Updated 17 October 2019
When discussed in the context of an organisation's learning and development strategy, upskilling and reskilling refer to the educational opportunities offered by a business to its employees.
While the two words are often used interchangeably, there is a significant difference in their definitions.
Although mainly associated with advancements in technology, upskilling and reskilling are also vital for the continued development of valuable soft skills.
In today’s ever-evolving and highly competitive business environment, these are critical components of an effective business strategy.
Upskilling and reskilling should deliver a valuable return on investment.
By promoting continued learning and development as part of its company culture, a business can boost employee job satisfaction, remain competitive and increase its bottom line by bringing out the full potential of an existing workforce.
There are also several factors associated with emerging workplace trends that drive home the importance of upskilling at work:
Continued learning plays a significant role in job satisfaction, particularly among the younger generations. Workers now look to employers to provide training and development and are likely to move on if this is not available.
Providing plenty of opportunities for upskilling at work means employers are far more likely to hold on to and attract further top talent.
The need for technical proficiency is no longer confined to the IT department. Digital technologies have entered every area of business operation and, to be used effectively, they require employees to have relevant knowledge and capabilities.
The new generations entering the workforce (namely millennials and Generation Z) typically bring these digital talents to the table. It’s therefore crucial to upskill existing older employees – with potentially more industry expertise – to avoid any adverse effects resulting from a sense of redundancy.
As technology becomes more prevalent in the workplace, focusing on employee soft skills has never been more important. With businesses increasingly reliant on automation and algorithms, key abilities such as communication, problem solving, networking and critical thinking can suffer.
Technology can only take a business so far. Employers that neglect upskilling interpersonal skills and analytical capabilities will often find themselves outdone by their competition.
An increasingly competitive marketplace means more businesses are tightening their budgets. Filling a skills gap through new hires or temporary contract workers may seem like a sensible option but it is costly and, when combined with the time delays associated with recruitment, is more often than not a false economy.
Whilst upskilling and reskilling also require investments of both time and money, there is no onboarding involved. The skills gained remain a permanent fixture of the company, often leading to cost savings in the long run.
While younger generations are comfortable in a technology-led workplace, they may lack important soft skills and industry expertise. Experienced employees with valuable knowledge may find their skills increasingly redundant. This can lead to a lack of engagement from both sides.
By designing an upskilling strategy that encourages continuous learning through collaboration, employers can benefit from the combined talents of their workforce and ensure all employees feel relevant in, and engaged with, the company culture.
The benefits of upskilling and reskilling are many, but they will only be achieved through a carefully considered strategy designed around business objectives and skills deficiencies.
To identify these, a company must carry out a process referred to as a skills gap analysis.
A skills gap analysis is the process whereby a business looks to identify the gap between the skills it needs for its continued growth and success, and the skills offered by its current workforce.
Typically, the process is conducted on one of two levels:
Existing skills can be determined through employee interviews, performance reviews or assessments.
Future skills can be identified through consideration of business goals and objectives, and what is required to achieve them.
A skills gap analysis can be conducted internally or by an external consultant – the latter bringing the benefit of specialist expertise and objectivity.
A comprehensive skills gap analysis brings many business benefits, among them:
Not least, a skills gap analysis is crucial in informing a successful upskilling strategy, helping to highlight skill deficiencies, required training and the best methods of delivery.
The following upskilling examples offer some methods for continued learning and development in the workplace. The most effective upskilling strategies will incorporate several techniques that make the most of existing internal skills and external resources.
Each business must align their methods with their business objectives and requirements. Also, remember to consider different learning styles and balance these against individual employee needs.
The most cost-effective method of upskilling at work is to simply increase the level of responsibility or diversify the workload of any given employee.
This is best achieved by asking senior staff to act as mentors, or by bringing separate departments together to work collaboratively.
Upskilling through on-the-job training allows employees to expand their skill set in line with the needs of the business. It promotes a learning environment that makes the best use of internal skills already at your disposal.
Dependent on your area of business, there is likely a professional body that offers educational courses and industry-recognised qualifications that can enhance the existing skills of your employees.
You could also consider providing additional training in areas such as digital marketing or business management.
There is value to be gained in the credibility of a recognised qualification. Employees that have completed these courses can also bring their knowledge back into the workplace and share their skills with their colleagues.
If you’re looking to upskill employees with minimum disruption to the workplace, online learning tools offer a flexible and cost-effective upskilling strategy.
There are accredited online learning providers for almost every business sector and discipline, offering structured programmes leading to recognised qualifications.
Employees can study at their own pace from their desk, eliminating travel costs and time spent away from the office.
You could also consider compiling your own e-learning programme of curated webinars, podcasts and TED talks. This is a far cheaper option as many of these resources can be accessed free of charge.
Allowing employees time away from the office to attend relevant seminars and events is another popular upskilling strategy.
Most industry events will have educational sessions led by sector experts and these can prove highly valuable to employees.
As well as gaining exposure to business trends and developments and learning from sector leaders, they will also have the chance to network, exchanging ideas and information with their industry peers.
Group sessions held on-site and led by external training providers are a great way of upskilling workforce soft skills.
Additionally, there are a host of specialist trainers that can upskill your workforce in specific soft skills such as public speaking, creativity and presentation techniques.
Employers are also looking increasingly toward training providers of mindfulness and stress management – vital skills that should not be overlooked in a demanding workplace.
Another cost-effective method of upskilling at work is to have staff teach each other through internal training days. Consider asking department heads to compile educational presentations and set tasks for other teams.
This can prove an effective method for small companies that often need a multiskilled workforce capable of crossing department disciplines.
Continued learning and development in the workplace has always been vital for businesses to grow and succeed. A stagnant workforce that does not move with the times will inevitably find itself lacking in the skills necessary to advance in the marketplace.
In addition, technological advancements and the changing expectations of employees mean that a business that fails to implement an effective upskilling strategy will struggle to attract and retain top talent, dramatically falling behind its competition.
The most successful businesses continually evaluate future needs against current capabilities, developing training opportunities that ensure the continued development of employees as well as company growth.
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