Upskilling — training workers so that they can fill more advanced roles in an organization — is gaining increased interest from companies, driven in part by today’s tight talent market. Whether it’s a shortage of workers or an increased demand for people with the specific skills needed, employers are taking it into their own hands to create the talent pools they need.
A 2019 Allegis Group Cultivating Skills survey of human resources decision-makers found that employers are increasingly viewing employee skills development as the employers’ responsibility:
A comprehensive training strategy can help employers in three ways: by filling their current need for skilled employees and preparing workers for future demands while boosting retention by satisfying employee demand for growth opportunities:
One way that companies are upskilling current employees is through what labor experts call “skill adjacencies,” essentially diagnosing a person’s present skills and identifying promising careers that offer higher wages or growth in demand while requiring minimal investments of time and money in retraining, according to the Wall Street Journal.
To do this, a 2020 Gartner white paper notes, companies identify candidates who might not have the required “role experience” but have the skills that allow them to more quickly upskill toward the skills required for a given role.
This shows that employers are taking a proactive approach to creating the skills they need by investing in their current employees. By doing this, they create value in several ways — they can prioritize the exact skills they need and set a quick pace for training, they demonstrate their appreciation for current employees and they help fulfill the company’s potential for growth.
Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 investment of $700 million to retrain 100,000 employees — a third of its U.S. workforce — in new technologies is the latest reminder that the world of work will be very different just a few years from now.
Workers increasingly need skills in working with automated systems or functions. And whether it’s bots or automated billing systems, workers must be comfortable with these platforms and functions. More jobs than ever need digital skills. In order to avoid a digital skill divide, employees need to learn new skills in order to progress or even keep their jobs.
It’s a “build, not buy” strategy; the process of preparing workers for jobs that require technical skills along with creativity, interpersonal skills, adaptability and the capacity to continue learning.
Career development — learning, development and advancement opportunities that are provided to employees on a systematic basis — has been found to be a significant driver of employee engagement. “Career development isn’t an occasional training class or periodical promotions but, rather, the daily journey of learning, job skills and networking that puts employees on the course they most want to travel in their career.”
According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn. And employers are listening: 82% of learning and development professionals say that their executives actively support employee engagement in professional learning.
How you proceed with upskilling depends on a number of factors, including the skills needed and your training budget. There are third-party companies that specialize in providing digital skills training. If the skills needed are geared more to internal processes and knowledge transfer, consider lunch and learn opportunities, mentoring/coaching programs or job shadowing.
Don’t forget that a consideration of the costs should take into account more than just the training cost per employee; retention, engagement and attracting quality hires are all part of the ROI of training. Organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development, Gallup finds, report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees.
Too many employers believe they're in a Catch-22 when it comes to upskilling employees. The cost seems prohibitive, but the price paid for untrained workers may be higher, notes HR Dive. Without training, “companies will face employee turnover, recruitment challenges, lost productivity, lost sales, loss of staff to competitors and lack of innovation.” Investing in employee training is the right thing to do, and with the current labor market, it’s the right time to do it.