Workplaces worldwide are currently going through an upskilling and reskilling revolution driven by digitalization. According to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report, 72% of L&D professionals are focused on upskilling their workforce in 2022. With significant global skills shortages, especially in the tech sector, providing good learning opportunities in order to fill talent gaps, should be high on companies’ priority lists.
In general, both terms can be used to describe an employee learning additional skills to add to their existing skill set. To give you a better understanding of the difference, the following piece will discuss what the difference between upskilling and reskilling means, as well as share with you the benefits of teaching employees advanced skills.
What is upskilling?
Upskilling refers to the process of allowing employees to acquire new skills to help them do their current jobs more effectively—creating a state of continuous learning.
The tech landscape evolves fast; choosing to implement upskilling initiatives can enable companies to make sure employees possess the right key skills. In this sense, upskilling refers to helping an employee, by looking at their core skills, and identifying what additional skills they need to learn, in order to continue to succeed in that current role and in the future.
As technology increases in everyday life, digital transformation drives initiatives for upskilling and employee learning. Digital transformation requires technical skills like Machine Learning, Data Analysis, and DevOps, all of which are seeing deficiencies.
What is reskilling?
Reskilling refers to helping employees with their current career path or pathing, and allowing them to shift focus toward a new job role. It is a drive to train employees with the new skills needed to perform a different type of role within your organization – not directly about progressing in what they already do. It is a strategic response to the ever-growing global talent crisis and the most sustainable approach to skills management. Different to upskilling, we can say reskilling refers to teaching an employee new skills and new capabilities, in addition to their existing skills, so that they can thrive in a different role.
Skills have a half-life. Tech is advancing at such a pace that workers will need retraining every few years, as new skills come in and out of use. Many organizations will be left behind. Those who aren’t, will be the ones who have invested in career pathing and the development of their employees. Managers need to ensure they provide the tools their employees need to succeed.
A senior developer who could potentially become a good team leader might need extra training and coaching to acquire additional skills. This is reskilling.
Upskilling and reskilling benefits
Teaching new soft skills and technical skills can plug skills gaps
One of the main reasons behind investing in the additional training of employees is, to plug skills gaps. Presenting workers with growth opportunities not only creates a healthy work environment but also helps to fill gaps in the knowledge of your workers. Employees will revel in improving their skill sets and in turn, your organization covers all the bases of what is increasingly important
Better talent acquisition
The competition for new talent in the tech industry is fierce. The best candidates think about career pathing, and seek employers who will be able to provide them with learning and development opportunities to increase their knowledge. Considering the fact that the demand for tech talent is high, candidates can afford to be picky and select companies that not only offer a competitive salary but also prioritize the career growth of their employees. Emphasizing that your workforce has effective strategies for learning, and a chance to develop from the current career path, will improve your talent acquisition efforts and attract better-quality candidates for every new role.
Teaching new skills leads to higher employee retention
Upskilling and reskilling strategies are beneficial tools for employee retention. Increasing internal mobility within your organization will show that you care about the development of your employees. Therefore, the less likely they are to leave for a competitor. LinkedIn stated that, 94% of employees say they would stay with their current employer longer if they offered good learning opportunities and the chance to learn a new skill set.
Improved employee morale
Knowing that their employer cares about the growth of their employees has a positive impact on employee morale. They feel more productive and motivated. A lack of new challenges frequently causes a decrease in motivation, especially in A-players.
Another benefit of upskilling and reskilling is significant savings, both in time and money. It’s quite simple – if you can identify the right candidates for your new roles from within your business, you won’t need to engage in recruitment as the only way to close certain skill gaps. This means skipping the sourcing, screening, and onboarding stages which normally take up weeks, if not months of your recruiters’ time. Instead, you focus on identifying the skills gaps that are keeping your employee from acquiring a more senior or entirely new role within your organization. With this data, you can also decide who’d take the fastest to get to the required skill level or role.
Creating non-linear career paths
In a piece co-authored by JP Morgan Chase, The Atlantic states that “the modern career trajectory isn’t necessarily a climb to a destination but rather a continuum”. That said, businesses that provide non-linear career paths have a higher growth potential than those that still follow the old ways of career development. Also for employers, it gives leaders in your organization a new and strong toolbox for conducting motivation/development talks.
Facilitating technology changes
Reskilling and upskilling employees either to an advanced role or a different job entirely, allow you to maximize the potential of your current employees – even as the roles they work become obsolete. At a time of transformation, to remain competitive, retaining the people who know your company well can be a valuable asset.
Upskilling and reskilling risks
Though typically seen as positive, upskilling and reskilling are not without risks.
Employees might leave for better opportunities
There is always a risk that after reskilling, your current employees may leave as a better job opportunity comes up. As explained by Matthew Bidwell, a Management professor at Wharton, “there is the concern that if you give people training in transferable skills, either they leave, or the threat that they’re going to leave means that they can demand much higher wages”. However, an employee learning additional skills will usually benefit a business to such an extent, that this is a risk organizations will have to face if they want to remain competitive.
Traditional vs. contemporary approach to reskilling and upskilling
Traditionally, the main difference between the two terms is upskilling is treated as a synonym for training, and reskilling is treated as a synonym for changing to new positions. However, it’s more complex. Let’s take a look below for example:
I recommend applying the 70-20-10 approach to skill acquisition:
- 10% = training (chronologically, comes first)
- 70% = learning through doing/implementation (i.e., practice-oriented)
- 20% = on-the-job coaching (for example, daily talks, feedback)
This type of skill acquisition is more efficient than sending people to events and expecting them to come back improved.
Reskilling isn’t synonymous with changing jobs but rather widening one’s perspective within a current position. For example, those who have reached a certain level of professional growth might be offered leadership skills development opportunities on top of tech or hard skills training.
Reskilling is about improving the company’s competency saturation which lowers the “bus factor”. In other words, the more people have a given skill, the safer it is for this organization. That said, it doesn’t have to be in-depth. An “on the surface” approach will suffice to let your team understand the work of other departments and bring collective awareness of what other people do within the company.
Our innovative, contemporary approach to reskilling and upskilling
Finally, let’s look at the steps I recommend taking. Here’s how growth should be looked at from the perspective of the leader who takes responsibility for team development.
Step 1: Develop the strategy
Step 2: Identify how people will develop their skills.
Approach the upskilling and/or reskilling in a loop:
- Set a goal
- Contract with the person (not in the legal sense, but in the “do we share this goal as a good one and want to work together to achieve it” way)
- Observe the progress
- Conduct self-assessments of the person getting upskilled
- Provide feedback
The five-step framework to upskill and reskill your workforce into future-ready roles
Reskilling and upskilling initiatives are destined to fail if they rely on outdated systems like spreadsheets. Here’s the reskilling framework which can maximize your chances of success.
Step 1. Mapping the current state of skills in your organization.
You should be able to get the company view and get detailed insights into the skills of every team and employee.
Step 2. Mapping the desired set of skills in your organization
Step 3. Identifying relevant skills and close skill gaps
Step 4. Building customized reskilling and upskilling programs
Step 5. Constantly measuring progress and optimizing the process
How skills management software can help you upskill and reskill your employees
Bringing skills, learning, and career insights together requires developing the right toolkit.
To make the process effective and enjoyable for the participants, you need dedicated skills management software like TalentBoost.
With TalentBoost, you can:
- Map and measure employee’s digital skills
- Define the skills your company requires to be future-ready
- Discover and close digital skills gaps
Reskilling and upskilling strategies are crucial if you want to keep your business relevant on the job market, all the while keeping your employees invested and satisfied with their careers. Not only does it improve the chance of employees learning new skills, but it also promotes the non-linear career path approach, which has become the new norm in the labor market.