What is Upskilling? Importance, Examples, & Planning

What is Upskilling? Importance, Examples, & Planning

Upskilling is the act of training individuals in skills that are relevant to their current jobs. It helps individuals perform their current job roles better and/or move to more advanced job roles in the same field. Upskilling employees gives employers a competitive advantage over companies with less skilled workforces. Learn how upskilling can fill skill gaps, increase job satisfaction, and improve employee retention rates for your workplace.

What is Upskilling?

Upskilling is a targeted training process focused on growing the existing skill set of employees. It involves:

  • training the employee in specific aspects of the skill
  • facilitating the application of training in work tasks
  • assessing improvements in skill and performance

The objective of upskilling is to increase the skill level of staff. This increased skill level will ideally help staff perform their current job role at a higher level. Upskilling may even be required for staff to be promoted to more advanced job roles. With upskilling, employees can have additional skills in their current skill set. The overall goal of upskilling is to expand or enhance the skill sets of employees.

Upskilling vs Reskilling

The key difference between upskilling and reskilling is that reskilling builds new skill sets for different roles while upskilling enhances or expands existing skill sets. Upskilling helps the trainee advance in their current career path while reskilling helps the trainee start a new career path. Upskilling can occur for a number of reasons while reskiling is primarily caused by the introduction of new jobs. Upskilling can be driven by:

  • Employee performance issues
  • Preparing employees for promotions
  • Workforce skill gaps
  • Employee training goals

Upskilling vs Employee Training

Upskilling is not just another word for employee training. Though upskilling can be incorporated into employee training programs, the desired training outcome of upskilling is more specific. Upskilling focuses on improving skill proficiency while employee training is broader and can include maintaining skills, learning procedures, and reskilling.

Why Upskilling is Important

Upskilling is important because it equips your employees with the skills they need to be successful at their jobs. With upskilling, employees are able to contribute more to the company because they have the skills to do so. It is also the most direct way to fill skill gaps, especially those related to digital literacy and technological competencies.

With upskilling, companies and staff can be flexible and fast in their responses to industry updates or changes in workforce skill requirements. This organisational capability is crucial because, according to the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report 2023, skill sets for jobs will likely undergo a 50% change by 2027. You should also consider upskilling to increase job satisfaction, as 71% of upskilled workers report greater satisfaction with their jobs according to one study (Gallup, 2021).

The same study also found that 61% of workers consider upskilling to be a very important factor in their decision to stay at a company. Furthermore, 75% of upskilled workers reported success in career advancement. According to the LinkedIn report, lifelong learning via upskilling is highly valued among job seekers. These findings prove that upskilling is essential for companies to attract, retain, and nurture employees.

two employees upskilling together with manager

Upskilling Challenges and Solutions

Since upskilling is a form of continuous learning, its challenges overlap with the larger challenges of Learning & Development (L&D).

1. Ensuring Upskilling Meets Organisational Needs

Solution: Prioritise business metrics over vanity metrics. For your upskilling training outcomes, use business metrics such as:

  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Team and organisational targets
  • Changes in skills gap sizes
  • Individual skill versatility
  • Work task completion rates
  • Employee turnover rates

2. Aligning Upskilling with Employee Career Goals

Solution: Have professional development conversations. Through these conversations, you’ll be able to learn what employees want for their careers and what skills they need to attain their career aspirations. Ask questions such as:

  • What is your short-term (1 to 3 years) career goal?
  • What skills would you be interested in learning to reach that goal?
  • How would you prefer the company help you regarding this?

3. Ensuring All Employees Can Access Upskilling Opportunities

Solution: Provide a variety of options for all aspects of upskilling. Throughout upskilling program development, you should be mindful of personal barriers across several aspects such as:

  • How easy it is for the employee to access digital and in-person content
  • What languages the employee is fluent in or comfortable using
  • If the employee has sufficient time and mental capacity
  • If the employee needs audio or visual content

How to Develop an Upskilling Program

You can successfully create and implement an upskilling program with these 10 essential steps:

1. Check Skills Standards

Research the standard skill sets for each job role in the company. Know the list of removed, retained, or added skills to the technical, digital, and managerial skill sets. For every retained or added skill, you should also be aware of the ideal skill level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced). You can obtain this information by analysing the job descriptions of recent job postings for roles and reading information from subject matter experts.

2. Identify Key Skills Gaps

Create a comprehensive skills assessment for each job role in the company. The goal of this assessment is to check if each employee has the required skills at the required skill levels.

Compare actual assessment results with company goals and expectations. For easier management, you should map the results on a skills matrix.

If you notice that employees are lacking the skills necessary for the role, you should implement upskilling training. This way you do not need to spend resources on training all employees when they are already adequately proficient.

3. Align Skill Development with Company Goals

Aligning skill development with business objectives involves ensuring that the training directly contributes to the company’s strategic goals. Begin by identifying the key objectives of your organisation, whether it’s expanding into new markets, improving operational efficiency, or enhancing customer service.

Then, map these objectives to specific skills that are critical for achieving these goals. For example, if the objective is to enhance digital presence, focus on skills like digital marketing and SEO. The aim is to create a direct correlation between the skills being developed and the strategic direction of the business.

4. Assess Employee Interest

From your earlier identification of skills gaps, you should have a list of skills to include in the upskilling program. Create a survey that measures the interest of employees in these skills. The goal of this survey is to find the best way to motivate employees to learn these skills. A major barrier to the successful implementation of an upskilling program is employees having low interest in the skills they need to be upskilled in. In the survey, ask questions such as:

  • Rate your level of interest in learning this skill from 1 to 10.
  • If you rated your level of interest as 6 or higher, why are you interested in learning this skill and how committed would you be in learning the skill?
  • Are you more likely to learn this skill if the company provides internal awards or recognition for learning it? If yes, what benefits would make it more likely for you to learn this skill? If listing more than one, specify which are more important and less important.

5. Select Upskilling Methods

Certain skills and/or skill sets are easier to learn through specific upskilling methods. Do your research on what has been effective for previous companies but prioritise employee needs and preferences. Examples of upskilling methods are:

  • Classroom learning
  • Mentorship programs
  • Online courses
  • Project-based learning

If you can find a group of more experienced employees who are willing to train other workers in specific skills, then you can upskill through internal training. However, if you don’t have enough employees willing and able to upskill others, then you should consider external training.

6. Set Upskilling Timeline

Depending on what is feasible for your company, you will need to decide on the duration of each step in the employee’s upskilling journey. For example, how long will off-the-job training be and how long will on-the-job training be? You will also need to decide on whether upskilling will be done by batch or by request. If the former, will upskilling be mandatory or open to all? If the latter, who can request upskilling (manager or employee)?

7. Create an Engagement Plan

The employee engagement plan should be based on the results of the earlier survey, the company goals, the upskilling methods, and the upskilling timeline. Classroom learning would likely require student engagement tactics while gamification might be better for online courses. Instructors and mentors should also be trained on how to engage learners. Aside from setting up engagement features, you need to find a way to monitor engagement levels.

8. Define Success Criteria

The most straightforward way to measure the success of an upskilling program is to assess the reduction in skills gap sizes. In simpler terms, how much were skills gaps filled or closed? While this can be initially measured through comprehensive post-upskilling skills assessments, you should also confirm results by evaluating employee performance. Other relevant success criteria include business targets and talent retention.

9. Get Stakeholder Approval

By this step, you should have completed the upskilling plan and can now submit it to stakeholders for approval. Include the estimated cost of the overall plan and its individual components. Highlight non-financial resources you’ll need as well. You should obtain stakeholder approval before securing resources as stakeholders may have their own suggestions for the upskilling plan or reject certain parts of the plan.

10. Implement the Training Program

Implementing the training program is a critical phase where planning transitions into action. Ensure that all logistical aspects are addressed, including the scheduling of training sessions, availability of trainers or facilitators, and the preparation of materials and resources. Communicate clearly with all participants regarding their roles, expectations, and the timeline of the training. A well-orchestrated implementation will ensure a smooth learning experience and help maintain participant engagement throughout the training period.

11. Monitor the Program & Obtain Feedback

Monitoring progress and gathering feedback are essential for gauging the effectiveness of the training program. Implement regular assessment mechanisms to evaluate the progress of participants against predefined benchmarks. This could include tests, practical exercises, or performance evaluations. You should also obtain feedback from participants regarding the training content, delivery style, and overall experience. This dual approach of objective assessment and subjective feedback will provide detailed insights into the program’s effectiveness and areas for improvement.

12. Adjust the Program as Needed

Based on the insights gathered from monitoring and feedback, be prepared to adjust the training program as needed. This might involve modifying the training content, altering the pace of delivery, or addressing any logistical challenges. The objective is to create a dynamic and responsive training environment that caters to the evolving needs of the participants while staying aligned with the organisational goals. Regular adjustments based on real-time feedback ensure the program remains relevant, effective, and aligned with its intended outcomes.

employees upskilling with supervisor

Upskilling Best Practices

Following these best practices will help you manage large-scale upskilling initiatives:

  • Connect upskilling with professional development opportunities.
  • Be aware that different skills may require separate upskilling efforts.
  • Tailor every upskilling program to the company’s business goals.
  • Map upskilling to the desired career paths of current employees.
  • Promote upskilling opportunities to potential and new employees.

Since upskilling is a gradual process rather than a sudden shift, current upskilling trends are not necessarily being replaced by upcoming upskilling trends.

Current Upskilling Trends

The following skills and focus areas are important in today’s working environments:

  • Emphasis on digital and technical skills such as data analysis skills
  • Inclusion of both critical thinking and communication skills such as people management and analytical skills
  • Preference for quick training sessions and personalised upskilling journeys

Future Upskilling Trends

Here are some of the possible upcoming trends in upskilling for 2024 and beyond:

  • Emphasis on more complex technology skills such as advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and quantum computing
  • Increased focus on green skills and financial technology skills such as blockchain and cryptocurrency skills
  • Inclusion of technology governance skills such as the ethical use of AI and better cybersecurity practices
  • Greater adoption of virtual reality and augmented reality in upskilling training programs

Upskilling Case Studies

Here are some real-life examples of successful upskilling programs:

PwC New World New Skills

The New World New Skills program of PwC has upskilled over 10 million people. PwC’s approach to upskilling includes the following:

  • Leveraging organisational culture and behaviours
  • Harnessing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
  • Incorporating and monitoring trainee engagement

PwC has worked with companies, nonprofit organisations, communities, and policymakers to offer upskilling in digital and green skills.

Walmart Academy

First created in 2016, Walmart Academy was relaunched as a global effort in 2022. Since its creation, Walmart Academy has upskilled over 411,000 employees. The upskilling program provides the following types of training:

  • In-person training via Academy classrooms
  • Mobile training via the Walmart Academy app
  • Virtual training via virtual reality headsets in stores

Its goal is to upskill 2.1 million employees. Walmart Academy is primarily focused on retail skills but includes leadership skills for managers as well.

Amazon Upskilling 2025

Upskilling 2025 consists of various upskilling programs for Amazon employees. These include:

  • Amazon Technical Academy
  • Machine Learning University
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) Intelligence Initiative.
  • AWS Grow Our Own Talent

Conclusion

Upskilling in the workplace is a powerful tool with many benefits. For employees, upskilling enables them to remain competitive in today’s job market and improves their future career prospects as well. For employers, offering training opportunities such as upskilling can help them attract new talent, retain current employees, and save money with reduced hiring costs. Start upskilling today with free upskilling courses.

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