Upskilling is much more than just plugging the talent and skill gaps in your team, it can make your organisation more profitable and productive, keep your people more engaged and drive your employee retention rates. That’s why it’s so important to do it, and do it right!
On the surface, upskilling existing employees might just seem like adding the skills your team is missing in order to make them better at their jobs, give your customers a better experience and keep you competitive. All of that’s true, but in the process, you’re creating better development pathways for people, which keeps them more connected with the company and reduces the costs of finding new talent.
Why is upskilling important?
- A study of 1,000 business owners by PeopleCert found six in 10 job applicants lack the skills employers are looking for.
So, even if you’re looking outside of your organisation for new skills, you might not find the talents you’re seeking. Which is why a lot of companies are training their existing employees instead, as the statistic below shows.
- Training and developing existing employees is the typical response to tackling the skill gap, used by 67% of respondents. (Source: CIPD & Accenture).
However, as you can see from the two numbers below, the vast majority of people aren’t overly enthused by their current development opportunities and only a minority of organisations have clear pathways in place.
- Only 29% of employees are “very satisfied” with current career advancement opportunities available to them in the organization they work for. (Source: SHRM)
- Only 29% of organisations claim to have clear learning and development plans for their employees. (Source: CIPD & Accenture)
Failing to plan is planning to fail, so if there are no personal development plans for your people, how are you going to close those skill gaps, offer progression and engage/retain staff? If they can see a pathway to progress and their role in growing the business, that’s best for everyone. If you can’t present that vision, the two statistics below might be the wake-up call you need.
- Employees who feel highly engaged are 87% less likely to leave their companies. (Source: Corporate Leadership Council).
- On the conservative end of the spectrum, replacing the average employee costs £12,000. But, according to Oxford Economics, when you consider the loss of productivity and hiring costs, it’s around £30,000.
How to upskill employees effectively
When you’re thinking about upskilling team members, there are a few steps you can take that keep people on board, motivated to continue learning and progress towards shared goals. And it starts with identifying the right skills and speaking with the right people…
Understand the skills you need
Possibly the most important step, you need to understand the skills in your team and identify those that are missing. These new skills you’re lacking cause your skill gap, and you need that context before you work out how you’ll close it. So, you’ll need to conduct a learning needs analysis before anything else.
When it comes to understanding your skills gaps, there’s another issue to think about. Are the skills lacking completely or do some of your internal experts have knowledge that just hasn’t been captured? This is often the biggest problem in many companies and it manifests itself when people leave the company and take all that wisdom with them.
Are you building skills profiles for your people and are you capturing knowledge from the experts in your business? These are two key questions you’ll have to reckon with…
Give people input into their development
Considering your team is a good starting point, but you need to also focus on the individuals. This means a dialogue on what they want and how they see their career development, which you can incorporate into the overall strategy for closing the skills gap. If you want to know more about skills gaps and how to close them, your starting point should be reading up on learning needs analyses.
Create freedom around learning
One reason that learning platforms are so popular (compared to a learning management system) is that they enable people to train at their own pace. Resources are available on-demand and on mobile apps, meaning people can dip in and out when it suits them. They also democratise learning, because employees can search for knowledge that they think will help achieve their goals—it’s not a top-down approach.
Nurturing that curiosity encourages people to learn new skills and gain knowledge organically. When problems arise and we’re in those moments where learning can make a genuine impact, it’s imperative we can search for knowledge. Not only does this create a positive feedback loop, it provides a platform to apply that information, retain more of it and cement those new skills.
Make learning personal
On the topic of learning platforms, those that use artificial intelligence to recommend content based on preferences, goals and habits can make for a more personal experience. That doesn’t mean you can’t consider this for yourself, so when you assign courses to employees, think about how they learn best before doing so.
Relate it to real-life situations
If someone’s developing a new skill, doesn’t it make sense for their learning to happen in the context of your organisation and where they’ll be applying it? For example, if someone’s developing video editing skills, you could create tutorials and tests related to your latest product commercial or feature update. This context makes it far more relevant and useful.
Use microlearning to make it manageable
Thinking small can actually result in big progress, who knew!? Well, everyone who’s been using microlearning and bite-sized content that’s easier for people to digest. Why create an hour video that covers many topics when you could create a five-minute lesson that focuses on one issue?
These small bursts have a clear focus, with clear takeaways for learners. They’re also better suited to those who struggle to set aside long periods for training. And finally, as we mentioned above, they enable people to apply learning as moments of importance arrive, which is hugely beneficial in building those new skills needed to progress.
Give people time to learn
If time is a barrier to learning, give your people what they need to hurdle it. Whether that’s setting aside an amount of time each week, allowing them to work from somewhere else with do not disturb mode on or setting deadlines further out.
Make resources available in the flow of work
A lot of what we’ve covered so far involves learning something and then applying it to your role. But what happens when someone needs to find knowledge while they’re working, right there in the moment? Those resources need to be searchable! This is especially helpful when people need a reminder of what they’re upskilling in, a summary of some of the key points or the supporting documents from their course. This helps create a culture of continuous learning, which drives more development in the future. We’ve got the perfect guide for you if you’re curious about the benefit of learning in the flow of work!
Use social learning and internal talent
We’ve already talked about context, and what better way to provide that than by encouraging learning from colleagues? Your internal experts will have honed their skills within your business and will be able to explain in it that context. It also adds a personal touch and is likely to have a positive impact on whoever is sharing their wisdom.
When it comes to upskilling existing employees, one of your best bets is leveraging existing employees. A lot of the time, when someone has a problem, somebody else has a solution or the knowledge needed to get there! And it’s invaluable because they’ve built knowledge in the context of the business and can help others develop skills in the same way.
Repeat the process
What happens when you’ve closed that skill gap? A lot of people overlook the need to repeat the process again, but when one skill gaps closes, another might have opened. It’s important that you periodically assess which new skills are in demand and if you’re lacking those in your team.