5 Proven Strategies to Upskill Your Employees
Upskilling employees could hold the answer to the talent challenges organizations face. We take a look at the benefits of helping employees develop and how to upskill and reskill them.
There was a time employees took one career path and stuck to it. Nowadays, multiple careers are the norm and upskilling and reskilling for different roles is a valuable form of development. Here’s how to equip your employees for a more multi-skilled future of work.
Why upskill your workforce?
As the world adapts to a new status quo, organizations are rethinking business practices that suddenly seem to belong to a bygone era. And as companies take stock and consider alternatives, so do their employees. We need to equip our people for a future that’s becoming ever-more flexible and fast-changing.
The hybrid workplace, the rise of AI and digital lifestyles, climate consciousness and corporate social responsibility – all kinds of factors are reshaping the nature of employment. What’s more, we know from experience that change can happen at any moment and we need to be ready for anything.
Upskilling or reskilling employees is one way to prepare for uncertainty and build resilience into your business. And because it involves investing in what and who you have, rather than starting over from scratch, it’s an option that many companies are wholeheartedly embracing.
In its 2022 workplace learning report, LinkedIn Learning found that 46% of L&D leaders said upskilling and reskilling are top priorities.1 A report fromn the Computer and Technology Industry Association told the same story, finding that 7 in 10 HR professionals were placing more emphasis on upskilling and reskilling in the year ahead.2
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Jennifer McClure is an entrepreneur, keynote speaker and high-performance coach as well as a recognized global influencer on the future of work. Get her take on reskilling, upskilling and much more. Watch the full interview below or read on for more.
The challenges of employee retention
The last few years have been characterized by high employee mobility. The Great Resignation saw huge numbers of people who had felt paralyzed by uncertainty suddenly empowered to strive for the careers they’ve always dreamed of – or failing that, for an employer with a more developed company culture and better employee experience.
Employee retention has become a continual challenge, and with so many high-value candidates on the job market, employers are competing on every possible differentiator to acquire the best people. It’s no longer enough to up the ante on benefits packages and perks.
Leading employers are delving deep to create and nurture meaningful and fulfilling places to work that are driven by values, not just profits, the better to recruit people with passions and priorities that connect with those of their future workplace.
Employees are switching companies and exploring options freely, but it’s not simply a case of musical chairs. The vacancies and the skills required to fill them are changing too.
We’ve seen tectonic shifts in the nature of work that have transformed entire employment categories and reduced or even removed others. And while change is a constant, its pace is accelerating all the time. With old models of training and development failing to keep up with the evolving demands of the labor market, skills gaps are a pressing issue.
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The benefits of upskilling your people
So how do you close the skills gap and why should you bother? Here are five benefits to upskilling your employees.
Create boundaries between work and life
Even before COVID-19, skills gaps were a significant concern. In 2019, a Korn Ferry report predicted that the skills gap would cost businesses $8.5 trillion by 2030.
By upskilling staff, you can add new capabilities to your skills mix through your existing employees, who already have the benefit of being fully onboarded and integrated with your company culture.
Retention of employees
Unwanted turnover isn’t just expensive. It’s disruptive to team dynamics and can leave positions unfilled for long periods, adding stress where it’s least needed. Exiting high-value employees may take with them irreplaceable advantages like industry connections and strong relationships with customers.
With a high-quality learning and development program to help upskill your workers, you’re better equipped to keep your star players by challenging and inspiring them to progress within the company.
It’s well-documented that employee engagement confers all kinds of business benefits. But engagement levels dropped in 2021 for the first time in 10 years, leaving only 36% engaged at work. Fortunately, development and training can significantly improve engagement among your employees, as well as giving them more skills and capabilities for their future work.
Savings on recruitment
It costs more to hire a new employee than to keep an existing one. The average cost per hire is nearly $4,700 according to SHRM. But, depending on the circumstances, that could rise to four times the position’s salary.
If your need to take on new staff stems from skills gaps rather than from business growth, upskilling and reskilling may turn out to be a better investment than adding new staff to the fold.
Improved employer brand
When considering a new place to work, employees look at a number of things, from practical details like ease of commute or quality of technology to deeper questions like whether the company values align with their own.
Gallup found that 59% of millennials say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job.3 Offering support for upskilling and reskilling is an attractive feature for prospective employees, as they’ll benefit from personal development and professional qualifications as much as you will.
Take a deeper dive. Watch Jennifer McClure talking about how leader need to get creative when thinking about the skills challenges of the future.
Reskilling and upskilling – what’s the difference?
Upskilling refers to continuous learning that builds on existing skills, with a view to an employee progressing within their current field. It may involve a professional qualification or management training.
Reskilling means equipping an employee to take on a different kind of job that won’t necessarily use their existing specialized skills – although they may carry soft skills across.
Upskilling might be seen as the more traditional form of training and development, since it goes hand in hand with the career ladder model where employees progress on a predefined professional track.
Reskilling, where employees effectively start from scratch in a new team or department, is a more recent development, but by no means a minor one. The World Economic Forum reports that by 2025, 50% of employees will need to be reskilled. PwC’s 2021 research showed that as many as 39% of employees thought their job would be obsolete within 5 years.
A primary driver of these predictions is the advance of technology, which shapes many future of work trends. WE Forum found that tasks which can be automated, such as data entry, bookkeeping and assembly line production in factories, are being given over to software and hardware.
Meanwhile the boom in technology means that there is a stronger skills demand in areas like data analysis, strategy and digital communications.
Career paths are no longer simply set by the job role and hierarchy of the company. They’re much more about working together with employees to find the sweet spot.
5 ways to start upskilling your workforce
So against this changing backdrop, how can you give people the skills they need in the future of work? Here are five ways to upskill workers to get you started.
Assess the skills mix of your workforce and look for potential
Your first task is to find out what skills you have available in the workforce right now, and where those skills might be developed further. Career paths are no longer simply set by the job role and hierarchy of the company. They’re much more about working together with employees to find the sweet spot between their ambitions and aptitudes and your business needs and future predictions.
This requires dialogue with your employees and the ability to appraise their skills from a whole-company perspective, not just within one department. You may have someone working in IT, for example, who would thrive in a sales role.
Look beyond academic credentials
As work and recruitment changes, the college degree is changing in meaning for employers, and may not appear on a job description at all.
A degree may not represent the necessary knowledge for today’s world of work, and requiring a 4-year degree as well as the relevant experience and personal attributes is an additional strain on companies’ ability to attract the right talent.
Harness AI tools
AI tools can help larger organizations sift their talent pool and assess their skills capital quickly and efficiently by scanning employee profiles for relevant keywords. These tools can also help employees communicate their skills and ambitions by updating their profiles and keeping people data current.
AI can also play a role in personalizing development for employees and giving them greater control over their learning. CompTIA’s 2021 report found that 75% of HR leaders expect to increase the tools they use to personalize talent development activities. With suitable technology, learning is more integrated with employee’s day-to-day work and they can access knowledge in a continuous way, as and when they need it.
Identify your star players and work with them on development plans
In years past, the company hierarchy dictated the skills mix in a company as employees hired into a junior role progressed up the career ladder in a predictable way, picking up the required skills and experience as they went.
Today’s fluid and fast-changing landscape means that employee development is personal – and can be defined in an ongoing collaborative way between talented employees and their managers and coaches. This approach factors into engagement too, since it involves meaningful and inclusive conversations between employees and leaders about the future of the business and its strategic priorities.
Develop soft skills
The pandemic has taught us that human resilience is precious and mental health should be proactively supported for everyone. And with automation taking care of an increasing number of routinized manual occupations, it’s the human side – soft skills such as active listening and self-management – that employers are looking to strengthen.
Even in areas where human work is more vital than ever, these soft skills are in demand. In CompTIA’s survey, 41% of HR leaders said their organizations would have a new emphasis on soft skills for IT workers following the pandemic.
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