‘Upskilling’ A Top Priority For The Decade Ahead

Expert Q&A with Jason Tyszko on how to raise the skills of your employees to meet upcoming automation challenges. 

Last year, Tesla’s Elon Musk admitted that the company’s over-reliance on automation was partly to blame for missed production targets and months of ‘manufacturing hell.’ “Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake,” he said. “To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.” To many, automation is an exciting prospect because it promises progress beyond human capabilities. Most CHROs and HR leaders we talk to agree that they are not prepared for automation. This has less to do with rapidly evolving jobs, and more with the discrepancy between the skills people have and those needed for their future employability.

Upskilling The Organization

The need to upskill for the digital world is the need of the hour. It requires employers, educators, government administrators, and not-for-profit organizations to come together to develop plans to help people become more resilient, capable, and agile. A growing number of business leaders see the value of upskilling, but there’s much to be done.

A 2016 report from the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity estimates that 30 percent of young adults will not graduate from secondary school with the skills they need to hold most jobs in the digital world. The social impact of the future generation’s unemployability will be even more devastating than it has been in the past.


According to Jason Tyszko, Vice President, Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the biggest challenges employers and HR faced in 2019 is helping people adjust to AI, robotics, and other forms of automation through retraining and career changes. In an interview with The HR Digest, Tyszko explains the crucial importance of tapping into hidden talent in new ways and achieving diversity, equality and inclusion goals in 2020.


Jason Tyszko, Vice President, Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The HR Digest: Can you tell The HR Digest readers more about the Chamber’s T3 Innovation Network?

Jason Tyszko: The T3 Innovation Network is an initiative by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that is aiming to transform the way educational and workforce data is used and shared. Currently, there isn’t a systematic way for employees to communicate their skills, credentials, and educational records in a way that would be meaningful to employers, and how competencies are communicated differs from person to person.

This diverse network of more than 400 organizations is working together to create an open and decentralized public-private data infrastructure connecting a global audience of business, government, education, and technology vendors. Participants of the network have a shared vision of a more equitable talent marketplace driven by emerging technologies and evolving data standards.

As an example of this work, in 2020 the T3 Network will support scalable pilot testing of interoperable learning records (ILR), which are digital records of learning that document learning wherever it occurs, whether that’s in the workplace, in a classroom, or military training. ILRs have the potential to level the playing field in the talent marketplace, where skills, and not pedigree, become the new currency.

The HR Digest: One of the big themes in your work is increasing the importance of upskilling the workforce. What’s your sense of what companies can do to foster a deeper sense of learning within teams while also providing clarity of purpose to keep them on course?

Workforce Upskilling

Jason Tyszko: There’s no question as to whether upskilling is a crucial tool for employers and employees alike. Increasingly upskilling is seen as a strategic move to grow the competitiveness of your workforce and derive benefits from it. Where I think upskilling is most productive and mutually beneficial is when employers and employees share in the responsibility. Employees who take the initiative to learn and advance their own careers, with the support of their employers, will be a bigger asset than employees who are forced to go through the motions of training from which they may or may not benefit.

Upskilling need not be a path out of the company or industry, but a means of advancing within it. And workers should have agency when it comes to owning their learning path while employers share in the risk and journey. Upskilling should not be pursued as a disconnected activity, but one that is meaningfully creating shared value for businesses and workers alike. Upskilling, in the end, should be a team sport, one even where employees support one another in their mutual goals to advance their skills.

The HR Digest: You have been critical in pushing for progress in diversity & inclusion (D&I) in the workforce. What spurred your interest and passion for the topic?

Importance of Upskilling 

Jason Tyszko: My interest in D&I is two-fold: (1) a passion for a more equitable workforce where opportunity is available to anyone able and willing to advance their careers and achieve their goals; and (2) the need for employers to change their behavior and practice when it comes to talent sourcing so their companies better match their customers while also addressing their most critical skill needs in an economy that competes on talent. So for a business, it is a mix of desire to achieve positive social impact while pursuing enlightened self-interest. A win-win.

For decades companies have relied on hiring practices and proxies that, while they work, also have clear drawbacks and unintended consequences. Many have acknowledged an up-credentialing phenomenon where companies, particularly in a labor market where employers have lots of choices, often raise their hiring standards or requirements to find what they believe will be an ideal candidate. The result is often a longer vacancy, higher sourcing costs, and lost productivity. By focusing on credentials, such as a bachelor’s degree or certification, or X-years of experience, employers run the risk of posing artificial barriers to otherwise-qualified members of the workforce.

Effective Upskilling Strategy

Employers also need to root out bias in their hiring process, which oftentimes is unknown and imperceptible. For example, gender bias can creep in easily for jobs and the way a job posting is written can dissuade certain groups or demographics from applying for a job they are otherwise qualified for.

Yet another area employers need to be mindful of is whether they are locking themselves into talent sourcing channels that are working against their diversity and equity goals. Many companies become very reliant on sourcing channels they know and trust and it is risky to go outside of them, though that may be necessary in order to meet your talent goals while also achieving a more diverse workforce.

In the last few years especially we have seen this through our Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative. Employers have what they think are established talent pipelines, sourcing talent from traditional postsecondary institutions, and yet they weren’t receiving the talent they needed that can meet their skill needs or address their diversity goals. Through TPM, those employers learned that they need an intentional strategy when it comes to talent sourcing and partnerships that can achieve their diversity goals while also guaranteeing access to a skilled and competitive workforce. This includes working with a much wider network of talent providers, such as community-based nonprofits that can tap into hidden talent.

The HR Digest: How can companies commit to truer diversity and make progress without disenfranchising white men?

Jason Tyszko: Employers in 2019 struggled with achieving their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Many employers tried to not just find talent, but talent that will help them expand diversity within their ranks. This is motivated by many things including a sense of social responsibility to be more inclusive, but also to ensure their workforce reflects the customers and public they serve. However, wanting to be more diverse and inclusive is easier said than done and often requires a re-evaluation of hiring systems and practices. It is also necessary in a tight labor market where companies need access to all available talent in order to grow and be competitive. There are simply more opportunities than there are people.

It is important to not make the labor market a zero-sum game of winners and losers where one group or demographic wins at another’s expense. The truth is we have long-standing inequities in our labor market that need to be addressed, but which be addressed fairly and equitable in ways that advance everyone’s interest and move us towards a skills-based talent marketplace. Increasing diversity and inclusion requires doing the hard work to truly understand the specific skills and competencies your current and future workforce requires so that you can expand to new talent sourcing partners confidently. It also requires that everyone has a real and meaningful opportunity to attain those skills without artificial barriers to entry in the labor market, many of which start at the job description or posting.

The HR Digest: Workforce analytics has a strong place on the strategic agenda of many organizations in 2020. If you had to make the case for the value of workforce analytics in decision making as succinctly as possible, how would you frame it?

Jason Tyszko: Hope is not a strategy. In an economy that competes on talent, those companies that have a plan supported by workforce analytics will be in a stronger competitive position overall. Workforce analytics is not simply about filling vacancies with qualified talent, it is about creating line-of-sight between your business competitiveness strategy and your talent strategy. Workforce analytics provides the data and insight to know if these two things are in sync and just how productive they are or can be.

The HR Digest: What challenges and obstacles do you see employers facing in the future?

Jason Tyszko: In addition to evolving, the workforce is also starting to shrink. The Baby Boomer generation is retiring, year-after-year fewer students are enrolling in traditional four-year universities, and technology is automating jobs otherwise unimpacted by the AI-boom. The biggest challenge and obstacles employers will face in the years to come is whether or not they will choose to adapt, or be stuck in their old ways. Companies that thread the needle of an increasingly tighter labor market by incorporating a mix of automation, upskilling and talent supply chains for external hires will have a stronger competitive advantage in today’s economy.

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Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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