Workplace training

10 minute read

Why Upskilling Your Workforce is Crucial Now More than Ever

Sara Meij

Sara Meij

No matter what size your company is, keeping your workforce up to date with the latest advancements in the digital space is no small feat. The rapid advancement of technology has its benefits (think faster communication, easier collaboration, and higher productivity, to name a few) and its place in organizations. But it also creates skill gaps in your workforce.

An organization’s ability to adapt and upskill employees is becoming a critical competitive advantage over other businesses in the same or similar industries. According to Deloitte, upskilling is not a “nicety” anymore - it’s almost a business imperative. 

Upskilling employees in effect means teaching them additional skills they will need to do their job properly. It’s important to look ahead when it comes to upskilling, making sure your organization is aware of the skills it will need in the (near) future and acting ahead of demand by implementing an appropriate training and development strategy.

employees upskilling on laptop

What is upskilling? What is the difference between upskilling, reskilling and retraining?

You’ve probably heard all three terms a lot in the last couple of years, as well as more recently, related to the state of affairs worldwide. While upskilling, retraining, and reskilling are all closely related, the upskilling definition has some key differences.

If you’re upskilling people, you’re teaching employees new skills to improve their performance in their current role without necessarily changing their position or career path. This is often the case when employees need to learn about new technologies or software that have been rolled out at their organizations. Upskilling can also help employees’ career progression to more senior or management roles over time.

In the case of reskilling employees, you’re likely retraining staff members in the skills needed for a different job at the same company. Reskilling commonly occurs after redundancy, when organizations want to keep good employees when their current role has become obsolete. Instead of letting them go, they reskill them to put their talent to use somewhere else in the company.

If you’re retraining people, you’re generally teaching them new skills or are training them on a completely new subject. This could come into play when hiring new people, who have for instance recently been laid off due to the pandemic, for in-demand roles that have opened up or have been newly created at your company.

Why is upskilling important?

Upskilling often goes hand in hand with a changing workplace due to technological advancements. Around the world, organizations are undergoing “digital transformations”. What this means for employees is a whole new raft of tools and software applications to get their heads around - fast. Digital upskilling, therefore, has been a bit of a buzzword. 

But upskilling your workforce can be crucial in other, non-technology induced situations too. Take a global pandemic for instance. Almost overnight, entire industries were gone. Tourism for instance, and hospitality, to name a few. Reskilling and retraining are strategies to focus on in those areas. But there were other companies, on the other hand, that were able to keep operating with the same workforce, and in the same industry, but with slightly different offerings to meet new demands. 

Automotive companies, for instance, changed tack and collaborated with others in their industry to produce respirators. Distilleries were producing hand sanitizer. Clothing manufacturers started to produce face masks. All of them had to upskill their workforce to be able to do that, even though they didn’t veer much off their product or service offering on a business level. For instance, a clothing manufacturer making face masks instead of t-shirts would use similar equipment or potentially hours of labor, but their employees would have needed to learn some additional skills quickly. After all, sewing a t-shirt or suit requires different quotas and the use of fabrics than sewing face masks.  

customer service employees upskilling

The benefits of upskilling employees

First and foremost; good employees want learning and development opportunities to get ahead, either at the organization they’re currently employed at - or another one. If your organization provides a pathway for career development opportunities, you will attract better staff who are more likely to stay with your company longer. That will save your organization money in the long term, as high employee turnover is expensive business. Studies show the cost of one employee leaving an organization could be as high as $25,000.

Upskilling is a long term game. You need to be able to forecast ahead of time what skills you think your organization may lack in 3, 6, or 12 months, or even 5 years. It’s not always easy, because industry standards change all the time and tech innovation is progressing at speed. PwC’s 2019 CEO Survey stated that 79% of top executives said a shortage of skilled talent was one of their top three major worries, with 46% saying upskilling was their preferred solution to the looming problem.

By investing time, effort and money into upgrading your staff’s skill sets, you’re not only boosting employee morale, you’re also increasing customer satisfaction. Happy staff equals more engaged, attentive and patient staff, which in turn equals happy customers, and this attracts new talent because happy employees are often great company advocates. For your employees, upskilling means learning new skills and also a cultural shift in doing things differently. For your business, upskilling means the same cultural shift, as well as change management. There needs to be a willingness to embrace new ways of doing things across the organization if you want to make upskilling your workforce a long-lasting success.

Many organizations have successfully upskilled their workforce to meet current technology (or other) demands, allowing them to stay ahead of the game. Take Guardian Life Insurance Company, for example. The business realized it needed to change its workforce skills in order to do best by new technologies which were generating data on health and habits. Think car sensors, Fitbit monitors, and the like. Those new technologies can help insurance companies, including Guardian Life, calculate risk more accurately. The company decided to upskill actuaries through intensive boot camps and short workshops to keep up with these new technologies. 

According to PwC, 79% of top executives said a shortage of skilled talent was one of their top three major worries, with 46% saying upskilling was their preferred solution to the looming problem.

business team upskilling

How to upskill your workforce

Similar to reskilling and retraining your workforce, if you’re looking to upskill your employees, you have to know what skills are missing first. A skills gap analysis is a quick way to get your head around the needs and wants of your business, and what it would take to get there.

A skills gap analysis can be done on both an organizational/departmental level and an individual level. 

  • When done on an organizational level, the skills of all employees will be evaluated to assess the team’s capability to meet predicted future businesses’ needs. The same approach can be used on a departmental level.
  • When done on an individual level, an employee's skills are evaluated against the current and future requirements of their job role. 

Employee's existing skill sets can be determined through interviews, performance reviews, and assessments. In order to assess competency when it comes to future skills, it’s a good idea to review business goals and objectives and figure out what is required to achieve them.

Performing a skills gap analysis will help with succession planning, future-proofing, and individual career progression as well as being key in informing a successful reskilling strategy. It is also beneficial when assessing where your organization fits in your industry and what relevant skills you need to have on hand to remain competitive. 

There are a few other points to keep in mind when thinking about upskilling your workforce: 

  • Make sure training is available to all staff, ideally free of charge or at a low cost.
  • Keep in mind that everyone learns differently. It’s a good idea to incorporate different learning styles into your L&D plan.
  • Learning additional skills on top of an existing workload is not something that should be taken lightly. Rewarding staff for upskilling will help with employee morale and engagement. 

Upskilling is the way forward

Finding out what skills are missing across your organization and within specific teams will help you to create a stronger organization altogether. Upskilling staff will save you money in the long run, as hiring and onboarding new employees is expensive and time-consuming. On top of that, offering your employees upskilling and growth opportunities will help solidify your business as one strongly focused on growth and continuous learning. 

Upskilling existing employees will help with employee morale, especially in uncertain and challenging times. It allows your staff to learn new skills and stay relevant and useful to your business, and it helps your business to stay competitive and relevant in the industry. Employee morale will be boosted, customer satisfaction increased and you’ll attract new talent as a result of being a great company to work for.

The GoSkills LMS can help you upskill your team quickly and easily. Get access to the award-winning GoSkills course library, upload your own courses and materials, and monitor training with easy to understand reporting and analytics. It's easy to identify skill gaps with our built-in skills testing to better identify your team’s strengths, weaknesses, and skills gaps. Sign up for free today.

goskills business cta

Sara Meij

Sara Meij

Sara is a digital communications expert and former journalist with a passion for writing. In her spare time she loves Latin dancing and getting outdoors to run, hike or mountain bike.

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