player in the middle of the season become exponentially better at shooting free throws or being able to throw a new pitch. They need time. They need an off-season to practice without the consequences.

Current Offerings

I am sure some people are reading this and saying we already offer our employees the resources to get better. We have tuition assistance for night school, and we promote learning on the job.

The night school route is the one I most commonly hear when I bring this idea to people. The problem with this is your employee will have no life. Work-life balance is continuously brought up in recruiting pitches to employees. If the only way for an employee to learn a new skill to further their career at your company is to go to night school, remove the work-life balance pitch from any recruiting material.

I am also talking about learning a brand new skill. Not improving the current skills the employee possesses. It is probably comparable to learning a new language. Does everyone remember learning a new language in school? Go to one class every other day for an hour and then never use it for the rest of the day. It is common knowledge that the best way to learn a new language is to become immersed in it. Do a semester abroad where you are immersed in it.

If the new skill is entirely different from the current job they hold, isn’t night school and learning on the job just the same way schools teach foreign languages? We agree that it didn’t work, so why are we trying the same thing to upskill our employees?

If the new skill is entirely different from the current job they hold, isn’t night school and learning on the job just the same way schools teach foreign languages? We agree that it didn’t work, so why are we trying the same thing for our employees?

Now that we understand what is currently offered to employees. We see it will probably yield the same results as our Spanish class in grade school. I think you are now perhaps more curious about how this “off-season” will work.

How it will work

Every employee would receive a 90-day “off-season” per year. During this time, employees would be in training programs sponsored by the company. Companies could pair with local universities or create internal programs. These programs would be in areas that the company has current talent shortages. These programs would allow employees to become immersed in the content they are learning and give them the space to make mistakes without the consequence of losing their jobs.

Common Objections

There are two objections that I am sure are coming to mind when you read this plan.

The first objection you probably had when you read this is:

“Employees are going to get paid to learn and not work?”

Correct. The alternative is to hire new employees at a salary premium. I have talked to people in HR, and I know hiring an employee is not cheap. You would also have to get these new employees up to pace on how your company operates. The cost of recruiting a new employee, the loss in productivity, and the premium salary you are paying for this in-demand skill set are probably pretty similar to the cost of sending someone to a training program to learn a value add skill.

The other objection that I am sure some are thinking is:

“Employees will just take these new skills and leave!”

Potentially. However, if these programs are successful, companies will have a training and development pipeline that they can put many employees through to replace any lost talent. It is prevalent in sports for the best organizations to be the ones that have the best training and development programs. Most professional sports leagues have salary caps. This means each team only has a certain amount it can pay all its players. The inability to pay any price for their players incentivizes teams to create internal development programs. They have to rely on getting younger, cheaper players and developing them into top-flight talent if they hope to compete every year.

In conclusion…

I am sure some of you think this radical, and it could never work. That is what people said when Google offered its employees free food at work. Now, 20 years later, in-demand prospective employees won’t even look at companies that don’t have free food at work. Tackling the ever-growing knowledge gap is going to take some out-there ideas. If you like this, share it! Also, let me know what you think in the comments!

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