According to the US Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, 4.4 million workers quit their jobs this September, a trend that has continued since April  2021.  The Great Resignation, a  term coined by psychologist and professor Anthony Klotz, describes the steep rise in voluntary quits by American workers over the past seven months, in part due to the fallout of the COVID epidemic.  To put the size of the shift into perspective, consider this–for the twenty years prior to 2021, monthly voluntary resignation rates in the US never rose above 2.2%.  Now, they stand at a record high of 3.4%, with no end in sight.  

There are currently 10.4 million open jobs across all sectors in the US and the impact of the Great Resignation is a growing concern across every industry. The challenge this scenario presents has pushed more companies to explore creative and responsive upskilling initiatives to attract new talent and entice current workers to stay in their current workplace.  

Some of the hardest-hit industries are ones that involve high levels of interaction with the public and lower pay scales, like retail and hospitality.  In response, one upskilling approach that company leaders are pursuing is education.  Macy’s recently announced that beginning in February, all 100,000+ Macy’s employees can take advantage of their debt-free degree program. This $35 million program in partnership with Guild Education will offer a range of educational opportunities ranging from college and high school degrees, literacy courses, professional certifications, and more.  By investing in their worker’s long-term career pathway, they hope to increase retention and deepen their already existing talent pool. Combined with a $15/hr minimum pay rate increase across all stores, Macy’s is working to address workers’ current needs and provide future career pathways for their team.  Amazon, Target, and Walmart are among the growing list of companies that are also offering debt-free education programs open to all of their employees. 

For other industries hard hit by the Great Resignation, the focus is on salaried workers looking to grow their skillset within their company.  Workday is one such company designing job development initiatives through a skills-based lens.  Using tech tools, the company matches workers interested in developing a skill with short-term projects called gigs or preceptorships.  The worker joins that project team, working with colleagues to learn and practice a specific skill.  The response from both workers and project managers has been positive, with 95% of both groups reporting increased skill levels and team project efficiency.  Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 programs showcase a suite of ways in which the company is providing pathways for salaried workers to gain expertise related to their field, such as coding and machine learning.  The Upskilling 2025 initiative also includes pathways for hourly workers to gain entirely new skills that can move them from the fulfillment center to technical roles within the company regardless of previous IT experience.

With many more companies beginning to pilot programs that provide an array of educational and skills-based training in response to the continued impact of the Great Resignation, it is clear the role of upskilling will be a dominant theme in 2022 and beyond. However, the absence of clear models and granular feedback mechanisms to guide companies’ development essentially leads them to work blind as they create their own programs. In future articles, we will write about how Ahura AI is building solutions to fill the market gap and position companies and the workforce for the needed agility to stay competitive. As HBR’s Carol Patton states, “Reskilling is no longer a trend but a survival strategy.”