At its core, upskilling refers to a process through which employees are provided with new and relevant knowledge, skills and abilities to perform their duties effectively. This can involve everything from professional development courses and industry certifications to training and workshops that provide more hands-on learning opportunities.
A skilled and knowledgeable team is often the key ingredient in driving business success over the long term. A recent survey showed that 94% of workers would remain at their company if their company invested in developing their careers. Therefore, upskilling can help businesses keep pace with industry trends and improve employee retention and satisfaction rates.
Identifying and closing skill gaps
A skills gap is a term used to describe the difference between the skills that workers currently possess and the skills they need to meet the demands of their jobs. Typically, this type of gap occurs when companies don’t equip their employees with the necessary tools and resources to do their work effectively.
For example, if an employee doesn’t have strong technology skills or if they are not up to date on the latest software programs, they may be at a disadvantage compared to other workers who do have these kinds of skills. A Salesforce study showed that three out of four workers feel that they don’t have the digital skills necessary to succeed in their roles. This poses a significant problem for businesses and leads to lower productivity, poor customer service and an inability to keep up with evolving technologies.
To identify and close any existing skill gaps within their organizations, businesses must first understand what these gaps look like. This can be done by:
- Conducting a skills assessment
- Speaking with managers and employees
- Reviewing job descriptions and performance reviews
Once the skills gaps have been identified, businesses can then take steps to close them by providing employees with the necessary resources and training. This can look like anything from investing in employee development programs to offering more hands-on learning opportunities.
Preparing your business for the future
In addition to improving employee retention and satisfaction rates, upskilling can also help businesses prepare for the future. By equipping employees with the necessary skills and knowledge today, companies can ensure they have a workforce capable of meeting tomorrow’s challenges.
According to Harvard Business Review, more than 60% of a company’s future roles can be filled by existing staff — provided adequate development programs are in place. This can look like this:
- Cross-training employees in different areas
- Offering professional development opportunities
- Encouraging employees to take on new responsibilities
By future-proofing businesses in this way, companies can stay ahead of industry trends and be better prepared to face any unforeseen challenges.
Developing advanced soft skills
While businesses need to focus on developing hard skills, they should also invest in employee soft skills development. Advanced soft skills like emotional intelligence, social intelligence and cognitive abilities can help employees better navigate the challenges of a constantly changing workplace.
In a recent McKinsey survey on reskilling, the importance of addressing skill gaps was abundantly clear. According to this survey, “Most respondents say that skill building is the best way to close those gaps and that they have doubled down on their efforts to reskill or upskill employees…”
In particular, this survey found that most companies prioritized soft, cognitive skills such as leadership or critical thinking. Although these skills are often thought of as naturally occurring, they take practice, and employees can find that practice with upskilling courses.
To help employees develop advanced soft skills, businesses can:
- Incorporate soft skills into training programs
- Provide mentorship and coaching opportunities
- Encourage employees to participate in social and emotional learning opportunities
With soft skills, employees can develop the ability to handle stress better, adapt to change and solve problems.
Boosting employee morale
Upskilling employees can also have a positive impact on employee morale. Janne Hietala, chief commercial officer at Valamis seconded this idea by saying that “employees who have lots of learning and development opportunities in their workplace are more engaged and happier in their jobs.”
According to a recent survey by the University of Phoenix, there is a disconnect between employer and employee perceptions regarding development and advancement opportunities. While employers believe their employees are well-trained, employees do not feel the same way. Only 40% of the workers surveyed said they do not have access to the tools they need to innovate and excel in their roles.
This disconnect can have a negative impact on employee morale, as well as motivation and engagement levels. Therefore, businesses can help close the gap and improve employee morale by upskilling employees, providing resources and encouraging them along the road to success.
Improving employee retention
Improving employee retention is a key priority for many businesses and organizations, as high attrition rates can severely impact everything from individual workers to overall company revenue. One factor that is closely linked with employee turnover rates is employee morale. Low employee morale can often lead to increased burnout and dissatisfaction, both of which can be strong predictors of employee attrition.
In addition to improving morale, another critical factor in retaining top talent is upskilling and offering opportunities for career advancement. According to the Career Optimism Index conducted by the University of Phoenix, 68% of workers would stay at their jobs if they had more opportunities to upskill, highlighting the crucial role training plays in keeping employees engaged and motivated.
Beyond these individual factors, there are also broader organizational factors that influence employee retention, such as:
- The company culture
- Pay and benefits
- Work-life balance
Although several factors reduce employee attrition rates, upskilling employees and investing in their development could help improve retention and keeping top talent engaged. If not, the cost of replacing an employee can be quite expensive. Gallup research suggests it can be anywhere “from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.”
Improving customer satisfaction
Upskilling employees can also have a positive impact on customer satisfaction. When employees are better equipped to handle customer inquiries and requests, they are more likely to be able to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. In addition, upskilled employees can better provide a high level of service, which can lead to improved customer satisfaction rates.
A satisfied customer is more likely to be a return customer and can help promote your business through positive word-of-mouth. In fact, a study by Emplifi found that 61% of customers would be willing to pay more for a product or service if they received better customer service.
Fostering productivity and innovation
Workers with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in their roles are more likely to be creative, innovative and, most importantly, productive. According to a survey by McKinsey, 91% of employers reported increased productivity from upskilling training.
This productivity can easily translate into other skills such as creativity and innovation, and luckily, all these attributes can benefit any business. Businesses need to be innovative to stay competitive, and upskilling employees can help promote a culture of innovation.
When workers feel empowered and are given the opportunity to improve their skills, they are more likely to come up with new ideas and solutions. For example, if an employee is upskilled in customer service, they may be able to develop a new process for handling customer inquiries and complaints that can be directly sent to company leaders at the top.
Attracting quality talent
Investing in upskilling can also help businesses attract quality talent. Gallup surveys have found that workers are increasingly interested in opportunities to upskill and learn new skills. In fact, 48% of workers would switch to a new job if it offered more opportunities for training and development.
When you upskill your employees, you are investing in your company’s future. By providing employees with the opportunity to improve their skills, you are helping ensure that your business has a pool of talent that it can draw from when it is time to hire.
How to upskill your workforce
Now that you know the many benefits of upskilling your employees, it’s time to understand how to launch an effective learning and development program.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Define your goals for the upskilling program. Figure out what skills you want your employees to learn and how you’d like to help them achieve those skills.
- Plan a development strategy. Begin by identifying which employees will need to be upskilled and what type of training they will need.
- Create a schedule and a method for the program. Will you use online courses, in-person training sessions or a combination? Design a learning journey for your employees that is both engaging and effective.
- Promote the program to your employees and allow them to provide feedback.
Opting for online upskilling courses is a great way to deliver training to your employees. These courses are flexible and can be completed at the employees’ convenience. Not to mention you can customize your courses to fit your specific needs.
Upskilling vs reskilling employees
Upskilling and reskilling can be important elements of workforce development, with each strategy playing a unique role in helping to enhance the skills and knowledge of employees. At a general level, upskilling refers to training employees to gain new knowledge or in-depth industry expertise, typically within their current roles. Reskilling, on the other hand, involves imparting new skills by transitioning an employee into a new position within the company.
While both strategies have advantages, upskilling is a better choice for organizations. This is because upskilling can help employees develop specific skills they can apply directly in their daily work. In contrast, reskilling often requires significant investment and costs from employers, who must hire and train replacements if an employee leaves or is displaced.