Udemy logo

As we enter a new era of hybrid and remote working, new challenges around employee development, engagement, and retention have reared their heads.

The Udemy Business team recently sat down with Vicki Walia, Head of HR Business Partners at Prudential Financial, to talk about how she creates a culture of upskilling and reskilling through a systems-thinking approach, a focus on skills, and a holistic talent marketplace.  

Picturing the future

Prudential Financial is an American Fortune 500 company that provides insurance, retirement planning, investment management, and other products and services to customers in over 40 different countries. 

As part of its Learning and Development (L&D) transformation, Prudential’s HR teams have spent the past few years considering what the future might look like, where value is likely to be generated for the business, and what that could mean for its employees.   

“In picturing the areas that we should focus on, we imagined that there’s going to be an economy in which you’re differentiated because you create something new and innovative,” says Walia. “And there’s going to be value in being more effective and efficient. And then there’s probably going to be an economy that uses technology and data differently, too. So, we looked at each of these things and asked what we needed our people to be able to do to respond to that.”

Prudential set about creating skills-based learning paths to cater to these needs, while also developing learning journeys aligned to the specific roles they know will play a part in their future — like full-stack developers and journey analysts.

“We knew that the employment market was not going to give us what we needed in that sense, so we started looking at the people internally who could get us there and what we needed to provide them,” says Walia.

By taking this approach, Prudential can drive value in two ways, firstly helping the organization fill vital skills gaps, and secondly by helping its people to develop and progress their careers, which ultimately has a big effect on engagement. 

A holistic skills platform

For this approach to work, leaders need a good idea of what skills their people have now, and what skills they will need in the future. And that requires two things:

  1. The right technology
  2. Enthusiastic engagement from your workforce

“We built a skills platform that can automatically scrape people’s resumes and LinkedIn profiles to help us understand the talent we have at our disposal,” says Walia. “We then asked people to go in and confirm those skills were accurate, so we can match them to opportunities, both today and in the future.”

One of the great advantages of this approach was that as people started growing within the company, Prudential saw lower employee turnover thanks to more satisfied workers that could clearly see what opportunities lay ahead. 

“Our internal mobility rates went from around thirty-eight percent historically to around fifty-eight percent — which is a pretty significant detail,” Walia adds. 

A whole new way of working

Vicki’s advice for anyone undertaking a similar transformation is to have a really good idea of where your business is today and where you want it to be two and then four years down the road. Completing the puzzle then comes down to making the incremental changes that help you reach those targets. 

However, as is always the case with the best-laid plans, there is often a spanner ready to be thrown into the works. 

“It was funny because we thought we were going to go through this process and really understood what we needed to do and how and when,” says Walia. “And then March the 20th happened.”

The COVID-19 outbreak and the rise of remote and hybrid working have provided their fair share of challenges for Prudential, as with any other company.   

“We’ve been impacted by the Great Resignation like other companies have,” says Walia. “Although, I’d say we’ve done better than most; our turnover rates are still significantly lower than what I see in other places. But that also means we’ve done a lot of hiring in the last year and a half — which presented its own difficulties.”

Onboarding new employees to a fully-virtual Prudential presented a particular challenge in terms of preserving the company’s culture, something Walia believes has been a differentiator for the company for the last 145 years.  

“Of course, you can onboard people, get them the laptop, set up all the meetings, and have them virtually meet people. But there’s something about walking around the building and attending events that help you get a sense of the culture and how things work,” she says. 

A plan of action

To ease its way into remote and then hybrid working, Prudential set out to ensure that both managers and employees had all the information they needed to deliver their potential. 

For employees, this took the form of a playbook to help guide them through the unfamiliarity of remote and hybrid working. And plenty of remote learning sessions. 

“Our learning team did a formidable job of trying to create learning opportunities through Zoom and keep people connected and have those cohort-type experiences,” she says. “I think that takes different dimensions of engagement. One of the things we really embraced was microlearning, so little bits of information in small manageable segments. I think that’s been really important at a time where there’s been a lot of demands on people’s time and attention.” 

For managers, Prudential used its Talent Managers Corner to bring together all of the tools and ideas that managers need to be thinking about on a week-by-week, month-by-month basis. 

“At that time, and right now in fact, there’s lots of stuff in there about practicing and engaging in hybrid habits, and how to run inclusive hybrid meetings,” says Walia. 

Prudential also has a Chief Talent Officer who hosts a forum called In Your Corner, where managers are able to ask important questions, share issues or successes, and engage with each other, providing a vital support network. 

“I think COVID-19 was a reminder that our managers are people, too, and need that level of support and interaction,” says Walia. 

A different kind of future

As working life has returned to something resembling normality, COVID-19 has taught Prudential a great deal about how people need to work and learn in the new environments that hybrid working has created and which approaches it should carry forward. 

“I think our role is increasingly about how we ensure people are in a work situation that is flexible enough to help them manage the new responsibilities they may have taken on in their lives and manage their workloads,” says Walia. “At the end of the day, the whole person shows up to work, so it has to be a more holistic conversation about how to get the best from and do the best for that person.”

Empower your team. Lead the industry.

Get a subscription to a library of online courses and digital learning tools for your organization with Udemy Business.

Request a demo

Page Last Updated: March 2023