Employee upskilling is a long-term investment that helps organizations gain a competitive advantage by aligning employee professional development with the broader growth strategy.
When done correctly, upskilling offers several benefits, from professional growth, retention, and customer satisfaction, as well as lower employee turnover and improved employee performance. This article will walk you through every aspect of mapping out a successful upskilling program.
What is employee upskilling?
Employee upskilling refers to the process where employees are given the opportunity to develop and gain new skills, minimizing the growing skills gap.
A successful upskilling program focuses on expanding existing employees’ abilities and skill sets through training and professional development programs.
In short, upskilling prepares employees for the changes caused by the ongoing digital transformation. As organizations introduce new technologies, it becomes vital for employers to ensure their employees have the necessary skills to use said technologies.
Employee upskilling examples
Upskilling is linear, meaning an employee needs to possess basic skills on which they can build. To help you get a better understanding of upskilling done right, here are two real-life examples:
The Amazon Upskilling 2025 program focuses on creating new career pathways in future growth areas. The program covers existing programs and launches new training opportunities, including:
- The Mechatronics and Robotics Apprenticeship Program teaches employees skills and technical knowledge to guarantee technical maintenance roles.
- The Surfe2IT program is aimed at entry-level Amazon employees who want to pursue careers in higher-paying technical roles through self-paced learning resources.
IBM pledged to help 30 million people of all ages to gain new skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow by 2030. To achieve this, IBM created a clear upskilling roadmap, including 170 academic and industry partnerships. In its efforts to complete this pledge, IBM engaged universities, government entities, and NGOs.
Why is employee upskilling so important right now?
As previously mentioned, digital transformation is inadvertently causing a digital talent gap, directly impacting 62% of the working force worldwide, indicating that the workforce is unable to keep up with the rapid technological advancements.
If employers fail to address this gap through the introduction of training programs, this gap will continue to grow. Here are the two key reasons why employee upskilling is vital right now:
Shortening of digital skills life cycle
The rapid technological and artificial intelligence advances are happening in shorter cycles, changing the very nature of the roles and the skills needed to do them. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2022, we will see at least 133 million new roles emerge as a direct result of the new division of labor.
The rapid digital transformation is also having a direct impact on the lifecycle of professional skills.
Previously the half-life of professional skills was estimated at 10 to 15 years, meaning the value of those skills would decline by half, or the knowledge associated with them would become irrelevant in about ten years.
Nowadays, the half-life of a learned skill is estimated to be five years, and for technical skills, it is even shorter, as reported by IBM. Thus, by 2027 the skills sought after in 2022 will no longer be relevant.
Inability to keep up with emerging technologies
The technological change is happening quickly, far quicker than our ability to upskill and reskill. The latest Gartner TalentNeuron™ report found that “nearly one-third of the skills listed as part of a job posting in 2018 are obsolete in 2022”.
The WEF goes further, estimating that 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling. The World Economic Forum estimates that 35% of current employees needing to upskill will require additional training of up to six months, whilst a further 9% will require reskilling training lasting six to 12 months.
The duration of upskilling employees will depend on the role and the impact of digital transformation. However, the need for upskilling at work is growing at a much faster pace than we can upskill.
As technology transforms how we operate, the need to upskill your employees becomes more crucial in future-proofing your business. Therefore, it is in every organization’s best interest to focus on upskilling employees.
Technological changes are reshaping distinct occupational profiles, optimizing the processes of economic value creation based on the most efficient division of labor between humans and machines. As technology changes, it increases workforce productivity by redefining work tasks into new roles, making certain job profiles obsolete, and creating space for new, dynamic positions.
The point we are trying to make here is that the existing pool of skilled workers is not big enough to meet the growing demand. It will take a collective effort to address this gap—employers investing in upskilling the workforce and employees continuing to learn.
How to upskill employees for the future?
For upskilling to be successful, organizations need to shift their approach and begin to understand upskilling as the new work culture rather than a one-off program.
It is up to HR professionals within the company to create opportunities for development. Here are 5 step guide on how to upskill employees at work:
- Identify skills gaps
Before you begin planning upskilling programs, you need to understand what skills your company needs and more importantly what skills your employees can relatively quickly gain. Gaining this insight can be the most time-consuming part of upskilling but is also the most crucial to its success.
After all, you can not achieve success if you and your employees are not aligned.
- Create personal development plans for employees
Once you understand what skills your organization needs and have identified areas for upskilling employees, you should begin creating development plans.
The development plans should focus on helping employees upskill their current skills and gain new skills. Remember to align your organization’s needs with the employee’s development plans. If you fail to do so, employees might feel as if they are not listened to and lose motivation to upskill.
- Offer training program
The upskilling can be internal, conducted by human resources or other existing employees, or by external trainers. The training programs to upskill will vary, depending on whether the employer plans to bring their employees up to speed on machine learning or is aiming to upskill existing employees on leadership opportunities.
- Track progress and improve
As with any initiative, tracking progress and measuring outcomes are essential to continuous success. Keeping track of what went well and what can be improved will ensure employees can continue upskilling and adding value to the company.
The IBM Report found that traditional training programs carried out in classroom settings, virtual learning, or community college are too slow in closing the skills gaps. Therefore, tracking progress and regularly reviewing its success will give you the upper hand in creating effective training programs.
How digital skills management software can help you upskill your employees?
Digital skills management software like DevSkiller’s employee upskilling platform can quickly and effectively give employers a real-time overview of the company’s digital skills. Employers can use this insight to measure and assess different employees’ digital skills, identify priority areas and map them with the broader plans of the organization.
The 5-step framework for upskilling your workforce
Upskilling staff is a long-term investment that without the right tools is destined to fail. But fear not as there is a 5-step framework you can follow which can help you maximize your chances of success.
Step 1. Map current skills – understand different employees’ digital skill levels.
Step 2. Identify desired skills – identify the skills your organization needs.
Step 3. Identify the skills for the future – think long-term. What skills will your organization need in the next 2-3 years? Which skills will they need 5 years from now?
Step 4. Discover skills gaps – once you understand the skills needed to future-proof your business, and the skills your employees possess, you have discovered skills gaps.
Step 5. Devise upskilling strategies – use the knowledge from the above steps to create a custom upskilling strategy to close the skill gap.
6 Benefits of upskilling employees
The benefits of teaching current employees new skills are visible across all levels. Here are the 6 key benefits of introducing an upskilling strategy intoyour company.
- Improved performance
We all know that a motivated employee is more likely to have higher productivity levels in comparison to their unmotivated colleagues.
Implementing upskilling programs that allow employees to become the best in their roles will boost employee engagement and improve overall performance. Companies that motivate their employees regularly see a 27% higher profit.
- Stay competitive
To stay competitive organizations need to introduce new technologies to optimize their operations. Hiring new employees to address the growing talent crisis is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
Creating upskilling opportunities for employees will help address the talent gap and ensure employees develop the necessary skills to remain relevant.
Companies that upskill employees are ensuring they are maintaining and increasing their competitive market standing.
- Increase retention
A recent Gallup study found that the CEO’s main worry is losing talent, and the number one reason people change jobs today is career growth opportunities. The most effective way to decrease employee turnover is to invest in their development.
Creating a culture that cultivates development opportunities will result in happy employees, decreasing employee turnover.
- Reduced recruitment costs
Increasing retention and reduced recruitment costs go hand in hand. The average cost of replacing an employee is around a third of their annual salary. Thus, if you can increase retention, you are cutting recruitment costs.
- Employer branding
Nowadays, it is not enough to have a cool office and flexible working hours. Creating positive employer branding is the key to boosting the number of applications you receive.
Employees are looking for companies that can offer:
- Personal development plan
- Career progression
- Workforce upskilling programs
As you begin to consider upskilling initiatives, understand that identifying skills gaps and skills mapping is a crucial part of planning. Listening to your employee’s professional plans and finding a way to align them with the company’s wider goals will position your business for future success.