What Is Workforce Transformation? Why It Matters and Getting Started

What Is Workforce Transformation? Why It Matters and Getting Started | General | Emeritus

The way we work is changing–fast. And many companies are struggling to keep up with the pace of that evolution. 

Updating processes, technologies, and business practices takes significant time and investment. But keeping employees at the top of their game is most critical of all. A company’s workforce failing to keep up with changes to business operations creates an opening for competitors to get ahead.

That’s where workforce transformation comes in. 

What Is Workforce Transformation?

Workforce transformation refers to the process of realigning a company’s employee base to ensure that their skills match the company’s strategic needs. Essentially, a company undergoing workforce transformation assesses its existing skills, identifies the skills needed to meet future goals, and maps out any skills gaps

Once you identify those gaps, you can embark on closing them through targeted reskilling, upskilling, and hiring. 

Definition of workforce transformation as a realignment of employees' skills to match a company's needs.

Why Is Workforce Transformation Important?

According to a Newsweek survey, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate at which certain workplace skills become obsolete increased by more than 70%. In many industries, technological shifts that were expected to take place years into the future came rapidly in response to our new reality. For example, B2B organizations that traditionally relied on in-person sales visits suddenly needed to shift to digital strategies. 

Companies have always needed to be able to pivot rapidly to avoid falling behind. However, as the pace of technological change increases, these transformations are necessary more often and need to be done on a shorter time scale. Organizations, therefore, need effective workforce transformation programs to ensure they can align their skills base with the company’s future goals and needs. 

How to Launch a Workforce Transformation

Effectively launching a workforce transformation requires careful planning. Consider the following steps.

Graphic outlining four key steps to undergoing a workforce transformation.

1. Conduct a skills assessment.

Without knowing what skills you have in your workforce, it’s impossible to know what gaps exist. Consider using a multi-faceted approach to measuring employee skills, including looking at existing job descriptions and performance reviews, talking to managers, and surveying employees themselves. It’s important to regularly reassess skills, as they can change rapidly with employee turnover and as employees grow and develop.

2. Identify critical needs and goals.

While some specific technical skills may receive a lot of buzz, a company’s actual workforce needs are highly dependent upon its organizational goals. Before embarking on a workforce transformation initiative, company leaders should identify and prioritize the most critical skills to fulfill those goals. 

For example, an organization building out its digital marketing functionality may look to develop employees’ skills in data analytics and online advertising platforms. 

3. Create a plan for skills development.

While some organizations immediately turn to hiring to fill skills gaps, more than half (53%) of leaders prefer reskilling and upskilling existing staff due to its cost savings and cultural benefits, according to McKinsey & Company. A number of strategies can help build employees’ skills, including:

  • External online training programs (like those offered by Emeritus)
  • Company-led (internal) training programs 
  • Mentorship opportunities
  • Temporary or “stretch” assignments in different departments
  • Traditional degree programs

4. Measure and adapt.

Like with any organizational effort, it’s essential to set and track success metrics. Regularly check in to ensure your transformation strategies are effectively deliver new skills and meet company needs. Since workforce transformation aims to adapt to new demands, regularly reassessing the match between employee skills and company needs is essential. 

Addressing Challenges of Workforce Transformation

While workforce transformation is imperative, it also poses many challenges, which can include the following.

1. The overwhelming scale of the project

Overhauling an entire company’s workforce can be a massive challenge. That’s why it’s recommended to break it into small pieces and identify replicable processes to reduce the scale of the work. 

Starting by identifying specific skills or business units to transform and carefully tracking and measuring the process and results throughout can help build the business case for a broader transformation. Plus, it provides an opportunity to identify company-specific challenges and best practices.

2. Lack of relevant data

Many organizations lack robust data on their own employees. Without that information, it’s impossible to know how to focus your skill-building efforts. Companies without strong metrics in place should consider investing in people analytics capabilities such as surveys and related tools. For Philip Morris International, detailed online assessments (especially for key leaders) were central to a successful transformation effort. 

3. Need for organizational buy-in

Any large-scale transformation efforts can understandably cause employees anxiety. That’s why you should prioritize strong leadership and clear communication. This will ensure your workforce understands that these development efforts are meant for growth rather than to become a threat to their employment. Most employees are eager to develop their own skills; it’s simply a matter of effectively sharing goals and processes so that they understand what’s to come. 

Workforce Transformation Examples

It’s always helpful to look at companies that have successfully completed comparable workforce transformations for inspiration. Notable examples in recent years include:


In 2016, Unilever embarked on an ambitious effort to prepare its 155,000 employees for the future of work. Their program aims to create a “future-fit plan” for every employee. They name employees’ goals, consider how their specific roles might change or disappear in the future, and identify the skills they need to gain to adapt to new positions. These efforts are combined with a broader initiative within Unilever to help employees find a sense of purpose in their work and build engagement and satisfaction. 


L’Oreal knew it couldn’t rely on its reputation alone to compete in a crowded cosmetics marketplace. It embarked on an ambitious digital transformation plan to reduce time to market from 18 to 6 months, in part by upskilling and reskilling workers to enhance their digital capabilities. L’Oreal has invested in training offerings to power this transformation. This includes virtual courses and a broad online learning platform available to all employees. In fact, in 2020, every L’Oreal employee worldwide received training.


At Allstate, like many insurance companies, the impact of technologies like AI is rapidly changing business operations. While the use of new technologies varies significantly based on employees’ roles, the company has made a concerted effort to roll out new people analytics technology and has invested in training. In 2020, Allstate employees completed 139,000 hours of formal training, and 7,000 attended the company’s Global Learning Week focused on development.


Workforce transformation is a complex undertaking, but experts say it’s well worth the effort. Companies that invest in adapting and staying nimble before the market forces them to will see improved performance and employee engagement–and be better positioned to tackle future challenges.

Ready to embark on your workforce transformation journey? Learn more about how Emeritus Enterprise can help you build a custom plan to upskill and reskill employees through online employee training programs.

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