A Roadmap to Recharge Through Training

Firms should adopt a strategic approach to selecting training courses during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented challenges in almost all industries. Many economic activities have decelerated in tandem with shrinking consumer demand.

Consequently, organisations have scaled down operations through job cuts or liquidated assets. In addition, some firms have chosen to shrink their budgets for training and development, apart from other non-essential expenses.

However, renewed mindsets and relevant competencies are needed to navigate the challenges arising from these new norms. As such, to fight COVID-19 going forward, there are two pertinent questions businesses should ask themselves.

First, should firms continue to undertake training and development?
Second, is there a strategic way to plan and choose courses suitable for their business?

Yes, to both the questions. This article will also suggest pointers that can help businesses to develop core competencies.

Why is attending training courses during the COVID-19 pandemic important?

Cutting down on training and development provides short-term relief for businesses but compromises a firm’s ability to compete in the future. After all, every business needs to strengthen its non-financial capital, such as the human capital, for its future. This is when training courses can help to build human capital.

Firms should take advantage of the opportunities presented during COVID-19. The Government, banks and other institutions have provided short-term relief measures to alleviate cash flow issues. Hence, firms can then direct their attention to developing new capabilities to recover and recharge for the future.

It is unsurprising that various quarters do view “training” as strategic. During the pandemic, there have been extraordinary collaborative efforts among government agencies, educational institutions and the private sector to provide upskilling courses. However, many training providers do not customise the design of these off-the-shelf courses for a specific organisation and its needs. This is simply because the onus is on the firm to assess its own training needs, and to select meaningful and relevant courses.

What courses are available?

There is a plethora of training courses in the market. Many SkillsFuture-funded courses aim to develop new competencies to cope with the current business conditions. As of 1 July 2020, the SkillsFuture website listed 2,165 courses classified under, “COVID-19_Suggested Courses”, which covers a diverse range of topics. Popular course titles include “Big data”, “Digitalisation” and “Online/Digital Marketing”. The courses also cover different levels of proficiency, with some that are foundational while others equip learners with the skills required to implement solutions.

There are four categories of publicly available courses that can be classified into two broad dimensions: “discrete/integrated” in terms of the course content, and how “easy/difficult” it is to implement after taking the course. “Discrete” refers to one type of function or activity, while an “integrated” course encompasses a number of functions or activities. (Refer to the illustration below which highlights a suggested example for each category.)

The table below shows examples of courses for each category. Do note that course titles provide only some idea to the width and depth of the course content. Therefore, I use the corresponding course descriptions to inform my classification of both dimensions.

The description of four categories are as follows:

How do I decide what course to take?

Here are four scenarios to illustrate how to make a strategic selection of courses for the business.

Scenario 1:

Company V wants to get into the online marketing space. A “Soloist” course such as “Marketing for Small Online Business” would be helpful. This approach assumes that all other functions are working in order. Company V does not need other courses to enhance its online reach.

Scenario 2:

Company W has a working business model, but requires innovative methods to grow the business during the pandemic. A ‘Movie-maker’ type of course could be helpful. The recommendations are easy to implement even though the process entails a number of functions.

Scenario 3:

Company X currently delivers through an online platform with no direct engagement with the customer. To understand the customer better, Company X wants to work with a digital voucher management company to create unique vouchers that contain the customer’s transaction details. For customers to redeem the voucher, they have to leave a mobile phone number to receive a voucher via SMS.

This enables the company to obtain the mobile numbers and online delivery transaction details of their customers. “Busker” training courses could be helpful in this scenario. Company X can create effective offline advertisements using online data.

Scenario 4:

Company Y currently conducts its retail business through brick-and-mortar channels. Due to COVID-19, Company Y plans to move its business model entirely online. Training courses that could be helpful are those classified as “Orchestra”, such as “Start an Online Business (Alibaba Entrepreneur Startup Program)”. This programme allows Company Y to revamp its entire range of business activities through a detailed digital transformation process.

It is essential for firms to develop new capabilities that align with the firm’s long-term objectives. However, selecting the right courses to invest in to develop core competencies is not as straightforward as it seems. Therefore, while navigating through the challenges presented by this pandemic, firms should strategically build their human capital through a clear understanding of their needs and the courses available.

The author is Dr Clive Choo, Senior Lecturer, College of Business (Nanyang Business School) – Division of Strategy, International Business & Entrepreneurship.