Upskilling: The Future of Work is Now
Traditional work models no longer exist because of multiple factors that have influenced and changed the way we work. COVID, the Great Resignation, talent loss, talent shifts, inflation, emotional and physical burnout, customer behavior change, and other factors have made employees yearn for an easier path to job satisfaction. The effects of all of this have made it necessary for existing employees to adapt and upgrade their skills.
Additionally, employees are seeking relief from tedium and long for flexibility and company support for educational and upskilling growth. They want to be able to choose their business lifestyle and be invigorated in their jobs.
So who is responsible for fueling employee career growth, the organization or the employee? The answer is both. For individuals, upskilling fuels growth personally and professionally. For organizations, ensuring everyone has the tools, training, career path growth, and skills to succeed improves employee retention and satisfaction.
Upskilling vs. Reskilling
Upskilling involves employees learning new skills or developing existing skills to progress in their current role. Reskilling is the process of training or learning new skills so they can do a different job.
Though both are effective in developing talent and retaining employees, this article focuses on upskilling because there is always room for employees to improve performance and increase personal satisfaction within their current role. Some may not want to switch jobs or not have the opportunity to do so, which is why upskilling is more widely applicable.
As mentioned above, upskilling is not just the responsibility of the employee. Organizations can support the process by helping identify skills to be learned or improved and by investing in training and mentoring programs.
The Benefits of Upskilling
A recent article from employee development platform Zavvy1 outlines key benefits of upskilling at the organizational level, including:
- Increased employee engagement – Not only are employees actively engaged in the learning process, but they’re also more engaged when it comes to the real-world applications of their new skills.
- Greater productivity – This may seem like a no-brainer, but employees who learn or improve their skills will be more productive at using those skills. They’re also more likely to work faster, freeing up time for additional projects or brainstorming.
- Better business agility – Organizations must remain agile to keep up with the times. Expanding skillsets keep employees agile, which in turn helps keep the organization as a whole more agile and resilient.
- Saving money and resources – Multiple studies have shown that employee retention is less expensive than employee recruitment. Providing training and mentorship opportunities may require an upfront cost, but the increased employee retention leads to greater savings down the line.
Of course, upskilling benefits employees, too. At the individual level, these benefits include:
- Minimizing skill gaps – The more skills you have, the more productive (and employable) you are.
- Accelerated career growth – Gaining and improving your skills is more likely to lead to larger raises and faster promotions.
- Enhanced work life – Employees who have upskilled are more engaged and satisfied with their job.
- Improved leadership skills – While leadership may not be one of the skills explicitly taught during upskilling, it’s the natural result of self-improvement, especially if you then go on to train colleagues looking to upskill.
How to Upskill
Now that you know the benefits, what exactly does upskilling look like? The recruitment firm Hays2 shared seven easy ways to encourage upskilling and further career development.
1. Take advantage of stretch opportunities.
Stretch opportunities are projects outside of an employee’s normal scope of work and are one of the most effective methods of upskilling. Examples include joining an interdepartmental project or taking the initiative to improve an outdated process. Employees should ask for these opportunities (as long as they can still complete their normal tasks), and managers can ask for volunteers when such opportunities arise.
2. Stay connected to the industry.
Reading articles by industry thought leaders, following and connecting with them on LinkedIn and Twitter, watching TED Talks, listening to industry podcasts, and attending conferences or workshops are all easy and effective ways to learn new skills and be introduced to new ideas that can be taken back to the workplace.
3. Join an industry or professional association.
Another great way to stay connected is to join a professional association within the industry. Associations often facilitate networking, mentorship, and continuing education opportunities, taking the guesswork out of the process.
4. Complete relevant courses outside the workplace.
Some professions require continuing education credits to maintain a certification or credential. But even for those that don’t, these courses are a tried-and-true method of learning new skills and fostering career growth.
5. Learn at work.
Many employers offer training modules, education platforms, and internal webinars with content directly related to the job. For employees wondering what skills they should develop, this is an excellent place to start because lessons shared directly by the employer reflect exactly what they’re interested in.
6. Create a career map.
Career mapping can be done by an employee on their own or in conjunction with their manager. By defining the plan for the future of their career, employees can easily focus on the skills needed to reach their goals, and managers can assign projects and trainings to help them.
7. Participate in an employer-supported external study.
Some organizations already have a policy in place for funding continuing education efforts, whether that’s going back to school or completing a certification course. For those that don’t have such a policy, they may still be willing to fund individuals’ efforts. When proposing an external study, be sure to highlight what will be learned and how it will benefit the organization as a whole.
Upskilling for the Future
Upskilling has evolved from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have. It is the future of work for employees looking to build their skills and fuel their careers and for organizations ready to invest in talent growth and retention. Both parties should prepare to invest in upskilling now to set themselves up for success in the future.
1 Zavvy, 2023