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Upskilling is just a fancy way of saying “learning new skills.” Upskilling is especially relevant to the job market right now because it’s essential to maintain flexibility during difficult times and retain workers in a competitive job market. But business owners and HR professionals are also learning how to upskill employees to grow the business and maintain a competitive advantage.
Upskilling has been a big focus for employers and HR teams for quite some time. The digital transformation of business is changing jobs at a rapid pace. Studies done by PwC in 2019 and 2021 found that 79% of CEOs are concerned about employees’ lack of essential skills as a threat to growth and 39% of employees think their job will be obsolete in five years.
The need for upskilling is caused by a skills gap. Skills gaps occur when your current workforce’s skill set doesn’t align with the skills they need to perform their jobs. This happens when new technologies require specific abilities that formal education may not teach and labor markets don’t supply.
For example, workers who were previously doing data entry, now have a tool that automates this process and instead are responsible for data analysis. But you can see how this creates a significant shift in the skills they need to complete their job.
If employers can’t close skills gaps and properly upskill their workers, they risk low employee morale, job loss, and ultimately an inability to grow the business. But if you can upskill successfully, the benefits are significant.
The two major benefits you can expect from upskilling your employees are better retention rates and improved productivity.
Most workers want growth opportunities, particularly Millennials. A report by Gallup found 87% of Millennials said job development was important to them. But to get where they want, this generation will need to learn new skills to take over leadership roles.
Upskilling usually requires a training and development program. Workers who make the most of their training and development know they can learn the skills to earn better pay. So if positioned well, your need to upskill can also be a retention and recruiting tool.
If employees have the skills they need to complete their job, it makes it easier and faster for them to complete tasks. And the feeling of competency and accomplishment usually leads to better performance. A study by MIT Sloan School of Management found a workforce training program focused on the development of soft skills delivered a 250% return on investment (ROI). That’s a higher ROI than most platforms and technology. If you weren’t sold on the need for upskilling, you should be by now. But recognizing why you should focus on upskilling is more obvious than actually doing it.
We’ve alluded to the fact that upskilling will require a training and development program. But that will only be one step in closing skill gaps. To create a sustainable method for ongoing upskilling, you have to start with your company culture.
Upskilling is an ongoing effort. To continue strategies that promote upskilling, a company has to create a culture that is open to teaching and learning new skills. Your team members should be open and willing to share their knowledge and teach others. Without knowledge sharing, upskilling is more challenging.
To get knowledge sharing, companies must base hiring decisions on hard skills and soft skills. Soft skills—like critical thinking, problem-solving, and flexibility—are the ones that allow employees to excel at learning on the job. The employees who can do this are the ones you want to hire and retain, as they’ll be able to teach others and support your upskilling programs.
As mentioned, to upskill you have to close skills gaps that currently exist, but also that could exist in the future. In other words, hire for skills that will be in highest demand in a few years. A few ways to identify and stay on top of skills gaps:
Once you identify the skills your workforce needs today and in the future, you can create a plan to upskill employees. To upskill through hiring, start with job descriptions. Job descriptions should include the technical skills needed to perform the job and the soft skills needed to learn new skills. To identify whether candidates have the abilities you’re looking for, assign homework or a skills test in the interview process.
On the other hand, to upskill your existing workforce, create a training and development program. Keep in mind a training program should:
Last, reward your employees who go through your training and development program. Upskilling is a long road and lengthy process for everyone involved. But rewarding employees for their progress is important to recognize their work and retain skilled workers. To learn more about how to reward your employees, download the guide below.