In today’s digital world, there is a growing demand for skilled employees, across industry domains like manufacturing, retail, and healthcare. To remain competitive, organizations need to address skill gaps in their existing
workforce and create an environment of continuous learning that can boost productivity.
How can organizations address the existing skill gaps? Through continuous upskilling for employees. What is workforce upskilling? And what are the benefits of upskilling employees for small and large employers or companies? Let us discuss this in the following sections.
What is Upskilling?
What is employee upskilling and how is it different from reskilling? First and foremost, upskilling is the practice of upgrading existing workforce skills to the next level. This could mean acquiring new competencies like technology or team-building skills that are necessary for today's business environment. An example of upskilling is an experienced sales executive learning about digital marketing tools and technologies. On its part, upskilling focuses on enabling employees to become more competent at their current job or position.
On the other hand, reskilling is all about employees learning completely new skills or getting trained for a different job. For example, a software testing engineer will require to be reskilled in software development tools for switching to a career in application development or programming.
Essentially, organizations need both upskilling and reskilling practices to improve their workforce skills and remain competitive. Through this long guide, we shall only focus on the upskilling aspect.
Upskilling for Employees
The rapid pace of technological innovation is driving the speed of employee upskilling. According to PWC research, one in three jobs are likely to disappear or be disrupted over the coming decade – because of technology. The World Economic Forum estimates that the cost of upskilling 1.37 million American workers will be around $34 billion.
Why do employees need to upskill? For a start, it is always more expensive to recruit new talent (with the necessary skills) than train the existing workforce. The digital skill gap is being driven by several factors including the following:
The aging and retirement of the current "baby-boomers" generation are creating open positions that are harder to fill (due to limited industry experience).
Rapid digitalization is caused by innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and robotics – that is transforming the way work gets completed (along with the job profile and required skills).
For employers, the digital upskilling of workforce does not simply mean learning about a new device or technology, as they could become obsolete in a year or two. In today’s time, upskilling employees also involves developing a digital mindset that can prosper and sustain over a longer period. This requires a more employee-centric approach towards upskilling – by enabling them to choose what they want to learn or areas where they want to improve.
Why is upskilling important for employees? Let us discuss that next.
Why is Upskilling Important for Employees?
A TalentLMS survey revealed that both employees and employers have a positive outlook about upskilling and reskilling. Following the outbreak of the 2020 global pandemic, over 40% of both employers and employees have stepped up their upskilling/ reskilling efforts. Similarly, a May 2020 report by McKinsey states that companies must start upskilling or reskilling their workforce to emerge stronger from the global pandemic crisis.
8 out of every 10 employees say that digital upskilling has helped them become more productive at their job – while 90% of companies upskilling employees have seen a growth in overall productivity.
For employers, it is now crucial to upskill or reskill their employees to retain them and save the enormous costs of hiring new employees. Upskilling employees is the practical mode of staying competitive in a rapidly changing business industry and maintaining a workforce of creative and motivated employees who are continuously looking to improve their job skills.
Upskilling Benefits for Companies and Employees
What are the benefits of upskilling for both companies and employees? First, let us look at its benefits for corporations or employers:
Improves workforce retention By investing in upskilling, employers do not only increase employee skills but also convey that they are interested in taking their skills to the next level. This reduces employee turnover, as employees always want to engage with companies that are focused on their long-term development.
Attracts new hires Upskilling training programs mean better growth areas for employees, who are likely to recommend the company to other professionals or even friends. This means that the employer will have a larger talent pool to choose from, whenever the need to expand the team arises.
Boosts customer satisfaction Upskilling enables employees to provide improved customer solutions and recommendations, which can ultimately ensure better customer satisfaction. This in turn means more customer engagement, which can translate into more sales and revenue generation for the company.
Next, let us look at a few benefits of continuous upskilling for employees:
Improves work-related confidence Over 80% of employees who have undertaken upskilling training report that it has improved their confidence in performing their daily work. This means improved work productivity along with the confidence of sharing great ideas and suggestions among their team members and peers.
Helps in individual development When it comes to improving employee skills, only 7% of the workforce undertake training that is not relevant to their job. This means that most employees look towards job training as the medium to advance their career prospects and individual skills. Essentially, upskilling gives them the benefit of gaining knowledge that is relevant for their careers.
Improves team management skills Upskilling also works for experienced professionals and team managers. Nearly 75% of employees recommend upskilling training for their managers. On their part, upskilled managers can guide their teams better – and mentor team members to develop leadership skills for the future as well.
How to Develop an Effective Upskilling Strategy for Employees
How can organizations develop an effective upskilling strategy for employees? Let us discuss a few of the proven upskilling techniques that could align with workforce training goals and objectives.
eLearning Online eLearning tools and platforms are an effective mode of workforce training across business functions and industries. On its part, employee training using eLearning is easy to manage and cost-effective. Plus, many eLearning platforms are customized to the needs of specific business sectors. For employees, eLearning offers a convenient mode of upskilling as they can learn at their own pace and time.
Training seminars (or online webinars) Another mode of delivering upskilling-based learning for employees is by giving them time away from the office to attend a training seminar or industry presentation. This can help them gain exposure to the latest industry and technology trends – and network with leading industry experts. In the wake of the 2020 pandemic, online webinars have also gained mainstream acceptance as a form of effective upskilling.
Microlearning Lengthy classroom-type training sessions can be an “information overload” for most employees, resulting in them retaining only a small percentage of the acquired knowledge. Such employees may prefer the convenience of microlearning or bite-sized learning that delivers learning content in shorter modules (lasting between 5-10 minutes). These modules are easier to consume and best for knowledge retention.
No matter which upskilling strategy a company uses, it is not going to be successful unless employees are involved in the decision-making process. Here are a few effective practices a company might need for continuous upskilling:
Training and development opportunities must be available for all employees, and not focused on a few functions or teams. A level-playing field needs to be created by making learning resources accessible for all.
Organizations should try to accommodate various types of learnings including online and classroom-based training. This will motivate most employees to show interest in participating.