The Difference Between Upskilling, Reskilling and New Skilling

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The Difference Between Upskilling, Reskilling and New Skilling

The Difference Between Upskilling, Reskilling and New Skilling

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Have you ever wondered about the difference between upskilling, reskilling and new skilling? Or why these skilling scenarios are so important to both employees and employers?

All three terms sound similar. Before exploring the difference between upskilling, reskilling and new skilling, it’s helpful to know exactly what’s happening in the world of work.

What are the push-and-pull factors that make upskilling and reskilling top priorities for employers?

Upskilling and reskilling both involve the employee acquiring new skills to help address skills gaps within an organization.

These gaps in knowledge and experience are primarily fuelled by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

If it sounds like a movement of epic proportion, that’s because it is. Regardless of size and industry type, every employer is affected by it. Actions previously undertaken by humans are rapidly being replaced by machines.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), by 2025, the time that humans spend on work-based tasks will be significantly less than those spent by machines.

Now, that’s not to say that there will be fewer job opportunities. Quite the opposite. Based on current data, the WEF predicts that emerging professions will grow from 7.8% to 13.5% in the next 10 years.

This means employers will need to invest in an upskill training strategy that is fit for the future.

Upskilling the workforce will become essential to ensure employees have the right skills as large swathes of businesses become digitized.

Putting it into context, the WEF research shows that the most significant skill gaps are critical-thinking, problem-solving and stress tolerance.

To address these shortfalls, employees and employers need to know the difference between upskilling, reskilling and new skilling. They also need to know what to do and when.

What Is Upskilling?

Upskilling is where an employee is taught new skills to help them progress within their role.

The newly acquired competencies include soft and hard skills and usually involve digital upskilling.

The Benefits of Upskilling

Here are some of the benefits of upskilling the workforce:

Keeping Pace With Technology

Technology has pressed the fast-forward button on upskilling the workforce and is one step ahead of the employee. There is always something new to learn, and it affects everyone within an organization.

For example,

A receptionist or administrator already skilled in Microsoft Word, Excel and Access may need to upskill in MS Teams and SharePoint.

Likewise, an HR director might need to acquire people-analytics skills, and a marketing manager may have to become fluent in SEO (search engine optimization).

Every area of a business requires digital upskilling.

Nurturing Internal Talent

Upskilling the workforce has a transformative value.

An employer is not starting from zero as the employee already has a knowledge base. Upskilling the workforce involves building on that foundation to create a stronger business.

A good candidate for upskilling will already have the core soft skills for a role. They just need additional upskill training in hard-skill areas.

For instance,

A human resources executive might know everything about employee legislation. However, they may not know much about applying AI and rich data to gain a granular understanding of employee behavior. Upskilling as a people analyst could broaden their skill set and make their role more valuable.

As an employee, this is a point worth remembering when making your case for upskilling. If your proposed training adds value to the organization, share this fact with your employer.

Retention of Staff

Employers can implement upskill training to increase staff retention. After all, employees are more likely to stay if they feel valued and supported within their role. It’s certainly more cost-effective than recruiting a new employee.

Attracting New Employees

Those employees interested in a job that enables them to progress are far more likely to apply for a position supported by an upskill training program.

This is particularly important for emerging professions that are technology-focused and quick paced.

Those highly sought-after candidates will expect employers to demonstrate their approach to upskilling the workforce with best-practice examples.

Where Do Employers Start With Upskilling the Workforce?

There are several ways an employer can approach upskill training. The strategy will largely be dictated by the organization's setup and its ability to understand each employee.

Generally speaking, there are five core methods for upskilling the workforce:

  • Establish a digital-first learning and development (L&D) program – It is a good idea to make sure that every employee is always upskilling. An established L&D program that places technology at its heart is a great place to start. After all, digital upskilling creates a digital-first, tech-enabled culture. It also fosters collaboration.

  • Job shadowing/swappingMoving employees between teams to learn from each other is another great way of upskilling the workforce. It enables them to upskill on the job under the supportive umbrella of their colleagues.

  • Encourage buddying up – Colleagues who have opposite strengths can be placed together on a project, and in doing so, they acquire each other’s skills. In an organization intent on digitizing the customer roadmap, you will often see a customer service manager ‘buddied-up’ with an IT manager.

  • Outsourcing specialists – Sometimes, the in-house expertise does not exist. If this is the case, you might have to hire a specialist consultant. For example, you could hire a digital expert to coach your people in implementing new software. In this scenario, knowledge transfer (upskilling the workforce) would happen organically as part of the process.

  • Job evolution – This is where an employee’s job specification is widened to include other responsibilities. To perform the expanded role, they undertake upskill training, including any combination of the above.

Remember, nobody in an organization should be irreplaceable. It makes good business sense to upskill and reskill existing employees to take on new responsibilities if someone leaves or retires.

By following the steps above in upskilling the workforce, you’re making an essential investment in the future of your business and employees.

Upskilling, Reskilling and New Skilling
Upskilling, Reskilling and New Skilling

What Is Reskilling?

Reskilling is like upskilling in the sense that employees learn new skills.

The difference, however, is the end goal.

Upskilling is to progress within the same role or department, whereas reskilling involves learning new skills for an entirely different job.

Reskilling is a rapidly evolving entity. In January 2020, the Reskilling Revolution was formed to provide one billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030.

Since then, it reports that COVID-19 has intensified the urgency for businesses to shape-shift and redeploy staff where the need arises.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) estimates that technology will radically transform 1.1 billion jobs in the next 10 years.

The highest growth jobs include customer success specialists, AI specialists, data scientists and people analysts.

Reskilling the workforce is becoming essential.

Reskilling involves the employer identifying an employee who, with the right training, could take on an entirely new role within the company.

The employee has the transferable skills required for the position and acquires additional technical or business knowledge through upskill training.

Deciding Between Upskilling and Reskilling the Workforce

If an employee is happy in their current role, and there is plenty of scope for them to grow and add value, upskill training is best.

However, if an employee is not completely sold on their current career choice or has progressed as far as possible, reskilling could be the better option.

There is, of course, a financial benefit for the employee to consider too.

Reskilling in a specialist area where jobs are in high demand could command a better paycheck and earning potential.

A strong candidate for reskilling will already have some of the essential skills for the new role.

For example, they could be a business manager moving territories and departments. They’ll have the soft skills to manage a team, but they may have to learn a new language or legislation.

In this case, there will be a significant amount of reskilling required.

What Is New Skilling?

Before launching into a definition of new skilling, it’s useful to understand the current pressure for new skills.

In The Future of Jobs report, published in October 2020, 94% of employers said they expect employees to continuously learn new skills.

There was a clear urgency attached to the expectations. Forty percent said their employees would need to gain new skills within the next six months.

So, what does new skilling entail?

With the advent of technology, there is a need for newly emerging skills. Quite simply, employees are continually adapting to a new world and, therefore, the skills they need to perform their roles are always changing.

New skilling is where the employer accepts that new skills are needed for every employee to learn, work and collaborate.

This is not just to progress within a role or to change career direction, but for the greater good of the business.

Therefore, new skilling includes all continuous learning, whether an employee needs help with one or two skills, or must be completely retrained.

If an upskill training strategy runs through every aspect of an organization, you have a new-skilling culture. This culture reduces skill gaps and nurtures high-demand skills. It also keeps outsourcing and talent-acquisition costs to a minimum.

In many ways, new skilling is about futureproofing a business. A new-skilling strategy means continuously assessing the skills needed for the future and nurturing existing ones.

How Do You Achieve a New-Skilling Culture?

One of the main challenges of workplace digitization is that it requires constant upskill training.

But where do employers start? After all, tomorrow’s skills require an intricate blend of technical wizardry to satisfy AI and deep learning.

Therefore, a new-skilling strategy needs to be agile enough to adapt to the digital world. It is crucial to define where your organization is heading and make sure your employee-development goals align with the overall business plan.

From there, you’ll be able to identify the skills needed to grow the business and whether these already exist.

In a top-down culture, line managers typically decide when their employees need upskill training. However, for more agile environments, this alone is often not enough.

Some of the most progressive employers are enabling employees to be much more involved in their personal development.

They invite their people to make suggestions and use people analytics, behavioral and performance software to understand where there may be hidden skills.

In this sense, changes in skilling are owned by everyone. They become an intrinsic part of the company culture with upskilling and reskilling opportunities for all.

Final Thoughts

Today’s employees look to their employer for their future career prospects, and they do so with high expectations.

They expect their employer to know the difference between upskilling, reskilling and new skilling. More importantly, they want to know how they will be supported to add value and progress their career.

It’s important to remember that each employee will have their own motivations. They will want to feel listened to, appreciated and part of the bigger picture.

Therefore, employers must build suitable rewards and employee-recognition programs into their upskilling workforce strategy.

After all, motivated employees deliver far better results and inspire future employees to do the same.


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