HR Mavericks

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Upskilling
When workers’ skills become outdated, their development and the success of the organization suffers. Upskilling is a worthwhile investment that helps both employees and companies thrive.

What Is Upskilling?

The term upskilling is used to describe the process of building on employees’ current abilities and teaching them new skills. The best way to think of upskilling is as an investment in people. Employers who upskill their workforce invest in their knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies to help boost employees' careers and strengthen the organization.
46% of workers say Covid-19 caused them to re-evaluate their skill sets, and 19% say learning a new skill is a greater priority
Learning and Development Statistics
Upskilling is all about anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future, laying the foundation and building the right program to meet learning and development needs. Consider a front-desk receptionist whose primary responsibility is drafting emails to clients. What if they could type 50 words per minute? They would likely be a more productive employee at that speed. Consider how much time would be saved if their typing skills improved to 70 words per minute. They would have more time to take on additional tasks. Upskilling is the process of improving skills to better an individual’s performance in a given role and/or prepare them for career advancement.

Upskilling vs Reskilling

What is the difference between upskilling and reskilling? Both upskilling and reskilling are used in the workplace to develop employees. Upskilling involves learning new skills to increase performance in a current role or to prepare for potential career advancement. Reskilling involves learning skills outside of current responsibilities so that one can move into a new role (whether it be a similar job or on a completely different career track). Reskilling is often identified with lateral movement (movement from one job to another, typically not resulting in upward movement through the organization).

Why Is Upskilling Important?

According to Harvard Business Review, “When employees are offered and encouraged to take advantage of upskilling opportunities for their personal or professional growth, people metrics, such as employee engagement and retention, also go up.” Let's look at some of the many benefits of upskilling.
  • Closing skill gaps. A major barrier to effective and productive work is a lack of capabilities. Many workers often have to either work harder or longer in order to succeed in a role because they lack some skills that could make their job easier. Upskilling can help close the gap between business needs and employee capabilities. For example, if a team leader or supervisor lacks skills in motivating others, it is challenging for them to rally their team when trouble arises. By upskilling the leader, that gap would close, saving time and avoiding future potential problems.
  • Keeping up with innovation. One of the most important reasons to invest in upskilling is to keep up with innovation and technology. Businesses need to constantly evolve to avoid stifling their own growth. This includes developing employee capability. For example, it is common for businesses to shift the software they use to save costs. If their employees have limited technological capabilities, it is more challenging for employers to make the shift.
  • Empowering workers. When employees feel that their employers are invested in their development, they tend to feel a sense of empowerment. According to Workplace Intelligence, 78% of employees are concerned that they lack the skills to advance their career. Upskilling resolves this issue and provides employees with additional tools they need to succeed. Additionally, empowered workers tend to be more productive, have higher customer satisfaction ratings, and are more likely to trust in their leadership.
  • Building talent and retention. According to Indeed, “If you can retain a current employee with up-to-date skills, your company can save the money it would have spent on recruiting replacements.” Through upskilling, businesses strengthen their talent pipeline and retain employees longer. Both of these tend to help organizations save money. Strengthening a talent pipeline reduces the need to spend money on recruiting efforts, and retaining employees reduces costs associated with replacing employees who lack the necessary skills to succeed.
65% of workers believe upskilling training provided by employers is very important when evaluating a new job
Learning and Development Statistics

Tips for Identifying Upskilling Needs

It can be challenging to know exactly what problem you are trying to solve. Do your employees need technological training? Do they struggle with soft skills? Here are three tips to start reflecting on the goals of your upskilling efforts.

Tip 1: Research Your Industry

The first place to start is with your industry and other companies like yours. Are businesses shifting to new technical platforms? Are they focused on turning entry-level experts into leaders? Being well-informed will help you know what questions to ask your staff to further understand their needs. This makes your analysis of your organization more effective.

Tip 2: Survey Your Staff

Your people know what they need better than anyone else. Lean on them. Ask them what they want and need. Utilize surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations to ask questions like:
  • Do you feel you have the necessary skills to succeed in your role?
  • If you were explaining your role to someone, what top five skills would you say are needed?
  • Do you wish we offered more training opportunities?
  • How do you learn best?
  • What does career advancement mean to you?

Tip 3: Review Performance

One way to identify skill gaps is to review where your employees succeed and where they fail. If you see an area where multiple employees seem to struggle, that may be an opportunity for upskilling. For example, when reviewing trends in employee performance, if you were to notice that employees consistently fall short of their metric to maintain a certain level of customer satisfaction, this may be an opportunity to implement upskilling techniques to improve their performance in the customer satisfaction category. Consider the expectations you have of your employees. What goals and objectives do you wish you could place on them? Why are some goals unreasonable? Is it because employees aren’t ready to take on additional responsibilities? How could you help them in these areas? Identify specific skills that employees would need in order to meet the expectations placed upon them. For example, if you want your sales numbers to grow but you notice that employee trends showed a stagnation in sales, you may consider what skills your employees would need to improve. Do they have the sales capability to increase their numbers, but feel overwhelmed by the increased load? Maybe they need to learn more about organization or time management. Maybe they could use a focus on improving mental health so that they can remain focused at work. Once you identify the specific skills needed to make the change you want to see, you can implement training processes for improvement.

How to Create an Upskilling Program

According to a workplace survey conducted by Workplace Intelligence, 89% of survey participants said that they’re ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ motivated to improve their skills.” This tells us that most employees want to build on their skills and are ready for you to invest in them. So, how do we go about creating an upskilling program?

Step 1: Create a Roadmap

Once you have identified upskilling needs in your organization, you can begin to create a roadmap for catering to a complex workforce. First, identify landmarks or measurements for performance to help you assess development and give direction and motivation to your staff. It is important to outline how employees can navigate their development and to clearly articulate expectations of upskilling. Are there specific skills you are requiring them to work on? Which skills are optional? Is there a potential career path available if they participate in upskilling?

Step 2: Find the Right Program

There are many useful tools for creating an upskilling program. Learning management systems are a great way to stay organized, reduce the amount of work it takes to start a new program, and engage your workforce. They are software tools designed to house courses, track employee development, and simplify the training process. Some learning management systems even have pre-built courses to help you develop your training program.

Step 3: Build a Support System

One of the most challenging aspects of creating an upskilling program is encouraging employee participation. To hit this head on, build a support system that encourages employees to participate and provides feedback on what is and isn’t working. Your support system could include:
  • Managers who are personally invested in upskilling their team
  • Incentives for employees to participate
  • Backing from executive-level leaders
To build this system, determine the value your upskilling program provides. This will help you draft a message that conveys the value of your program, which will help you convince others to support your system.

Step 4: Empower Employees

Not only is employee empowerment a benefit of an upskilling program, it is also a useful tool in encouraging employee engagement. Employees are usually eager to advance their careers and increase their autonomy. If they know they can do so by participating in their own development, they are more likely to invest the time in upskilling themselves.

Step 5: Ask for and Implement Feedback

As with most critical HR processes, it is essential to continually ask for feedback and improve. By allowing your staff to participate in the improvement of their own development and by using their feedback, you will strengthen your upskilling program to help your employees become the best that they can be.
Topics
Raelynn Randall, MHR, MBA

Raelynn Randall, MHR, MBA

Rae has acquired HR experience in team leadership, research, training, recruiting, project management, and mentoring upcoming HR professionals. She is fascinated by workplace culture and the many implications it has on the world of business, especially HR. When possible, she seeks out opportunities to expand her knowledge and give back to her community.
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Frequently asked questions
Other Related Terms
Adult Learning Principles
Career Coach
Career Pathing
Cross Training
E-Learning
Employee Development
Employee Empowerment
Employee Leadership Development
Group Training
Individual Development Plan
Job Shadowing
Learning & Development Statistics
Lunch and Learns
Manager Training
Mentoring
Networking
Reskilling
Rotational Program
Skills Gap Analysis
Skills Inventory
Soft Skills
Stretch Assignment
Time Management Training
Training Needs Analysis/Assessment
Virtual Team Building
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