The skills we use in the workplace are “becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate”, according to Deloitte. This is why upskilling is becoming more and more important to today’s workforce.
In this post, we take a look at what upskilling is, who needs to upskill and when, and why upskilling opportunities are so valuable to your employees. We also discuss some of the different ways you can implement upskilling in your organisation.
Let’s get started!
What Is Upskilling?
Upskilling is the process in which people acquire new skills and learn how to apply them, and it usually refers to workplace learning.
It can also be called "reskilling", although reskilling is more focused on learning new skills to replace old ones, for example by gaining digital skills to do the same job as before, but online.
Upskilling can include:
- Someone improving or perfecting a skill they already have so they can do their work at a higher level. For example, an employee who wants to become a junior manager in their company will need to improve their skills so that they can not only do their job well, but help train other members of their team to do so.
- Updating an existing skill or skill set to keep up with changing requirements. For example, employees in highly regulated industries like the legal business have to upgrade their skill sets to keep up with changing regulations.
- Someone learning a completely new skill or skill set. This could either be to take on new challenges or to fill a skills gap so they can keep up with digital development in their industry. For example, teachers all over the world have had to gain new skills and competencies over the last year in order to move their teaching into the digital sphere during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Who Needs to Upskill, and When?
Ideally, everyone should always be upskilling (more on this later). But of course, not every business has the resources for every team member to be able to upskill all the time.
If your organisation has limited learning resources, it makes sense to allocate them to the employees who need or want them the most in the immediate future. This can include:
- People whose skill sets are already dated. For example, workers who have taken breaks from the workforce or who haven't upskilled in a long time might need to upskill urgently in order to keep doing their jobs.
- People whose skill sets become dated the fastest. Some job fields change faster than others. Workers in fast-changing sectors, for example IT, need to upskill more often to keep pace with industry changes.
- People who want to advance in their careers. Some workers are happy in their current positions, but others hope to advance within their company. Someone who is working towards a promotion will need to upskill to show that they can take on a higher position.
There are also a number of specific events or circumstances that call for reskilling. These include:
- Company changes that will affect people’s jobs. For example, if a company decides to replace its call centre with a digital chat function, it will need to upskill its employees to use the new technology.
- Significant regulatory changes. For example, the new regulations arising from Brexit will mean workers in the UK's international trade workforce will need training to update their regulatory knowledge.
- Somebody wanting to change jobs. If a person wants to shift their work into a different role, team, organisation, or industry, they will likely need to reskill in order to do so.
Why Is Upskilling So Important?
As we’ve discussed, the need to upskill is more common in some professions than others, and more urgent under certain circumstances.
However, in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” we are living through, upskilling is rapidly becoming something that is important to every employee, in all companies.
As the pace of digital development continues to increase, the skills we use in the workplace are becoming outdated faster and faster, and employees need to upskill more often in order to keep up with their industries.
In fact, upskilling itself is becoming a valuable skill, as a person's ability to learn new skills, change the way they work, and adapt to new situations is now almost as important as their core professional skills.
Now and in the future, reskilling isn’t just important for helping your business keep pace with its competitors. It’s also key to attracting and retaining employees.
Upskilling opportunities boost retention, as they transform jobs from ways to earn a living to sources of career and personal growth. Even if an employee isn’t looking to develop their career, reskilling opportunities give them the assurance that their skill set won’t be obsolete if they ever leave.
How You Can Upskill Your People
The prospect of constantly upskilling employees may sound daunting, but it’s important to remember that reskilling can happen in a whole host of different ways, many of which we already practise without even realising it.
Here are just a few ways of reskilling employees, and some ideas for how you can implement them.
If you’re unsure of how to identify skills gaps for reskilling purposes, you can check out our guest blog post for Charthop on this topic, or read about how to help craft a career development plan for each of your employees.
When you think of upskilling, traditional learning is probably what you think of first: school, university, industry-specific certifications, and formal workplace training.
Certain people in specific industries will need to upskill via traditional learning or training. For example, people in highly regulated industries such as engineering need to take regular certification courses to remain compliant with current laws. Their companies have to have plans in place to make sure their employees’ training is up to date at all times.
Traditional learning tends to be more regulated than other forms of learning, so it’s often the best option for professionals who need to follow strict industry training standards.
Increasingly, people are upskilling via e-learning, which can include online training courses as well as a host of online multimedia resources.
E-learning is a great solution for flexible and highly individualised learning. Each member of a team can engage with e-learning individually to fill their personal skills gaps on their own schedule.
A certain amount of upskilling also happens automatically in the process of practising a skill or performing a task over and over again until you get really good at it.
For example, we see practice recognised as upskilling when a job posting requires a certain number of years of experience.
However, it’s important to remember that while practice can help people upskill, it’s not a sufficient upskilling method all on its own.
Learning by Doing
Similar to practice, learning by doing involves learning a new skill by performing a new task or set of tasks and figuring out how to do this as you go along.
You can help an individual or team gain this kind of in-field training by assigning them a new task and letting them independently develop the necessary skills in the process of completing it.
People can also upskill by watching a colleague or manager perform certain tasks, and helping them in this process. Traditionally, apprenticeships make use of this method of upskilling.
You can make use of shadow training by pairing one employee with another who they could learn from by shadowing or helping them. Depending on their role, they could shadow the person all the time, or only at certain times, for example during certain tasks.
People can also upskill by sharing knowledge with their colleagues and others in their industry.
A certain amount of this happens on the job as people share best practices and troubleshooting tips with one another, but you can also help your employees by giving them access to formal knowledge-sharing events.
For example, you could set up lunch-and-learn sessions where your employees teach each other new skills, or you could help them find and sign up for industry conferences.
People can also redirect their media consumption into upskilling for work purposes by reading books or articles, watching talks or documentaries, listening to podcasts, and following social media pages related to their work.
You can encourage your employees to do this, or even give them access to paid-for resources like audiobooks or magazine subscriptions.
Upskilling essentially involves growing people’s skillsets, and it should be a regular process that you implement to help your business stay future-ready and give your employees the career development opportunities that so many of them want.
Upskilling can take many forms, and so there are a myriad of ways you can implement it in your organisation.