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What is upskilling and why is it key for the future of work?

In the era of quitting contagions and the Great Resignation, companies are taking proactive measures and investing in upskilling as a strategy for keeping their workforce engaged and intact, reports Inc.

A survey including 1,000 US workers, released in August 2021, found that 90% of respondents considered strong training and upskilling programs an important quality for future employers to have. For tech workers, that figure sits at 98%. The truth is most people enjoy learning. New skills and knowledge allow employees to do their jobs better, and companies benefit as a result.

What is upskilling?

In the micro context, upskilling refers to the process of individual employees learning new skills. But on a macro level, it describes a momentous shift in the workplace caused by technology. When talking about upskilling, most think about the process of preparing an entire company or industry for new positions and opportunities.

Technology has created new possibilities for companies. However, they can only be fully realized by a modernized workforce. That means people (and companies as a whole) must learn new skills and competencies required for evolving needs and jobs.

Unlike reskilling, which involves learning new skills for a completely different job, upskilling primarily focuses on helping people become more skilled and relevant in their current positions.

Why is upskilling being recognized now?

The short answer to that question is technology and the digital transformation. The digital economy, supported by rapid advances in technology, is reimagining the company-client dynamic. Technology is helping companies spend less time on things that take away from the client’s experience. It allows them to do more with less for the benefit of customers, employees and shareholders.

Take Office Control as an example. This software is specifically designed to automate and simplify the repetitive tasks that eat up valuable time. Using this tool, management can spend more time focusing on the things that really matter to their clients or to staff.

Due to these types of tools, some traditional roles, or at least parts of them, are disappearing. Job roles are shifting faster than ever. But that doesn’t mean people are losing them. Rather, with some new training, they end up becoming stronger, more competitive employees.

Upskilling is largely positive because:

  • Employees expect growth opportunities throughout their careers
  • Upskilling boosts employee satisfaction and interest
  • It can boost motivation and performance
  • It helps companies stay competitive
  • It may slow or reduce employee turnover
  • It lessens the need to recruit contractors to cover skill gaps

What’s involved?

Upskilling requires people to learn new skills – but it also involves a cultural shift and change in the way management plans and thinks. To be competitive in the digital age, everyone needs to adopt a “learning-for-life” mindset. Furthermore, we all need to get more comfortable with the idea of collaborating with machines and technology.

Bridging the gap

Currently, there is a gap between vacant positions requiring new skills and candidates who are qualified to fill them. This is referred to as a skill gap. A survey conducted by Career Builder found that nearly 60% of U.S. employers had job openings that remained vacant for 12 weeks or longer. HR managers estimate that extended job vacancies cost a company more than $800,000 annually!

The good news is that companies are taking steps to bridge the gap. Many are taking the time to identify the specific competencies required for jobs yet to be created, and investing in their staff accordingly. It is a crucial investment in the future of the workforce, and customer relationships.

Identify the knowledge gaps

Every company is different, which means your company’s knowledge strengths and weaknesses will be different than your competitors’. The first step for successful upskilling is to identify skill shortcomings. With some training, your employees may be able to fill in the gaps and prepare themselves for new challenges and opportunities.

Continuous training

Upskilling is a process, not a one-time event. That means there is room to try multiple approaches and strategies, and it’s probably best to give staff choices. After all, not everyone learns the same way.

Many companies have found success through asking senior employees to act as mentors, or by bringing separate departments together to engage in peer-to-peer mentoring and training. In addition to mentoring, upskilling may involve:

  • Virtual learning
  • Seminars
  • Continuing education courses
  • Training sessions

Ideally, plans will be tailored to the individual who is working on upgrading their skills. Some plans will be more intense than others depending on the employee’s current skills and the role that needs to be filled.

Providing access to self-paced educational resources can help workers keep their skills sharp without having to devote hours of overtime to work. Allowing employees to take time away from the office to attend relevant seminars or participate in a webinar is another successful upskilling strategy. In addition to gaining exposure to industry trends and learning from industry leaders, they will also have the chance to network.

Upskilling gives your company a competitive advantage. And it’s not just because your staff continue to acquire knowledge and skills. Upskilling can stave off boredom. Employees will actually use their newly formed skills in different roles, which keeps them interested and keeps your company moving forward.

Costs

Upskilling is a much smaller investment than hiring and training new employees, but it’s an investment nonetheless.

Some companies may ask staff to cover part of the costs for upskilling. However, if possible, employers are encouraged to offer financial incentives such as educational rebates, increased development and training budgets, and employee grants to attend training and conferences. Costs can discourage your best staff from upgrading their skills if the expense is too steep.

Furthermore, it generally costs more to replace an employee than pay for an educational course. According to a report published by Gallup, the cost of replacing just one employee can range from one and a half to two times the employee’s annual salary. The annual overall turnover rate in the U.S. in 2017 was 26.3%, based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, an organization made of 100 people that provides an average salary of $50,000 could have turnover and replacement costs of $660,000 to $2.6 million per year. Instead of losing money and staff, companies should consider taking proactive steps to grow the organization and the future of their current team.

Conclusion

Upskilling is key for the future of workplace growth and staff retention. There is strong evidence to support the idea that companies that focus on upskilling right now will emerge stronger from the pandemic.

Upskilling current staff members is a crucial practice to retain staff and save external hiring costs. It gives companies a competitive advantage, and keeps your best people engaged. It’s up to the individual company to identify the skills it will need in the future, and the roles it is currently missing. Once that has been determined, the business can make plans to train the right people.

Companies should keep in mind that technology will play an increasingly important role in the workforce. They must be prepared to work with software and tech solutions so that they can free up more time to focus on what really matters.