How To Upskill Your Employees

By Chris Kolmar
Dec. 1, 2022

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Upskilling employees can have a critical impact on a company’s profits and future. Not only is it beneficial to employers who need to train their workers’ new skills to handle new technologies and policies, but it’s also important to employees who are looking to grow and have a more well-rounded skill set.

In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of upskilling your employees and give you strategies for how to do this.

Key Takeaways

  • Upskilling is the practice of continuously developing employees’ skills.

  • The benefits of upskilling your employees include driving employee growth, reducing recruitment and training costs, becoming more efficient, and attracting more high-quality candidates.

  • To upskill your workforce, you first need to identify which skill areas you want to grow and how you want to grow them.

How To Upskill Your Employees

What Is Upskilling?

Upskilling facilitates continuous learning in the workplace by providing training programs and development opportunities that expand an employee’s strengths and improve on weaknesses.

Worker skills have been a growing source of concern among CEOs in companies worldwide. In 2019, seventy-nine percent of global CEOs expressed concern that a lack of essential skills in their workforce threatened the future growth of their organization.

This number has increased from sixty-three percent in 2014, which indicates that concern over skills has risen as new technologies continue to evolve the work environment and consumer habits shift. Employers are worried that their employees can’t keep up.

Benefits of Upskilling Your Employees

Investing resources into employee growth is a task that should be done analytically and pragmatically, but when implemented correctly, the benefits will greatly outweigh the investment costs. Some of these benefits include:

  • Driving employee growth. Valuable employees are beneficial for many reasons. They work more efficiently and usually require less supervision when they’re confident in their knowledge and skill to get the job done.

    They’re also more likely to be engaged in their work and take greater pride in the quality of their performance and output.

    When a company shows a genuine interest in helping workers develop their skills and pursue their career goals, employees often thrive. They feel appreciated and know that the employer cares about them as people rather than just a replaceable asset.

  • Cutting recruitment and training costs. Happy workers often directly translate to a lower employee turnover rate, which saves the costs of advertising and recruiting a replacement, then training.

    A new employee can take years before they’re as comfortable at the job as their predecessor. That usually entails a slower work pace, more questions, reluctance to take risks, and an overall cut to the profit margin due to a slower output.

    Employee retention is just as important as employee training. Once someone has been completely trained, you want to keep them and get a return on your initial investment. It should be a mutually beneficial relationship.

  • Becoming more efficient. Skilled employees and company efficiency are directly correlated. When workers are confident in their skills and have thorough training to handle most situations, they are going to be quicker and less prone to making errors, which is great for the bottom line.

  • Attracting high-quality candidates. When you create a culture of employee development and learning, your organization becomes more attractive to talented jobseekers. This is because employees who have a lot to offer typically want to know that they’ll be valued and have the opportunity to grow their skills.

    Being able to attract talent is good for your company because it cuts down on recruitment time and allows you to have a more effective workforce.

How to Upskill Your Workforce

Taking a thought-out, methodical approach to upskilling your employees will keep you organized and make it easier to measure growth in comparison to the investment costs you put into the upskilling process.

In order to achieve the end goal of domain knowledge for your employees that provides them with the knowledge of specialists or experts in their given field of discipline, follow these steps:

  1. Start with an overall organizational plan. A haphazard approach is not likely to be successful. Consult with supervisors, managers, department heads, senior staff, and any other necessary employees and create an organization-wide plan that includes:

    • Areas of strength that already exist in the workforce

    • Areas of improvement where crucial skills are lacking

    • Target employees who have the capacity for upskilling or retraining in new technology or work practices

    • What methods you want to use for training

    • How you will handle employees who are not able to meet the upskilling challenges and improve their performance

    • What HR and management systems must be in place to handle the desired outcomes and be prepared to hire resilient, adaptable employees in the future that will be able to handle drastic changes and technological advancements

  2. Identify areas where upskilling is most needed. Consider which direction the company is currently trending, as well as which direction you want it to move in the future. This means looking at:

    • Technological advancements. Look at the technological advancements that have already affected your marketplace. It’s important to keep up with relevant news and be aware of how the profession is likely to continue to change based on today’s trends.

    • Regional trends. It’s also important to know what’s trending in your region. For example, if you live in Austin, you should be aware of the top jobs in Austin and to know how that list is potentially impacting your local and regional market.

      Using this information and the knowledge of your department heads and their teams, brainstorm what you anticipate organizations in your industry are going to need to adapt and remain a profitable leader in the market.

    • Current and future skills gaps. Consider what kinds of hard skills and soft skills are going to be required.

      For example, will you need workers who can operate and repair robotic machinery as the process becomes automated in the future? Or are soft skills that relate to connecting with customers and clients more important?

      Once you’ve identified the primary skills to focus on, work with your senior team to formalize the action plan to provide this necessary additional training to your employees.

  3. Choose the training methods. Multiple different options and strategies are at your disposal. Consider what kind of training is going to be best suited to the work tasks and company culture. Some options include:

    • In-person training programs. These programs are overseen by a qualified supervisor or external consultant

    • Offsite courses. Offsite courses such as a college class, seminar, or other opportunities

    • One-on-one mentorship or coaching. This pairs an entry-level employee with a senior-level worker who has experience in the necessary skills

    • Hands-on training initiatives. Training with skilled colleagues

    • Online training. This training has become valuable in the pandemic era of remote work and will likely continue to play a big part in training exercises

    It’s perfectly acceptable to use more than one method and adapt your strategy if you aren’t seeing the results that you wanted. Consult with others in your professional network and find out what strategies they have implemented that yielded positive results.

  4. Provide an employee support system. As employees are trained and, in some cases, retrained, it’s important to pay attention to needs, concerns, and frustrations that may arise in a rapidly changing environment with pressure to continue adapting.

    A strong support system will aid in the transition and help to catch employees who are struggling and at risk of falling through the cracks. Components to consider implementing into your support system may include:

    • Schedule periodic check-ins with HR. Check-ins help gauge employee morale and identify any areas of concern.

    • Encourage conversations among employees. Those who are learning these new skills together may be able to encourage each other and help their colleagues advance.

    • Implement feedback initiatives. Feedback such as a confidential company-wide survey so employees can feel safe expressing their honest thoughts and opinions.

    • Offer rewards and incentive programs. These provide positive reinforcement for employees who perform well and take upskilling expectations seriously.

      One incentive that seems unusual but is rapidly increasing in popularity is allowing employees to have unlimited vacation days as long as all of their work is completed.

    • Plan a professional onboarding schedule. Create a schedule for when employees complete upskill training.

    • Consider how upskilled employees should be compensated. Whether a salary or hourly rate, more valuable employees expect to be paid fairly for their additional skills. So, you don’t want to risk investing in training them just to see them leave your company for another that pays higher wages.

Tips for Upskilling Employees

  1. Accommodate different learning styles. Remember that not every employee is going to learn the same way. Just like in school, some do better with reading and research, others are visual learners, and some prefer a more hands-on approach.

    This is where having variable training methods will help make sure every employee is given a chance to play to his or her strengths.

    It’s also important to touch base with employees to get a sense of how they are feeling about the training and if there are ways you can personalize it for anyone who is struggling with the current methods.

    Perhaps someone who isn’t much of a hands-on learner could be provided with additional resources to read up and memorize information, or someone who has never identified as being book smart might be able to shadow another employee for a day to see the job skills firsthand.

    Just as you expect your employees to be adaptable and learn new skills, your employees expect the same level of adaptability when it comes to their learning needs.

  2. Make development opportunities accessible to all employees. This means creating upskilling programs for employees of all levels and areas of expertise. It also means encouraging them to take advantage of them.

    Make it a policy that employees are allowed to take a certain amount of paid time off to attend approved trainings, or allow them to complete trainings during their work day.

    In addition, pay for as many of the trainings as you can, whether that’s by reimbursing employees or offering sessions in-house. All of this will help break down the barriers keeping employees from upskilling, and it will create a healthy culture of employee development and ongoing learning.

Final Thoughts

The long-term success of a business is tied to multiple factors, but upskilling employees rank among the highest as technology and marketplaces change. If a business can’t keep up, it’s not going to survive, which means its employees must also be able to adapt.

Although upskilling does require some upfront monetary and time investments, the benefits are well worth the effort. If your employees know that you are committed to keeping their skills relevant, your chances of retaining these valuable employees and keeping them happy and productive drastically increase.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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