Using Your LMS to Reskill Your Workforce
Emily Stifler Wolfe | 9 min read
Philz is not your typical coffee shop.
In the 1970s, founder Phil Jaber owned a corner store in San Francisco’s vibrant Mission District. The shop served as a community hub—and Jaber as a sort of unofficial mayor—but Jaber wasn’t happy just selling milk, cigarettes, and liquor. He loved coffee.
Jaber grew up in Palestine, where the ceremony of serving coffee symbolizes generosity and hospitality, and he wanted to share that tradition. So in 2003, Jaber sold his last groceries and reopened as a coffee shop with a goal of bringing joy to customers.
Now with 58 locations and roughly 1,000 employees, Philz has managed to keep its community feel. Walk in to a Philz in California, Chicago or the D.C. area, and a barista will ask about your flavor preferences, grind beans to order, and make your drink on the spot. Philz believes deeply in personalization, and that the best cup of coffee is the one that comes to your taste.
When Philz pivoted to online ordering and pickup at the door after the pandemic hit last spring, that was hard to maintain. There were new safety regulations weekly, if not daily, and team members had to learn new protocols and ways of interacting with customers.
“Everything we did before was conversational and customer focused—an in-person experience,” says Philz training manager Nico Grishkoff. “We used to place such an emphasis on helping customers find the right drink. Then it became focusing on safety.”
The company had put Wisetail’s learning management system (LMS) in place in 2018, and The Blend, as Philz calls its site, was integral to keeping everyone up to date—and connected. In addition to standardized COVID safety training, The Blend already facilitated conversations between store leaders around the country and was a place where staff could ask specific questions directly to company experts. In this instance, it shone.
“We feel more connected to each other by using our Wisetail LMS, and that’s so important to us,” Grishkoff says.
Even before the pandemic, reskilling and upskilling were paramount to a company’s future. With the rapid development of tech, up to 14% of the global workforce—or 375 million people—may need to change occupations by 2030, according to the research firm McKinsey.
When the pandemic brought entire industries to a halt this year, millions of people lost jobs, while other industries surged, creating a need for vast new labor forces. Many companies found they needed to upskill a large number of employees, teaching them new skills that apply to their current positions. Other companies wound up reskilling workers, essentially training them to do entirely new jobs. In one reskilling example from early in the pandemic, a fleet of flight attendants trained as medical aides in Sweden.
But reskilling programs aren’t always successful, and many companies have struggled to implement them. A much-cited Wall Street Journal article from 2019, Why Companies Are Failing At Reskilling, explains:
“Sometimes the required skills aren’t easily taught to existing employees, experts say. It’s also often because companies have only a hazy sense of what their internal talent is capable of, and migrating large numbers of employees into new positions requires time, money and commitment.”
However, the effort is usually worthwhile.
The cost to reskill a current employee is as little as one sixth that of hiring a new employee, and learning equals longevity. According to the LinkedIn 2019 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees said they’d stay longer at a company that invested in their learning and development.
Using an LMS for Upskilling and Reskilling
When Philz reopened to in-person orders, its store and team leaders suddenly had to balance the online orders coming in through its app with the in-store customers. One set of customers wanted an efficient, contactless pickup. The others were there for the personal connection as much as the coffee. Both had to be safe, positive experiences.
“The Blend allowed us to ensure all these new operations and service standards were clearly communicated and routinely updated, helping keep everyone on the same page during a time of so much change,” says Grishkoff, the training manager.
Philz also used its LMS to register nearly 400 employees for a series of diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops this summer. The company also moved its food safety course to The Blend, where it could track compliance.
“That was always something we were thinking about because the food safety training is more scalable if it’s all online, but we never had the sense of urgency,” Grishkoff says.
For companies reskilling employees, Philz exemplifies some of eLearning’s power points: scale, flexibility, and data tracking
How an LMS Shines for Reskilling
The digital tools offered in an LMS allow companies to proactively train a team, or react nimbly in the face of change, deploying new knowledge and communications without having to do a ton of boots-on-the-ground training.
Intuitive Custom Design
Many learning management systems are designed to integrate with your company’s brand—they look and feel like an extension of the workplace. This means it’s easy for employees to adopt it and engage with your L&D strategy. An LMS should also be intuitive and function like other familiar platforms, so your team can focus on learning.
Because Philz wants to encourage learning, the company offers short training sessions that fit into the flow of an employees workday. “Our stores can be very busy, and we expect our leaders to be customer-facing and engaged with the team,” Grishkoff says. “They may only have 15 minutes off the floor.” So Philz uses shorter bite-sized training programs that its people can take in during those small breaks. Microlearning has been a growing trend for several years, largely because it’s so effective for modern workers.
You have a cell phone, right? So do your employees, and all of their learning can take place via mobile, making it easy to access on demand.
As operations changed this spring, Philz delivered soft skills training to help its leaders juggle their new responsibilities. Meanwhile, those leaders connected with each other on The Blend to figure out solutions and troubleshoot together. Collaborative and social learning drives engagement—and success.
Using an LMS, you can gather and report data instantly: Track compliance, use a digital checklist to ensure tasks are completed, and find out who’s doing what training. In a time of constant change and iteration, following the numbers allows you to make better decisions and focus where you get the most ROI.
Reskilling the Workforce is the Talent Search of the Future
Like many things accelerated by the pandemic, reskilling and upskilling will be here to stay. Not only does investing in your current workforce give you a competitive advantage in the current market, it will also strengthen your company in the case of future disruption.
For Philz, the added human connection was on par with the hard skills trainings in terms of value.
“Everything we do in our cafes is built on connection and relationships,” Grishkoff says. “We thrive when we are connecting to one another and learning from each other.”
BY EMILY STIFLER WOLFE
Emily Stifler Wolfe is an award-winning independent journalist and marketing professional based in Bozeman, Montana. A lifelong learner, she works with people-centered businesses and organizations that respect the planet—which aligns perfectly with Wisetail.