The Importance of Upskilling Employees (+Benefits, Examples)
Evolving technologies are radically disrupting the job market. Keeping up with the pace of digital transformation is a significant employee training challenge for every organization, as technology not only brings powerful business opportunities but also creates challenges and skill gaps for the current workforce.
A report by Gartner HR Research found that 58% of the current workforce will need new skill sets to do their jobs successfully in the future.
To address the growing skills gap, companies must embark on an upskilling revolution that empowers employees to train across departments, learn new skills, equip themselves with fresh and exciting capabilities, and stay ahead of the competition.
What is Upskilling?
Upskilling is the process of learning new skills and acquiring relevant competencies needed for today’s work environment as well as for the near future. It focuses on improving employees’ skill sets, usually through continuous employee training programs, to help them advance in their jobs and find more opportunities within the company in the future. To be competitive in the digital age, employees need to have a learning-for-life mindset and a willingness to acquire new competencies required by the fast-paced marketplace.
Upskilling vs. Reskilling
Both reskilling and upskilling enable employees to bridge the skill gap and develop the relevant skills they need to remain competitive in the workplace. Each of these terms has its benefits and ideal use cases, but when is the right time to use upskilling, and when should you attempt reskilling? Let’s understand by looking at the key differences between the two.
Upskilling requires employees to learn new information and skills, but not to take on a new role. It simply provides employees with the tools and knowledge needed to perform their current job more effectively and efficiently.
On the other hand, reskilling is when employees develop new skills to take on a new job function within their organization. It is suitable for employees whose current skillset overlaps with the skills needed for a new position. For example, a data entry specialist with strong technical skills can be reskilled into a data analyst role.
Upskilling is implemented in situations such as:
- Helping employees succeed in their current job.
- Helping the workforce adapt to new changes in the industry.
- New software implementations.
- Helping the workforce remain confident and knowledgeable in their field of expertise – even if that field changes and develops.
Reskilling is implemented in situations such as:
- Retaining reliable, high-performing employees whose roles have become obsolete.
- Retaining a pool of employees whose original job function with your organization is no longer needed due to the sunsetting of legacy software.
- Retaining your current employees while implementing a business strategy that shifts personnel from one department to another.
The Need for Upskilling for the Digital Age
Here is why employees need to consider upskilling for a digital age:
1. Machines may be coming for your job
According to a report, one in three jobs are likely to be disrupted in the next decade because of technological changes happening each day.
Many highly-skilled roles, such as tax consultants, marketers, financial traders involve repetitive tasks that can be easily automated to save time and money. Companies are already adopting new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve the best, cost-effective outcomes of their processes.
However, the good news is that digital technologies are not here to automate entire job functions, but only certain, manual tasks of a job. In the future, process-oriented tasks will mostly be performed by machines, while tasks that need a human brain such as analysis, problem-solving, or social skills will still be performed by humans. For humans to work side-by-side with AI and other digital technologies, it is important for them to upskill and prepare themselves well in advance for the future ways of working.
2. Digital skills are vital for employees
Tech companies, and indeed all organizations in the digital economy, are coming to realize that digital skills are essential for employees in the digital era. Skills such as AI, ML, data science, business analysis, programming and development, data visualization, digital marketing, and cyber security are in high demand and will continue to be in the future.
Upskilling to the most in-demand skillsets will help employees better adapt to change within the business, and maintain job security even if restructuring becomes a necessity for their company.
3. Future proof your career
The advancement of technology come with evolving job roles and continuously evolving business processes. This makes it a necessity for employees to upskill themselves in order to keep up with the fast-paced changes in technologies in order to future-proof their careers and explore more opportunities or job roles to stay ahead in the game.
The Benefits of Upskilling for Employers
Organizations are continuously transforming their workforces to drive productivity, digital innovation, and growth – and employee upskilling is key to this transformation.
Let’s discuss a few most critical benefits of upskilling:
1. Increased Employee Retention
Ensuring high levels of employee satisfaction across your business is crucial for maintaining high employee performance and low turnover rates.
According to a study by Willis Towers Watson, 70% of “high-retention-risk” employees want to leave because they see no future advancement in their current job”.
To ensure high employee satisfaction, organizations must make employees feel valued. Upskilling is a great way to show your employees that you care about their progression and make them feel there’s something ‘in it for them’, which, in turn, boosts employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention rates within an organization.
2. Saves time, money, and energy
The top talent you’re looking for externally might already exist internally. Before posting that vacant position, consider internal mobility first by upskilling or reskilling your current employees.
Upskilling is a smart move compared to external hiring because hiring costs more than retaining an existing employee who could easily fit that open role. Hiring from within also ensures that organizations are hiring someone they know, they can trust, and that has previously shown they are a skilled employee. Not to mention, it takes a lot of time, effort, and planning to recruit and train new hires.
3. Attracts new talent
When companies demonstrate a commitment to employee development and career progression, employees feel valued and become the strongest brand advocates for your business. This means they’re more likely to recommend your organization to their network of friends, ex-colleagues, and family members. This gives you a wide pool of diverse talent to choose from when it’s time to expand your team. It also means they’re dedicated to making a company grow, hit its goals, and be overall successful.
4. Boosts morale
Teams with various learning and development opportunities have higher workplace morale. Continuous learning and upskilling opportunities not only provide comfort in the working environment, but also encourage employees to feel happier, satisfied, and motivated in their roles. This promotes internal satisfactional, and results in your employees having a more positive outlook on their future within the company.
The Benefits of Upskilling for Employees
Upskilling not only benefits the employer, but also the employee. Here are a few of the biggest employee-centric benefits of upskilling.
1. Negotiate a Raise
Upskilling not only benefits the employer, but also the employee. Here are a few of the biggest employee-centric benefits of upskilling.
2. Career Change
Another benefit of upskilling is it allows you to make a career change. Your newly acquired skills can help you land a promotion or get a similar job at a new company.
3. Improve Yourself
Upskilling helps you improve yourself. Learning has the ability to add meaning to our lives and help us reach personal and professional fulfillment.
How to Develop an Upskilling strategy for Your Workforce
Anticipating the right skills for the future, developing effective training programs, and building a culture of continuous learning and development with the right edtech enables organizations to successfully upskill their workforce for the digital era.
Here are a few steps to help you plan effective upskilling for your workforce:
1. Conduct a Skill Gap Analysis
A skills gap analysis is an assessment conducted by HR teams to determine whether or not their workforce’s current skills meet the overall needs of the company. A skill gap analysis, as an output, gives you a list of skills employees already have, need to improve, and need to develop.
From there, you can fill in the skill gap using online courses and training programs to upskill your workforce and build a team of skilled workers that are able to meet your overall company’s objectives.
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2. Build Upskilling into Your Employee Development Plans
To get employees onboard with the idea of upskilling, organizations need to emphasize the importance of upskilling for the future progression of employees’ careers. This can be done by building certain skills into an employee’s annual goals and learning objectives.
Align your employee development plans with future workplace skills that support the overall company’s objectives as well as meet every employee’s unique development needs (identified by skill gap analysis). These development plans will empower your employees to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient and productive in their role and be prepared for the future by equipping themselves with desired workplace skills, as well as allowing organizations to enhance their bottom-line results.
Remember, any goals you set for employees should be specific, obtainable yet challenging, and time-bound. For instance, a goal could be: every employee in the sales department becomes proficient in two critical future skills within a period of 6 months.
3. Choose Your Employee Training Method(s)
There are different learning styles for different people – some are visual learners, some need hands-on experience, some require an instructor to guide them, etc. To find an employee training method that works best for your workforce, L&D teams need to understand their employees’ learning styles and consider other affecting factors such as their training objectives, goals, cost, and timeline.
Some of the most effective employee training methods are
- On-the-Job Training
- Instructor-Led Learning
- Simulation Training
- Group Activities
- Video Training
- Cross Training
- Job Shadowing
- Case Studies
4. Utilize Technology
Leverage employee training software to deliver effective upskilling programs. These software tools allow you to create engaging training modules, ensure compliance and security, track employee engagement, analyze performance, and gather feedback. Let’s have a look at the two most popular learning and training software:
- Learning Management System (LMS): A corporate LMS handles all aspects of employee training – from creating to delivering to tracking the training material. It helps identify and assess both individual and organizational learning goals, track employee progress towards meeting those goals and collect data for improving the learning process.
- Digital Adoption Platform (DAP): A training software that integrates with different enterprise applications to help users learn in the flow of work. DAP creates a contextual task list containing interactive walkthroughs, videos, and self-help menus for users to guide them through every aspect of an application. Using DAPs as your training software empowers employees to upskill themselves on the latest tools, applications, or processes without disrupting their workflow and productivity.
5. Follow Up and Track Progress
The last step is to evaluate the entire upskilling program to determine if it was successful and met its objectives. As mentioned earlier, employee training software allows you to measure the effectiveness of your training and development programs. Monitoring KPIs such as course completion rates, training progression rates, assessment scores, lowering skill gap analysis, improving proficiency or productivity, etc. helps determine training effectiveness and knowledge or skill acquisition by the end of your upskilling program.
Consider using the following metrics to measure your training effectiveness:
- Employee feedback: Post-training employee feedback helps determine whether or not the training helped your employees learn new skills.
- Assessments: Tests, quizzes or demonstrations help evaluate the skills, knowledge, and learnings gained by employees after the upskilling training programs.
- Post-training job proficiency: Observe your employees to figure out whether or not they’re using the newly gained skills in their day-to-day tasks.
6 Ways to Upskill Your Workforce
There are various ways to upskill your workforce. You can pick and choose the most appropriate one depending on your organization’s needs (based on a skills gap analysis).
Allow employees to cross-train in other roles that require skillsets similar to their current job. Cross-training allows your employees to learn on the job and refine their skills, laying the groundwork for future mobility into evolving roles.
For instance, an account manager who demonstrates customer interaction skills could cross-train as a customer success manager. The role calls on similar skills but takes them to the next level. Then, that employee can bring enhanced customer success skills back to benefit their team and can also look for an opportunity to switch in the future.
2. In-App Guidance in the Flow of Work
In-app guidance is another upskilling method useful for new technology adoption. It provides a combination of resources, such as interactive walkthroughs, tooltips, self-help widgets, etc., that assist users in adopting new software or product. In-app guidance enables learning in the flow of work by providing new users direction and tools to get contextual answers to their questions in the moment of need.
Whatfix is one such solution that specializes in helping businesses drive digital adoption and create a seamless training experience for users. It provides step-by-step instructions for key workflows. Users see these instructions as they follow the steps of a guided tour, learning about processes as they work.
3. Job Rotation
Job rotation is the practice of moving employees between jobs with the goal of transferring specific skills, knowledge, and competencies. These rotations are temporary and mostly lateral, meaning they take place between jobs on the same level.
4. Peer-to-Peer Learning
Peer-to-peer learning is where two or more colleagues work together to share, expand, refine, and build new skill sets. This type of learning allows employees to work through new concepts and share ideas with their peers working on the same project. The opportunity to teach and be taught by one another is an effective way for organizations to grow stronger employees with multiple skillsets, who work together productively.
What’s attractive about this form of upskilling is that it is informal and allows employees to build connections, ask questions without feeling hesitant, and learn by watching their peers.
When you do not have the in-house capacity to provide upskilling opportunities for people, you can hire freelance specialists or contractors. These people can bring the exact skills, competencies, and experience you need to get started on a new project.
Another way to encourage upskilling is by encouraging self-learning. Managers can encourage their employees to forge their own learning paths by removing barriers and building incentives. Some ways to encourage self-training are by:
- allocating paid training time
- rewarding employees who upskill in their own time
- allowing employees the flexibility to attend workshops and seminars during work hours.
- providing curated lists of relevant resources, such as YouTube videos, podcasts, online articles, etc., for employees to learn.
4 Examples of Corporate Upskilling Programs in 2023
To understand how to set up an upskilling program for your organization, here are four real-life examples of companies upskilling their workforce in 2023 to draw inspiration from:
In September 2021, Amazon committed $1.2 billion to provide 300,000 employees with access to education and skills training programs through 2025 as part of Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 pledge.
Through the Upskilling 2025 program, Amazon is focused on creating pathways to careers in future growing areas. Amazon continues to launch new training opportunities and expand on existing programs for employees across the U.S., including
- AWS Grow Our Own Talent: on-the-job training and job placement opportunities to Amazon employees and entry-level candidates with non-traditional backgrounds.
- Surge2IT: help entry-level IT employees across Amazon’s operations network pursue careers in higher-paying technical roles through self-paced learning resources.
- The UXDR Apprenticeship program: combines instructor-led training and real-world experience to offer employees the opportunity to learn and develop skills in research and design.
- Mechatronics and Robotics Apprenticeship Program: learn skills and technical knowledge to fulfill technical maintenance roles.
IBM made a global plan to provide 30 million people of all ages with new skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow by 2030. To achieve this goal, IBM announced a clear roadmap with more than 170 academic and industry partnerships. The plan relies on a broad combination of programs, and includes collaborations with universities, key government entities, and NGOs. In general, IBM’s efforts mobilize the private sector across the globe to open and expand opportunity pathways for underrepresented and historically disadvantaged communities.
AT&T’s Future-Ready Initiative focuses on personalized skills development paths. The initiative focuses on collaborations with online education platforms to offer employees online learning opportunities. It includes personalized learning experiences in a career portal that helps employees plan their future and identify skills they need to learn.
In order to remain competitive, Mastercard wanted to create a learning culture that would encourage its employees to build new skills. They decided to use Degreed as a platform that offers personalized learning experiences, creates career pathways, and helps employees connect to the content relevant to them. There’s a breadth of content available on Degreed, including ‘bite-sized’ learning in the form of short articles, videos, and podcasts. This makes it easy for employees to engage with learning on the go.
The importance of upskilling the skills of your current employees cannot be overemphasized if you want to ensure the success of your business. If you build trust in your workforce and commit to keep their skills relevant and applicable within your business, employees will stay and grow with your company to give you impressive results in terms of retention, revenue, and profitability.
Companies invest in new technologies to improve business processes and save time and money. However, if your employees are wasting too much time learning about those new technologies, then you might end up getting a very less return on your investment. Not to mention, employees are resistant to new technology when you’ve not created a culture of constant learning and innovation.
Whatfix DAP integrates with your new technologies to show employees how to use a technology to its full potential and produce better business results. DAPs break the resistance barriers by training your employees with interactive walkthroughs, giving them better access to information through Self Help, and guiding them through processes when they need help.
Intrigued to learn more? Book a free trial with us today to see how Whatfix can help build effective upskilling programs for your employees.