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Future-proof your team by building an effective upskilling program

Posted by Neha De

February 11, 2022

A major skills crisis is affecting the industrialized world. The extreme effects of technological progress on the world economy, coupled with demographic change and globalization, have led to a pressing problem for society: how to equip workers with the skills they need to participate in the economy, now and in the future. 

Some 58% of workers require new skills to do their jobs successfully, according to a Gartner survey. Meanwhile, 90% of leaders in McKinsey’s Beyond hiring: How companies are reskilling to address talent gaps said their companies are either dealing with skills gaps or anticipating them to emerge by 2025

​​The growing awareness of the workforce skills gap has led to increasing interest in upskilling. Many business leaders now see the intrinsic value of upskilling their workforce, with the McKinsey report noting most respondents said their companies had deemed fixing the skills gap a priority.

CEOs who have already taken on the challenge of upskilling were found to be “realising the rewards, such as a stronger corporate culture, greater innovation and higher workforce productivity” in PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey.

In light of this, The World Economic Forum has identified a critical need for reskilling and upskilling of the workforce. In a report about the economic imperative of upskilling, the agency wrote: “There is an enormous opportunity to reconfigure the world of work at this critical juncture and embark on an upskilling revolution that will give people across the world the ability to participate fully in the future of work, whatever that might be.”   

The WEF report also details the advantages of upskilling at scale, writing that: “[t]he benefits to society of upskilling at scale will be visible in the well-being of the generations who will be able to participate in the economy and find meaning in the work they do throughout their lives.”

Why upskilling is a business imperative for today’s workforce

Upskilling enables businesses to build a future-ready workforce, and it is also one the best ways for workers to keep their skills relevant and stay future-ready themselves. Check out these five reasons why upskilling is important for your company:

1. Improves employee retention – Research from Gallup shows that “hope for career growth opportunities is the No. 1 reason people change jobs today.” Offering employees an avenue to new skills and career growth within your organization can boost engagement and retention.

2. Leads to higher cost savings – Upskilling can lead to significant cost savings for an enterprise.“The business ramifications of employee turnover are enormous. Each departure costs about one-third of that worker’s annual earnings,” according to SHRM.

3. Increases productivity – Workers with a variety of skill sets can take on more responsibilities, which increases their efficiency and productivity. They also perform tasks faster, at higher quality and with minimal errors. In some cases, an employee who has been upskilled can step in on behalf of a co-worker.

4. Proves to be an effective recruiting tool – Since 86% of employees consider learning on the job to be extremely important, according to a Curiosity at Work survey, offering growth opportunities can improve an organization’s reputation among job seekers.

5. Builds a culture of learning and improvement – Data from PwC shows 77% of workers are “ready to learn new skills or completely retrain.” An environment that prioritizes upskilling can increase employee morale, teamwork and satisfaction.

Strategies to upskill the workforce 

Upskilling is the process of expanding an employee’s skill set, typically by adding to an existing body of knowledge. As part of a strategic upskilling initiative, it is important to identify the skills that will be most valuable in the future, the companies that will need them, the people who need work and might gain those skills, and the training and technology-facilitated learning that can help them — and then putting the pieces together.

The key to a successful upskilling program is a multifaceted approach. Here is a six-step plan to upskill employees. 

Step 1: Identify skill sets and priority areas – Even though most staff members can benefit from upskilling, companies will get the highest return on their investment once they are able to identify skills and priority areas based on their business goals and vision. Hence, the leadership needs to prioritize the skills most likely to show results and focus on upskilling workers whose job profiles will require those skills in the future. 

Step 2: Integrate upskilling into employee performance plans – Leaders should highlight how upskilling will benefit employees’ careers if they want everyone to get on board with the idea. To do so, they can, for example, tie learning certain skills to a promotion. 

Leaders also need to identify and prioritize the time that upskilling takes and, if needed, adjust workers’ workloads to allow them the bandwidth they need to focus on accomplishing new skills. 

Step 3: Enroll workers in training programs or courses – Sometimes, there is no substitute for formal training when it comes to learning certain skills. Whether organizations are looking to prepare their workers for new leadership opportunities or get them up to speed on artificial intelligence, they may need to consider online courses designed specifically for company executives. 

Step 4: Engage internal and external experts – Companies may have employees that may possess a specific skill set, just not enough. In this case, they can encourage these skilled workers to take on the role of a trainer or even a trainer. Depending on the skills, businesses may also partner up an employee who already has a particular skill with one who wishes to learn it.

Organizations may also motivate skilled workers to provide learning opportunities to their colleagues in the form of, for instance, one-time lectures or even weekly training sessions. 

In the absence of internal experts, firms can bring in external trainers or experts for group coaching sessions on specific skills. 

Step 5: Offer stretch assignments to employees for upskilling – Stretch assignments (opportunities that are outside a worker’s existing scope of experience and job description) give employees the opportunity to learn on the job while proving their ability to take on new challenges. However, workers must be given the required support and resources to acquire new skills and meet the challenge for stretch opportunities to be a success.

Step 6: Track progress by following up – Measuring progress and following up is an essential element of iteration and improvement. Businesses must track what is working and what is not in order to help their staff members continue to improve and gain new skills. This also helps other team managers learn how to upskill their team members. Some ways to track progress are to ask the worker to complete a test or assessment project or relay (and document) their learnings.

The future of work lies in upskilling

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that the future of work is now, and upskilling is a fundamental tool for retaining and developing the workforce for strategic positioning as well as organizational growth. 

Businesses need to consider empowerment, engagement and planning when considering opportunities to get their employees upskilled. Listening to their needs and wants before acting on them will position them for success.


Neha De
Neha De

Neha De is a writer and editor with more than 13 years of experience. She has worked on a variety of genres and platforms, including books, magazine articles, blog posts and website copy. She is passionate about producing clear and concise content that is engaging and informative. In her spare time, Neha enjoys dancing, running and spending time with her family.

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