Learning and Development during the Pandemic

I still remember. Soon after the 9/11 of 2001 in USA, Richard Branson of Virgin Airways went on a shopping spree to buy aircraft. People were wondering why and how he was doing it when many well established airlines were shutting down due to the aftermath of 9/11. He famously said, 'I am not crazy. Do you think people will stop flying? This slump is only transient and will soon pass. This is the best time to buy aircraft because they come cheap.'

The Covid-19 pandemic has adversely impacted industry, particularly the small and medium scale companies. Sales have declined, profits have vanished, and employees are feeling stressed and de-motivated. Companies are trying to find ways to cut costs and work with less than what they have. HR departments are among the worst impacted. How do they motivate other employees when they themselves are stressed and depressed?

During such times, among the first casualties in companies is, as to be expected, the budget on Learning and Development (L&D). Those exercising senior decision-making roles in management often consider that L&D initiatives could wait for better days when profits resume and sales pick up. This again is only to be expected. But, I believe that this is a wrong approach.

It is in times of stress and depression that employees should be trained, up-skilled, and re-skilled. Technology is rapidly changing our lives in ways never experienced before. Existing skills become obsolete faster than imagined. Newer skills need to be acquired. Soft skills, which are even more critical than the hard ones (often called, technical skills), need to be fine-tuned to changing times. As Richard Branson said, this too shall pass. We should get equipped and be ready to face the challenges of the future.

by Prof S Balasubramanian