What are upskilling & reskilling? – An innovative approach and definition

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reskilling

Introduction

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 in 2022. With significant global digital skills shortages, especially in the tech sector, providing good learning opportunities should be high on companies’ priority lists.

In the following piece, I am going to explain what upskilling and reskilling are, share with you their benefits and risks, as well as shed light on the contemporary approach which aligns with the new labor market norm.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of progressing skills or acquiring new ones that help employees do their current jobs more efficiently and effectively. The tech landscape evolves fast, and in order to keep up, businesses have to make sure that their employees possess the right skills.

Digital transformation is often the reason behind many upskilling initiatives. It requires skills like Machine Learning, Data Analysis, and DevOps, all of which are seeing deficiencies. It’s definitely an issue that organizations have to address themselves by upskilling their employees if they want to remain competitive.

What is reskilling?


Reskilling is the process of providing an employee with the skills needed to perform a different type of job – 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.

By 2025, 1 billion workers must be provided with new skills. Failing to do so may result in an $11.5 trillion loss in potential GDP growth over the next decade, Accenture reports.

To make things worse, the pandemic has additionally widened the already growing skills gap, and further strain is added by the economical and political shifts of today.

Reskilling examples

Reskilling can come in different forms. For instance, let’s imagine you’ve identified a senior developer who could potentially become a good team leader. However, you’re aware that they’ve never been in a management role. As a result, you might need to get them through training and coaching that will allow them to acquire the missing skills. In the case of first-time leaders, this can mean helping them develop skills such as stress management, communication, and problem-solving.

Source: Unsplash

As you see in the example above, contrary to what some people might think, being a good developer doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be a good leader. This proves the importance of reskilling strategies for tech companies.

Upskilling and reskilling benefits

With upskilling and reskilling explained, we can move on to discussing the main benefits and risks of each.

Better talent acquisition

The competition for digital talent is fierce. The best candidates seek employers who will be able to provide them with good learning and development opportunities that will lead to quick career progression. 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 growth of their employees. Emphasizing that your company provides good L&D opportunities will improve your talent acquisition efforts and attract better-quality candidates.

Source: Unsplash

Higher employee retention

Upskilling and reskilling are also beneficial for employee retention. The more you invest in the development of your employees, the less likely they are to leave you for one of your competitors. In fact, as mentioned by LinkedIn, 94% of employees admit that they would stay with their current employer longer if they offered good learning opportunities.

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.

Significant savings

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 company. 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, it gives leaders in your organization a new and strong toolbox for conducting motivation/development talks.

Facilitating technology changes

Lastly, upskilling and reskilling allow you to maximize the potential of your employees at your organization – even if the tech stacks they work on become obsolete. At the time of transformation, it’s helpful to work with some people who know you and your company well enough. A sound reskilling strategy can help you keep these people employed and continue to grow with them thanks to their skill transfers.

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 employees will leave as a better 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 — and that eats away any of the returns [from the] training”. It is, however, a risk that companies will have to face if they want to remain competitive.

Source: Unsplash

Misalignment in career objectives

If your reskilling proposal doesn’t align with your employees’ individual career goals, they might leave and you’ll need to replace them. This means you might be forced to turn to recruitment – which means time and money spent on finding the right candidate.

A drop in employee performance

Respectively, your reskilled employees might not be as effective or satisfied with their new roles as your reskilling plans assumed. For instance, despite the right training, your senior developer doesn’t think they make a good team leader after all. In such case, your company might not be able to achieve its objectives. Alternatively, your employee will perform well but will feel a significant drop in their career satisfaction levels.

Misalignment in tech stack choices

As your employees learn new things, they may want to put their newly acquired skills into action. If there’s too much “artistic freedom” regarding technology choices, technical decisions can become chaotic and destabilize the company. Keep in mind that creating meaningful growth opportunities means aligning the training with your company goals.

Traditional vs. contemporary approach to upskilling and reskilling – my methodology

Traditionally, upskilling is treated as a synonym for training, and reskilling is treated as a synonym for changing job roles. However, in my experience, it’s more complex. Let’s take a look below:

Upskilling

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 with improved skills, as people learn by doing, not solely by listening.

Source: Unsplash

Reskilling

Let’s start by saying that reskilling isn’t synonymous with changing jobs but rather widening one’s perspective. For organizations with a flat structure, I recommend recognizing competent and promising people. For example, those who have reached a certain level of professional growth might be offered soft skills/leadership skills development opportunities on top of tech 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 upskilling and reskilling

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: First you develop the strategy

Step 2: Next, identify how you wish for people to develop their skills.

Approach the upskilling and/or reskilling in a loop:

  1. Set a goal
  2. 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)
  3. Observe the progress
  4. Conduct self-assessments of the person getting upskilled
  5. Provide feedback

The five-step framework to upskill and reskill your workforce into future-ready roles

Upskilling and reskilling 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 gaps between the two

Step 4. Building customized upskilling and reskilling 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 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:

  1. Map and measure employee’s digital skills
  2. Define the skills your company requires to be future-ready
  3. Discover and close digital skills gaps

Summary

Upskilling and reskilling are crucial if you want to keep your business relevant on the market, all the while keeping your employees invested and satisfied with their careers. Not only does it improve the chance of filling skills gaps internally, but it also promotes the non-linear career path approach, which has become the new norm in the labor market.

That said, it’s not sufficient to follow the traditional approach to upskilling and reskilling your employees, i.e. focused on organizing training only. It is my experience that, while it should come first in the timeline, training should only take up 10% of the entire upskilling/reskilling process. The remaining time should be spent on learning on the job (70%), and constant job coaching (20%). Only through practice and feedback will your employees find success in the more senior or new positions they’ve been assigned.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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