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5 ways to better upskill your workforce

Today’s employees are smarter and more career-savvy than ever. Individuals are innately aware that they must look out for their own career trajectories, and highly motivated employees are looking to be challenged, engaged, and rewarded for making a long-term commitment to an organization. This is because they know that skills are in-demand, and that organizations are concerned about retention. Additionally, motivated workers know that the next organization is just around the corner, excited to learn more about their skills, and likely looking for more manpower in their workplace.

This has created a situation where organizations, now more than ever, are looking internally and trying to understand how to both engage, retain, and train their people. Engaging employees helps them bring their best to work each day, retaining them helps to retain knowledge, skills, know-how and culture within the workplace, and training helps the organization move towards both financial and long-term goals, as well as provide internal career mobility.

As a result of all these considerations, organizations are investing in upskilling. Unlike reskilling, which you may have also read about, upskilling is about leveling up an employee’s current skill set and helping to move to the next level in their career, whether that’s responsibility, promotion, or another tangible form of growth. Conversely, reskilling involves changing directions when it comes to an employee’s skill set, such as helping them move departments or make a career change.

Upskilling has the potential to engage employees by allowing them to learn more about their job function, an area they are likely already passionate about, and it also retains them because it shows a path towards promotion and career growth. Lastly, reskilling is training, it’s essentially taking the old-school method of “off-site learning” or “training days” and utilizing all the skills in the modern organizational arsenal, such as digital training, mobile learning, and bite-size upskilling opportunities that combine hard and soft skills.

That being said, old habits die hard, and many organizations are still simply placing learning and upskilling opportunities as links in an email, or briefly mentioned in onboarding, easily forgotten, or ignored. What organizations really need is effective and far-reaching upskilling programs.

Here are 5 strategies we have learned that you can use to help better upskill your people.

1. Make Upskilling Empowering and Rewarding

This almost goes without saying, but in order for employees to want to upskill they need to see what’s in it for them. Here are a few considerations:

  • Does it come with career benefits?
  • How will it impact their annual review?
  • Can it be part of their KPI’s or Smart Goals?
  • How will it impact their trajectory at the company?
  • What kind of budget is set aside for them?

For employees to feel empowered and self-serve with upskilling opportunities, they truly need to understand the potential rewards and benefits. When they do, they will see how upskilling can impact their career and feel a sense of pride of going after goals that benefit themselves.

While financial benefits are of course a key consideration, it’s worth sitting down with employees to understand their individual goals and career aspirations within the department and what that looks like. Because upskilling involves more than just hard skills, it’s important to remember that upskilling might include helping to ready someone for a management position, assisting them with leadership training, or providing them with mentorship opportunities.

Upskilling in this way might involve joining a leader-mentor program, attending informational interviews with employees they hope to emulate, or going off-site (or online) to management training sessions. This is also beneficial for the organization as many employees become managers and supervisors without any tangible training, and upskilling prior to the promotion can help smoothen this transition proactively.

2. Management and Decision-Makers Must See Skills as an Investment Not as a Benefit

In addition to employee empowerment, management, from the supervisory to the executive level, needs to deeply understand the value of upskilling as an investment. With the frenetic pace of modern organizations, it becomes all too common for teams to focus on what needs to get out the door today, and which deadlines need to be met now, and focus less on planning for the future. This is what makes implementing upskilling a challenge.

In order to prioritize upskilling and help to keep an innovative and forward-thinking culture within the organization, leaders need to reframe their thinking. Upskilling actually is urgent because it keeps the organization competitive, engaged, and helps to move projects along faster and more efficiently. For instance, consider the time it takes to train a new employee who has just entered the team. Research shows that employees often leave the organization because they do not feel there is room for growth for them in their current position.

Upskilling solves this problem because it accounts for individual need for growth and keeps your people in tune and part of the investment in the future of the company. Ultimately, educational and learning opportunities are not just a benefit for employees, but an investment by the company for the future of the company, and therefore innately of top priority

3. Embrace Micro-Learning Opportunities

Because of the aforementioned “go-go-go” nature and speed that many workplaces operate, it can be a challenge to initiate large chunks of upskilling time. That is, while organizations may prioritize upskilling, it may be in pockets throughout the day. It’s important to understand that this is okay, and actually in many ways better than having large expanses of educational time.

This is because small micro-learning opportunities is how much of today’s workforce is accustomed to learning. Short videos, step-by-step certifications, informational interviews, and learning through cross-functional projects reflects not only how Millennials and Gen Z are familiar with learning, but also how they like to learn. Leading organizations are embracing on-the-go digital learning opportunities as well such as mobile-compatible platforms. For example, think Duolingo, but for tailored upskilling.

If upskilling is considered to be this gargantuan daily or weekly undertaking on top of a packed schedule, it is going to fall by the wayside. Micro-learning provides a low-anxiety means of finding small chunks of time to learn, be re-engaged, and immediately apply new information and knowledge to job functions and in the workplace.

4. Increase Upskilling and Career Mobility Transparency for Your People

Prior to the digital age, much of what happened in other departments at medium-large organizations was fraught with mystery. The average worker did not know what other employees outside of their immediate purview were doing, learning, and what kind of budgets and opportunities they had. But now, the transfer of information is nearly instantaneous, making it impossible for one department to receive preferential treatment or unfair advantages long-term.

This is a good thing. Great upskilling involves increased transparency.

By providing digital platforms that assist with the upskilling process, organizations have an opportunity to demonstrate transparency and consequently build trust with their people. Additionally, your people have an idea of all the opportunities available to them, which opportunities others are taking advantage of, and provide the option to ask peers and colleagues about learning that they are currently doing.

In a small way, this gamifies the process, wherein employees want to learn what others are learning and do not want to be left behind. This activates healthy competition but also empowers them to be active participants in their own careers and success stories. Additionally, it shows them that the company wants the best for all of them, and that they have equity in terms of opportunity to learn and grow.

5. Make Upskilling Personal and Professional

Because upskilling has benefits for the organization as well as the individual, it’s important that this relationship is balanced. That is, employees should not feel that the only reason that the organization is providing them with upskilling opportunities is to increase revenue. Instead, a balance must be sought wherein employees feel that their learning opportunities meet their personal interests and goals as well as take care of the future financial health and market share of the organization.

One way the organization can do this is by making sure to incorporate (and follow up) on personal growth goals just as ardently as professional or revenue-driven employee goals. For example, a sales associate may have minimum or reach requirements in terms of their new business numbers. But that same sales associate may also be interested in understanding business analytics more fully or learning basic data science skills to help forecast and project their revenue pipeline. These are personal goals, for their own career, that may not be directly (or immediately) tied to a promotion. However, they are still very important.

By creating space for personal career enrichment in the workplace, the organization reaps a more diversified, flexible, and mobile workforce. Because the future of organizations is in flux and subject to changes in the market as well as technology, there’s really no concrete predictions as to which skills will have a sudden boost of necessity at work. Having a workplace where people follow the organizational needs, as well as their passions and personal enrichment, allows individuals to re-commit and be useful and engaged within the company in both seen and unforeseen ways.


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