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People Strategy

Future-Proof Your Business With an Upskilling Strategy

We’re still in the midst of the Great Resignation (or, as some are now calling it, the “Great Reshuffling”), with employees leaving their jobs in record numbers. And in response, organizations are having to figure out what they can do to keep their top talent satisfied, engaged, committed to their roles — and at the company.

One of the best ways to do this is through upskilling, which is rapidly becoming a top priority for many organizations. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, The Transformation of L&D (Learning and Development), upskilling or reskilling employees is the second most popular focal area for learning and development programs in 2022, trailing only leadership and management training. And for good reason: The right upskilling strategy can play an essential role in retaining talent — and can also help future-proof your business.

Read on to learn why having a clearly defined upskilling strategy is so essential in today’s labor market, how it can help your organization attract and retain top talent, and how you can roll out an upskilling strategy that ensures your business continues to stay competitive — even as technology, innovation, and the world of work continues to evolve.

What Is Upskilling — and Why Is It So Important?

“Upskilling is the intentional effort of organizations to teach new skills to current employees,” explained Scott Baird, PhD, consultant and CEO of organizational performance firm Griffin Hill. Instead of bringing in new talent for emerging roles or new responsibilities, with upskilling, organizations invest in developing their current talent and helping them acquire the skills and education they need to successfully advance within the company. This could be through learning and development programs, mentorship opportunities, or stipends for education and training, among other initiatives.

Having the right upskilling strategy is a must to future-proof your business for a few reasons, starting with addressing skills gaps. The world of work is constantly changing, and this has only been accelerated by the pandemic. According to a 2017 report from McKinsey, by 2055, more than half of today’s work activities could be automated. This means that the skills your workers bring to your organization today may not be relevant in supporting your business’s growth and success in the future. 

Many organizations are already feeling the effects of these skills gaps: The recent LinkedIn workplace report found that 49% of L&D professionals surveyed said executives at their company are concerned that their current employees don’t have the skills necessary to execute business strategy.

By making upskilling a foundational aspect of your company culture, and continually investing in growing and developing your talent, you can stay ahead of any potential skills gaps. Instead of scrambling to find talent with the skills and background needed to fill emerging roles (and potentially having to do large-scale layoffs of employees whose skill sets are no longer relevant), with the right upskilling strategy, you can ensure that your employees’ skills are growing and evolving as your company’s needs grow and evolve. This will allow your workforce to not only succeed as individuals, but to support your organization’s continued success as well.

Another reason upskilling is essential is employee retention. Employees are leaving their jobs in record numbers, and that doesn’t just apply to tenured workers. Lattice research revealed that more than half of employees (52%) who have been with a company for three months or less are looking to leave their positions.

With so many employees seeking to jump ship for better opportunities, it’s more important than ever for companies to invest in strategies that improve employee experience and keep staff members with the organization for the long haul. Upskilling is one of these strategies.

How the Right Upskilling Strategy Can Help Retain Top Talent

Employees want opportunities to learn and grow, and they want the organizations they work for to provide these opportunities. According to a 2020 survey from business education resource getAbstract, 93% of workers across generations said that it was at least somewhat important for their employers to provide continual opportunities for learning. And if businesses don’t, it can be a major factor in an employee’s decision to leave a company.

“A top reason for a skilled employee to leave their job is some version of, ‘It was a dead-end job,’” said Baird. “In other words, they simply could not see a pathway to an improved position. They were static in their knowledge, position, and income.”

The right upskilling strategy solves that problem by giving employees continual opportunities for growth. It creates a framework where employees can identify how, where, and in what ways they want to grow professionally, and then gives them the resources to develop the skills they need to facilitate that growth. 

When your organization prioritizes upskilling, it shows employees that there is no such thing as a dead-end job at your company; you’re invested in your workforce and will support them as they expand their skill set and continue to grow. That investment and support can help your employees feel more engaged with their work, and can play a key role in keeping top talent with your company. A 2020 PwC report found that of CEOs of companies with mature upskilling programs, 41% reported improved employee engagement and 28% reported improved talent acquisition and retention.

“A specific upskilling plan associated with each role stimulates employees with vision,” Baird said. “Employees with a vision for self-paced and organization-supported upskilling are more engaged and less likely to leave for a different opportunity…[and] employees who are growing and progressing will stay [at the company] longer and contribute more.”

How to Use Upskilling to Future-Proof Your Business

The right upskilling strategy can help you keep top talent with your company, address any skills gaps, and ensure that you have the right people (with the right skill sets) in place as your company continues to grow, evolve, and innovate, all of which future-proof your business.

Here’s how to create an upskilling strategy that supports your people and your business — not just today but for years to come.

1. Evaluate where your organization is and where you want it to go, and build your strategy accordingly.

There are countless ways to approach upskilling, and you want to make sure that the options you choose will help your organization reach its goals, particularly in terms of staying ahead of the skills gap curve and future-proofing your business. When it comes to addressing skills gaps, the first step of the process is evaluating where your organization is now and where you want it to go in the future, and then building a strategy that helps bridge that gap.

For example, say you work in software and your company has plans to expand into the Web 3.0 space. In this situation, your upskilling strategy might include investing in training and education for your engineers on blockchain technology. On the other hand, if you want to overhaul your company’s approach to sales and implement a new fully remote sales strategy, you’d take a different tack. In this instance, your upskilling strategy would center around helping your sales team build the skills they need — whether that’s navigating a new online sales platform or learning how to more effectively pitch over video — to successfully execute your new sales plan.

Upskilling will only future-proof your business if you implement it in a way that addresses your business’s future needs; so take stock of where your company is today and create an upskilling strategy that will take it where you want it to go.

2. Get your employees involved.

Another way that upskilling helps future-proof your business is by improving employee retention. But if you want your upskilling strategy to keep employees with your company, it can’t solely revolve around your organization’s needs — it has to address your employees’ needs as well.

To involve employees in the upskilling process, start by having managers schedule one-on-ones with their team members. In these meetings, managers should talk through their direct reports’ career goals and help them identify the skills they need to achieve them. You’ll then want to include these skills in your company’s upskilling strategy.

For example, if you have an HR assistant who wants to get promoted to HR manager but doesn’t have any experience managing people, you might consider investing in management or leadership training. If you have a marketing manager who would prefer to work in software development, consider giving them a stipend for a coding bootcamp. And if you have a number of employees across departments who would like to improve their public speaking skills, hire a public speaking coach to work with them, both as a group and one-on-one.

When you approach upskilling at an individual level, you show your employees that you’re invested in their growth — both personally and within the company — which can go a long way in keeping them with your organization.

3. Start today.

If you want to leverage upskilling to future-proof your business, the time to start is now. The sooner you begin upskilling your employees, the better prepared you’ll be when internal and external circumstances evolve and change and your workforce needs to evolve and change with them.

A 2020 study from McKinsey & Company found that companies that had already launched upskilling programs before the COVID-19 pandemic hit were better able to address skills gaps and implement new business strategies (like shifting to fully remote operations) than companies that hadn’t. 

Invest in creating an upskilling strategy today, even if your company isn’t currently facing any skills gaps or retention issues. By prioritizing upskilling now, you’re setting up your organization, its leadership, and its employees to better navigate the inevitable changes and challenges of the future. 

Between advances in technology, shifting consumer demands, and evolving employee expectations, the world of work is changing rapidly. For your business to stay competitive and successful, you need to change with it. With the right upskilling strategy, you can ensure that your employees have the necessary skills to continue to support your business, and that they’re experiencing the kind of professional growth that will encourage them to stay with your company — today and in the future.