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Upskilling Employees: Everything A Fast-Growing Company Should Know

94% of today’s workforce lack the full skills needed to do their job well in 2030! That statistic can either drive you to despair or to build an upskilling program that means you’re crying tears of joy by the end of the decade.

If you’re leading teams or building people development strategies, skills gaps will become your inevitable nemesis. The battle is identifying which new skills you’re lacking or current skills you need to develop, and building an upskilling strategy to develop them at the pace needed to stay relevant, productive and competitive. 

The good news is that you absolutely can, but it takes the groundwork of understanding skill development and building out an effective strategy. All of which we’ll take you through in this ultimate guide to upskilling.

Defining upskilling and reskilling

What is upskilling?

The beauty of upskilling is that it takes on so many definitions based on how it’s used! 

It’s growing people’s skill sets to shrink company skill gaps. 

It’s the process of building new skills that keep you relevant in ever-evolving industries. 

It’s reducing the need to hire new people by building the talents of those already working in your team. 

In reality, a good upskilling strategy is a combination of all three and a lot more – and that’s kudos to upskilling! It has so many benefits that people will define it based on how it improves their life, company and performance. Something we’ll get into later. 

What is reskilling?

Rather than building on current skills to perform your existing role better, reskilling is the process of training someone to step into a different position. Whether that’s due to employee-driven career choices, employer-driven restructuring or responding to changes in the external landscape, there are many situations where reskilling becomes useful.

Defining upskilling and reskilling in a single sentence

Upskilling employees involves building someone’s existing skills and role to ensure they and their company perform better, while reskilling means stepping into a different role and developing new skills.

How reskilling and upskilling work in the working world

From the World Economic Forum to Walmart, there are trolleys full of research and countless upskilling initiatives that we need to check out for context! Why is upskilling happening? How are influential companies responding to it? And what can we learn from it all to build a great upskilling strategy of our own? 👇

Upskilling’s role and importance by numbers

If we look at it through a narrow lens, it’s easy to tie a neat bow around the upskilling issue. Businesses struggle to find people with the right skills, it halts progress, and they turn to upskilling in order to avoid getting left behind.


A PeopleCert study of 1,000 business owners found that six in 10 job applicants lack the skills employers are looking for.

PWC’s 2021 CEO Survey found that three-quarters of respondents believed finding the right skills was a threat to their business.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Workable found that 42% of executives and managers stepped up their upskilling efforts.

And, in 2021, LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report named upskilling as the top priority for L&D pros. 59% named it number one on their list, a 15% increase on the previous year.

However, getting bogged down in the business response does upskilling a disservice! This is a global issue, driven by multiple factors, with the potential to present immense benefits or challenges to many industries across the world.

The drivers behind global upskilling and reskilling

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) The Future of Jobs Report 2020 stated that half of all global employees would need upskilling by 2025. The growth of automation, rise in high-demand skills and response to the pandemic are credited as some of the key influences behind this staggering figure/

Employees aren’t naive to this evolving landscape either. 39% think their jobs will be obsolete as the skills landscape changes, with 60% directly calling out automation for putting too many jobs at risk. 

The same PWC Upskilling Hopes and Fears 2021 study, which surveyed 32,500 workers, revealed that 77% are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain, and 74% see training as a matter of personal responsibility. So, employees are engaged and motivated when it comes to career development.

Another WEF report, pleasingly in partnership with PWC, revealed the economic benefits when we upskill employees, stating that “Wide-scale investment in upskilling has the potential to boost GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030”. The report indicated we could see similar benefits almost two years sooner if skills gaps are closed quicker too!

The response from people and businesses

We could easily chalk this up to our work environments changing and needing a response. However, the truth is that how we live, shop, research and engage is constantly shifting too.

When people start finding and using our products in new ways, it can cause a huge shift in the skills needed to market, sell and generally do our jobs well. Think of it as things we can control and things we can respond to, a concept supported in the numbers.

WEF findings revealed that companies estimate 40% of employees will need reskilling lasting six months or less, while 94% of business leaders believe they should pick up new skills on the job.

Growth in digital roles is understandably credited as being a key driver of the changing skills landscape, but we can just as easily look towards the role of hybrid working and job evolution driven by the pandemic. 84% of respondents stated that COVID-19 accelerated the digitisation of work processes, while 50% said it would speed up their move to task automation.

Interestingly for us, 42% revealed that it gave their upskilling and reskilling efforts a shot in the arm, reinforcing the idea that it’s not simply a response to evolution but is becoming a key priority in helping us manage change and growth.

Who upskills well and how do they do it? Companies closing their skills gaps

Upskilling isn’t magic, but it’s definitely helpful to have a peek behind the curtain! To see how innovative companies are pulling off this trick rather than falling through the skill trap door.

L’Oréal: Responding to changes in their environment and budget

We’ll start off with L’Oréal because it’s definitely worth it! However, we do have to read between the wrinkles a little to get the real beauty of their upskilling efforts. 

In this interview with Elise Ducret, L’Oréal’s Chief Marketing & Digital Officer, she reveals that budget cuts and the pandemic meant a pivot away from paid ads to using SEO and content marketing. 

“…it has become clear that SEO has regained its first place as a performance channel for us and become more important than ever”, with Ducret effusive in her praise for the brand credibility that quality content allows them build with their audience.

Part of the response was providing their marketing teams with Botify, a tool that automatically updates and optimises content to maintain rankings. However, Ducret’s comment that “we develop a content strategy, become subject matter leaders and ensure we are capturing the interest of our consumers in a more authentic way” indicates there was far more at play than simply adopting new software.

Sadly, we are left to use our imagination a little, as what happened next is never revealed. However, we can presume that L’Oréal invested in their content and SEO upskilling, given its move to primary digital channel. At the same, those managing paid advertising would likely have been offered training to reskill into this space as spending was scaled back.

Another lesson is that it’s sometimes not even about new skills, it’s about giving people a tool or piece of tech that streamlines the time to reach an outcome. In this case, their upskilling strategy boosts productivity, makes people more effective in their role and creates a positive feedback loop that increases the likelihood of them investing in future upskilling.

The L’Oréal lesson:

Our circumstances and the methods needed to achieve our goals change all the time, but it’s how we respond through skill building and tool finding that influence whether our response is flawed or flawless.

Amazon: Analysing your employee data to drive relevant skill development

For a company that’ll deliver products within hours, it’s ironically pleasing that Amazon have taken a long-term approach to upskilling! It all started with looking at workforce and hiring data over a five-year period, establishing their fastest-growing highly-skilled jobs and building an upskilling strategy on those insights.

They discovered some staggering growth in a few key positions: data mapping specialist (+832%), data scientist (+505%), solutions architect (+454%), security engineer (+229%) and business analyst (+160%). Taking customer fulfillment into account, Amazon also found a 400% rise in highly skilled jobs.

A 2019 announcement revealed that $700 million would be invested to upskill 100,000 US employees by 2025 – part of an initiative titled, you guessed it, Upskilling 2025. As part of that, the Prime giants are priming their employees to gain critical skills through a number of options:

  • Amazon Technical Academy, which gives people the skills they need to move into software engineering roles. In a win for social learning and knowledge sharing, it was created by Amazon’s current software engineers! The program uses project-based learning to ensure students understand how the skills can be applied in practice and on the job.
  • The Machine Learning University, meanwhile, is only open to people who have a background in coding and tech. Understanding the busy schedules of their people, these six-week modules only require a half or full day of involvement each week. They’re also given guidance by Amazon’s Machine Learning Scientists during that period to ensure they’re building the right skills.
  • Associate2Tech program is a course open to IT support technicians at Amazon, giving them on-the-job training over a 90-day period. Amazon also pays for their A+ Certification test and, with no degree required, there are few barriers to entry.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC): Building a growth mindset and continuous improvement focus

“You can’t protect jobs, but you can protect people”, upskilling is a complex issue, so hearing it summed up so neatly and profoundly is a joy! Those are the words of PwC’s Carol Stubbings, who reiterates that people shouldn’t get left behind in periods of change and innovation. Their Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, explains that:

“You have a responsibility to protect people and provide them with the right skills and the right training to enable them to be successful within your organisation.”

Unsurprisingly, given its title of Upskilling: Bridging the Digital Divide, this 12-minute video is built around technological evolution, but there are many broad skill lessons to learn. Throughout the video, we’re told about the importance of having the right mindset and creating a culture where learning new skills is encouraged by employers and craved by employees.

Stubbings adds, “It’s really important that people are open, to want to learn, they’re open to being upskilled themselves”, before CitiBank’s Kate Matthews expands on the mindset people need to pull that off:

“From an organisational point of view, helping people develop a growth mindset, understanding that learning doesn’t stop when you leave school, it doesn’t stop after your first round of post university training, it doesn’t stop after your first management role.”

A sentiment echoed by Tamal Bhattacharya, Senior Manager at PwC UK, who drives home the need for “a focus on continuous improvement” and ensuring you add new skills that are “making yourself relevant for the future”.

Upskilling lessons from the PwC experts

It’s easy to pop in a bunch of inspirational and wonderfully-worded quotes, but the truth is there’s a bunch of real and tangible takeaways if we just read between the lines. Here are a few you can use to upskill employees:

Manage the pace of change: Richard Edelman, President and CEO at Edelman, explains why people might be frightened by the need to develop new skills: “People are governed by their fears at the moment; by two to one they think that the pace of innovation is too fast”.

Our job is to ease the concerns that we’ll struggle to keep pace with change, and develop the skills needed to stay relevant in those time constraints. 

Demonstrate internal mobility: As Kate Matthews points out, your people have a level of company understanding that new hires simply cannot match: “It’s also easier in many ways to use the institutional knowledge that you already have and layer on that more skills rather than bringing in new people from the outside.”

Creating an environment where internal mobility happens frequently and visibly helps highlight the value and importance of learning new skills while providing recognition to your best performers. 

Get the right leadership in place: “… first to make sure we’re motivating people to opt in to the opportunities to be in a continuous learning mindset. Second is, you do have to provide the training and the skills and the coaching necessary for people to evolve and advance and to have both the job security and the job opportunities that will be availing themselves in the future.”

Bob Moritz, Global Chairman of PwC, makes the excellent point that we need the right people and leadership skills to drive and implement our upskilling methods and culture. Visionaries who can not only bring plans to life but get people on board at the same time.

Recognise the role of technology: Rather than fearing technology’s evolution, we should be harnessing tools that automate the things that slow us down or that we simply don’t enjoy! Carol Stubbings adds that:

“We’ve invested heavily in technology. We want to make sure that that technology is being utilised. You know, technology can take away a lot of the mundane of our everyday work. And a lot of our people don’t necessarily want to do the work the way we did it five years ago.”

AT&T: Self-awareness of how fast your industry is changing and creating clear paths to new roles

It takes a lot of guts to recognise and publicly state half of your 250,000-strong workforce is lacking the necessary, critical skills to remain competitive. Imagine how daunting the task of upskilling 125,000 people must be! Nevertheless, AT&T had the self-awareness and courage to make this admission in 2018.

This CNBC article describes their evolution from a voice network to data network and recounts the crystalising 2008 moment when they assessed the skills required to “thrive in this new mobile- and software-centric world, they faced a stark reality: The company just didn’t have enough of the talent it needed.”

While science, engineering, math and technology skills seemed to be key areas of concern, there was also the foresight that 100,000 workers were occupying roles with hardware functions that probably wouldn’t exist in a decade.

They were at a fork in the skills road, as Senior Executive Vice President of Human Resources, Bill Blase, explained:

“We could go out and try to hire all these software and engineering people and probably pay through the nose to get them, but even that wouldn’t have been adequate. Or we could try to reskill our existing workforce so they could be competent in the technology and the skills required to run the business going forward.”

Pay through the nose they did not! Instead, they pledged $1 billion to Future Ready, their reskilling initiative, which offered mostly-online training, courses, and reskilling options. Many companies would see that as their end of the bargain fulfilled, but the better question is, where do those skills lead you?

AT&T created their Career Intelligence portal, highlighting the available jobs, the skills needed for each and most impressively, an indication of whether that area would shrink or grow in the coming years. Rather than employees learning skills for jobs that might be obsolete by the time they acquire them, there’s clarity over the longevity of that role – which helps AT&T’s people build meaningful career paths.

Should I upskill people or hire new talent

Should I upskill employees or hire new talent?

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Walmart: Creating new career paths in high-demand areas

“As the largest private employer in the U.S., Walmart aims to be the market leader in providing retail workers a path to careers in growing fields like healthcare,” explained Ellie Bertani, Senior Director of Learning Strategy & Innovation at Walmart.

Hence why they selected Penn Foster’s upskilling platform to provide pathways into healthcare careers. The tool offers on-demand and career specific coursework that blends online learning with work-based skill building. At the time of that 2019 announcement, any Walmart employees not currently working as an optician or pharmacy technician would be eligible to enrol in this training.

This came on the back of the U.S. Department of Labor naming healthcare as the country’s fastest-growing industry and Walmart recognising the opportunity to progress people into more secure and high-paying positions.

Another interesting lesson here is around the purpose for your upskilling programs. By providing a pathway to a role that solves a genuine issue, we’re likely to tap into motivation and purpose!

Why should we upskill employees?

The benefits and advantages of upskilling

An alternative to hiring for skills and an incentive to retain staff

Can you really expect employees to be as committed to your goals if you’re not investing in theirs? Whether it’s developing their skill set or progressing into a new role, they won’t get there if you’re not supporting them and their development.

Building a culture of internal mobility, upskilling and continuous learning encourages people to stick with your company, showing them that career development is on the cards if they stick around.

70% of employees would be somewhat likely to leave their current organisation for one known for investing in employee development and learning.

34% of employees who left their previous job were driven by a search for career development opportunities.

Over 70% of high-retention-risk employees will leave their company in order to advance their career.


Retention rates rise 30-50% for companies with strong learning cultures, reducing employee turnover rates. 

As we learnt from our PwC example, “It’s also easier in many ways to use the institutional knowledge that you already have and layer on that more skills rather than bringing in new people from the outside.”

Selfishly, as this quote from CitiBank’s Kate Matthews highlights, this cuts back on the costs of hiring new staff in the search for critical skills and loss of productivity that comes with getting an external hire up to speed. Plus, you’re reducing the costs associated with higher rates of employee turnover when we retain and upskill employees.

Improve your employer brand and attract top new talent

If you want the best people, you need to convince them they can become the best version of themselves at your company and that career development is on the table! That’s why upskilling is so crucial in attracting top talent and building an appealing employer brand.

According to Workable, 74% would prefer to work at a company offering upskilling and reskilling opportunities. An Amdocs survey supported this by revealing 90% of respondents “consider strong training and upskilling programs an important feature of prospective employers. For tech workers, that figure jumps to 98 percent.”

We’re no longer in a recruiter’s marker! Applicants have far more control, especially given how remote working has opened up wider, global talent pools. In a competitive hiring environment, upskilling keeps you top of the league and more resistant to employee turnover. Imagine having numbers around talent mobility or how much you invest to upskill employees, a tangible way to show commitment to growth? That’ll help you stand out!

Keep pace with industry change and stay ahead of the curve

Skills don’t last forever! Well, some do – if you learned to fry an egg 30 years ago, chances are you can still whip up a mean breakfast. The trouble is, if we want to remain competitive stay ahead of the curve in corporate positions, ‘office’ jobs and tech-reliant roles, learning in-demand skills is what keeps us sunny side up.

Research shows that the ‘half life’ of skills (a fancy term for how long they’re relevant) sits at around five years, while that’s halved for more technical skills. That’s an oversimplification, ignoring the idea that something can still be relevant but lose impact or potency. 

Imagine being on top of your Instagram and Snapchat game, and TikTok emerges, proving to be a far better product fit. Your skills for the former are still relevant and up-to-date, but TikTok arguably becomes far more crucial for you – meaning you need to build new talents upon your existing social media foundation.

As HowNow CEO and Co-Founder, Nelson Sivalingam, wrote in his book Learning At Speed,

“We’re living in an era of exponential change, where new winners and losers are being made at remarkable speed. The accelerating pace of change creates uncertainties and opportunities. The fastest learners can seize the opportunities and win. Others who can’t learn fast enough struggle to keep up, compete and eventually lose.

“The rate of change has destroyed all the traditional moats an organisation once considered essential. It is no longer enough to have the highest quality product, the cheapest price or the best people. Neither is it enough to “just” learn. If you’re not learning, you’re not even in the race. But to win, organisations and individuals must learn to learn at speed. They must build the capability to rapidly unlearn old ways and learn new ones based on the ever-changing environment.”

Pick up your copy of Learning At Speed and learn how to upskill employees at the pace of change. The book is available directly from the publisher, on Amazon, through Waterstones or by Googling the book title and Nelson Sivalingam.

Learning At Speed By Nelson Sivalingam

Boost your bottom line and improve the economic position

Should we treat ‘human capital’ in the same ways we treat financial capital? According to McKinsey research, the answer is an emphatic yes because it can improve our bottom line significantly! Their finding is that “reskilling would yield positive economic returns in about three-quarters of cases”, and for workers to yield the full benefits of upskilling, around 90% of the workforce will need to be trained.

As we’ll get to very shortly, upskilling and reskilling provide productivity boosts, enabling people and businesses to perform better! In large enterprises, 43% of upskilling cases would yield payoffs, while small and medium-sized businesses would benefit in a further 30% of cases. Upskilling brings this improved performance and productivity through blending all the benefits we discuss in this section.

Boost your bottom line and improve the economic position Should we treat ‘human capital’ in the same ways we treat financial capital? According to McKinsey research, the answer is an emphatic yes because it can improve our bottom line significantly! Their finding is that “reskilling would yield positive economic returns in about three-quarters of cases”, and for workers to yield the full benefits of upskilling, around 90% of the workforce will need to be trained. As we’ll get to very shortly, upskilling and reskilling provide productivity boosts, enabling people and businesses to perform better! In large enterprises, 43% of upskilling cases would yield payoffs, while small and medium-sized businesses would benefit in a further 30% of cases. Upskilling brings this improved performance and productivity through blending all the benefits we discuss in this section.

But what about the other 25% of cases, where upskilling might not be economically beneficial? Well, this speaks more about how that upskilling is done. In those quarter of cases where profit doesn’t increase, have the necessary skills been identified and has giving someone new skills been carried out in an effective way? The answer is probably not.

As McKinsey point out, “when employers require new or more advanced skills, and inaction would erode their competitive advantage, reskilling beats doing nothing.”

The concern is whether that’s the attitude some businesses take. A ‘beats doing nothing’ outlook could be preventing them from fully committing to an upskilling program that drives the business forward. Maybe it’s a new skill they need to develop themselves…

Build more productive teams and skilled employees

When productivity goes up, all the important numbers tend to go up. So it’s fitting to kick off with some impressive numbers on the upskilling and output relationship that’ll give us more proof our upskilling efforts will make a difference.

According to Workable, 91% of companies and 81% of employees say upskilling and reskilling training has boosted productivity at work. While our trusty McKinsey research revealed a productivity uplift of around 6% to 12% when reskilling occurs. 

And it’s not rocket science to understand why. If you close your skills gap, develop people while driving their motivation levels and keep up with the industry trends, it’s no wonder your team will be firing on all cylinders.

Deliver better products, services and customer experiences

You can argue all you like about whether the customer is always right, but it’s undeniable that they’re our ultimate barometer for whether we’re doing a good job! Are they satisfied, do they come back and do they recommend others to try out what we’re offering?

A beautiful bi-product of upskilling is that we can deliver improving and exceptional customer experiences. If our team are more knowledgeable, motivated, productive, and we’ve retained them for a long period, those all play a part in what we offer to the end user.

When we understand our customers and how they use our products, we also build learning initiatives around solving problems – which means we upskill employees more effectively too.

Build a culture of continuous learning and change management

The more frequently people are learning new skills, the more likely it becomes a habit. The more it becomes a habit in your teams, the more likely you are to build a culture of continuous learning. And the more you can do that, the easier it becomes to upskill skills and adapt to change.

Overcoming barriers to upskilling and tackling misconceptions

If upskilling’s not happening already, you might bring up the topic with an enthusiasm you feel can win anyone over. The trouble is that not everyone will be on the new skills train at the first station, and you’ll probably get push back. Think of it as having the ticket to success, and sceptical colleagues are the conductors who keep questioning whether it’s the right one.

The good news is that we’ve identified the four most common objections to upskilling and explained how you can overcome them.

Resistance to change

Some people are just set in their ways. They’re happy with the current way you’re approaching people development and can’t see the value in changing it. In their eyes, it ain’t broke, so why fix it?

How to tackle it:

Try to understand why they’re resistant to change and ask questions around pain points and challenges. Once you’ve understood that, you’re better placed to explain why upskilling is a change worth making.

Cost concerns

If someone’s tightly clutching the purse strings and you approach with a new strategy that’ll require a budget shift or increase, there’s a fair chance they’ll push back on the monetary cost.

How to tackle it:

Explain how expensive it can be when you don’t upskill employees! Remember, in 75% of cases, upskilling brings a bottom-line benefit and it’s estimated that it drives productivity by between 6% and 12%.

We’ll train people who leave for pastures new

For some people, there’s a cynicism around what people will do with their shiny new talents after we invest resources to upskill employees. While some will clearly see how it benefits the company, others will have concerns about the long term. What if provide someone with career development opportunities and they use their new talents to secure a better gig elsewhere?

How to tackle it:

With the three facts below! People leave jobs because they lack development opportunities and tend to stick around when there’s a chance to develop new skills. Meaning that upskilling actually has a positive influence on employee turnover.

  • 34% of employees who left their previous job were driven by a search for career development opportunities.
  • Over 70% of high-retention-risk employees will leave their company in order to advance their career development.
  • Retention rates rise 30-50% for companies with strong learning cultures.

Train them and they WON’T leave! Why upskilling retains employees

Train them and they WON’T leave! Why upskilling retains employees

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We train people and that skill becomes obsolete

Part of our upskilling argument is that our industries and the necessary skills change frequently. So it’s not inconceivable that you might receive pushback around why we should build a skill that becomes obsolete soon after.

How to tackle it:

By explaining that not every facet of the skill becomes obsolete when we need to learn something new. The things we already know form the foundation for building new skills. And they set us up to be more adaptable!

So even if we learn a skill that’s superseded in six months, it’ll act as a base level of knowledge that we build on.

Who’s responsible for upskilling employees? Key stakeholders to win over

Whether you’re at the top of the hierarchy or somewhere further down, we’re all cogs in the upskilling machine. Whether it’s CEOs providing the budget or employees investing in the idea of their development, we all have our roles to play. 

It’s also worth remembering that, as an L&D, HR or people development professional, these are your stakeholders. The people you need to buy in if your upskilling efforts are going to pay off.


In 2019, 74% of CEOs revealed concerns about the availability of key skills. The question is, how many of them did something about it!? CEOs have three key tools for influencing upskilling. They can create the budget to invest in people’s skill development, they can build a culture of upskilling through management and they can set the tone through leading by example. 

If the person running the company finds time to develop their skill set, what excuse do the rest of us have. And if they’re understanding how upskilling ties into achieving the business goals, that’ll influence how every related activity is communicated.


Our leaders can take us to water, but they can’t force learners to drink in all that knowledge. As employees, we need to take some responsibility for our development and grab opportunities when they’re presented to us. A colleague could promise to teach us a new skill, but it’ll only work if we’re open, enthusiastic and willing to put it into practice.

Luckily, learners have plenty of self awareness. You might remember our PwC statistic from the opening section; 77% of workers are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain and 74% see training as a matter of personal responsibility. As part of that, we should try to recognise trending skills in our industry and assess where we think our blind spots sit. 

L&D, HR and people development teams

So, the big chiefs give the upskilling green light, and employees show the enthusiasm needed to make it work. Who’s going to create the framework to bring that dream to life? Enter the L&D, people development or HR department! From putting the right tech in place to connecting skills with company goals and measuring success, they’re crucial in getting upskilling programs off the ground. 

If you are in one of those departments and wondering how to build out your upskilling approach, the following sections in this guide will get you through the process.

Management and leadership

Aside from their work besties and spouses, who knows an employee best? The answer is arguably their managers. From understanding the ins and outs of their roles to knowing their goals, aspirations and traits as a person, they can tap into a mine of golden upskilling knowledge. 

Building out personalised development pathways depends on managers and their leadership skills! From helping shape it alongside the teams we mentioned above to implementing and measuring it, they play a crucial role in building a culture of upskilling.

Analysing and defining your current skill gap

Anyone who’s built a piece of flatpack furniture knows what a skill gap is! That gaping chasm between the talents needed to complete a task and the skills you currently have. It turns out an Allen key and set of images isn’t always enough to build a Scandinavian-sounding coffee table faster than it takes to learn the name.

For businesses, the stakes are much higher than having somewhere to rest a hot drink! Lacking the skills needed to succeed means you’ll struggle to remain competitive, become less productive and are less likely to reach your goals. Hence why this next part of the puzzle is so crucial –  the need to identify skills gaps that exist in your business and build an upskilling strategy around them.

What causes skill gaps?

Detectives don’t just arrive at crime scenes and get stuck in. They’ll ask whoever’s there for a summary of what we know so far. And like skill sheriffs, we can’t just dive into analysing our gaps without understanding why they happen. Otherwise, all our upskilling efforts and energy could be for nothing…

Here’s our quick report on what commonly causes skills gaps – case closed!

  • We stop learning! Remember, the half-life of our skills (how long they remain relevant) sits at just five years and half of that for more technical skills. If we don’t continue learning throughout our careers, our talents can soon become outdated.
  • The industry changes: Maybe we continue learning but don’t notice how the world is changing around us. Somewhere out there, somebody might still be using a fax machine, desperately waiting for a reply and unable to type out an email. 
  • Our employers hesitate: Our leaders should have a finger on the skills pulse and understand where the industry is changing. How quickly they respond determines not only how the business performs but how wide the skills gap becomes.
  • New technology enters the equation: It’s a little like our fax machine example, but technology has the continuing ability to revolutionise the way we work. Quite often, it automates the mundane and gives back time to spend on activities that make a real difference. If we don’t get to grips with that technology fast, our competitors can easily steal a march on us.
  • Poor communication and understanding of applicant skills: If someone applying for a job lists a particular skill on their CV, how often do employers really understand their proficiency in it? If there’s not a clear understanding of proficiency, that is likely to impact their ability to do the job well.
  • Ineffective learning and development strategies: If you’re just being farmed off for a two-day course once a year, is it any surprise if your skills slip!? If our L&D efforts aren’t ongoing, personalised and built around the company goals, we won’t be building the necessary skills.
  • We presume we’re learning new skills: It’s a similar argument, but a lot of the time, we might be learning new things and presuming we are upskilling. However, if they’re not having an impact, are they the right things…

How to carry out a skills gap analysis, step by step

Step 1: Assess and understand your business and team goals

When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there! Or to update that famous quote for upskilling, if you don’t understand the end goal, you’ll probably take a pretty pointless skills journey.

If we don’t assess our business and team goals as the first step, we lack the crucial context needed for every other stage in the process. Can you really audit current skills effectively if you don’t know the end game or the impact you need them to have?

This is a complex task that’s made to sound too easy, too often when people offer advice on closing your skills gap.

Step 1.5: Break down goals into stepping stones and gain more context

Our company goals might revolve around revenue, but you can’t just give people the skill of revenue generation. Instead, we need to understand things like the average deal size or number of signed contracts needed to reach that profit target. 

We’ll also need insights into why our current process doesn’t do this. Do we not generate enough leads or the right kind? Does our sales process take too long? Do a lot of potential customers drop off at a particular point in the sales cycle? It’s not as simple as saying, to reach Goal A we need to upskill people in Skill A.

You should also ask if certain goals are closer than others? If we’re well on track with a particular target and upskilling a few members of the team gets us over the line sooner, that’s a quick win. It’s also helpful to your overall upskilling cause and proving the impact it can have.

Step 1.9: Think ahead and look at your surroundings

You’ve got those fixed goals in the short term, but you also need to consider where the company is heading beyond those. What could the next set of goals look like, and what’s on the horizon for our product or service?

Thinking outside that box, what’s happening in your industry? Are particular talents trending right now, and why could that be? Remember, upskilling is also about keeping pace with change and not doing so only widens your skill gap. Seek out research, studies and surveys in your sector to get a handle on what’s going on.

By the time you’ve done all of this, you’ll have a more data-driven, context-based and actionable understanding of which skills are required to drive your company forward.

Understanding the skills gaps related to your business goals (1)

Step 2: Audit your current skills and proficiency

Unsuprisingly, once you’ve worked out the skills you need, the next step is auditing those you currently have. But it’s more than simply noting down that Janet in accounts knows how to use Excel. You need to understand people’s proficiency in particular skills and have a well-rounded picture of their talents.

If you skip this step in your upskilling strategy, you essentially won’t be able to measure impact effectively. If you don’t know the starting point for skills, you’ll never know L&D’s impact on moving that needle.

There are four key elements of a great skill assessment:

Self review

Self review

Ask somebody to list their current skills and indicate how proficient they believe they are.

Peer review

Peer review

Turn to their colleagues for insights, it’ll help mitigate any self-deprecation or overconfidence in their self assessment and provide a more-rounded picture for upskilling.

Manager insights

Manager insights

Given that managers will assess performance in relation to goals, they’ll have a good handle on strengths and weaknesses.

Performance data

Performance data

Someone might not feel like they have a skill in the traditional sense, but the hard figures could prove them wrong. A customer success rep might not feel like they have crisis management skills while their client feedback scores tell a different tale.

Upskilling FAQ: Where are we capturing, storing and analysing this skill data?

Don’t even mention the word spreadsheet! Our skills aren’t fixed, they move so fast that even someone with every Excel shortcut and formula up their sleeve will struggle with manual management.

In reality, you need a tool or platform that easily allows you to measure skills. And wouldn’t it be helpful if it was the same platform that helped you build skills too!?

Here are four quick ways HowNow empowers you to measure skills faster and more effectively:

Skill suggestions

When an employee clicks the add skill button, we’ll suggest skills based on their job role. And we take these from more than 500,000 live job roles that we measure and analyse, meaning you can understand in-demand traits for the positions in your team.

Recommended skills

Guided self assessment

Has anyone ever asked you to answer on a scale of one to 10, without any context about what either of the spectrum means? People need context! That’s why we provide it, based on five levels of proficiency from Novice to Expert.

Skills Competent

Request a peer review

Some of us are too modest, and some of us perhaps think a little too much of our own talents – that’s why it’s so crucial to get a second opinion. Once you’ve finished a self assessment, you can click the three little dots next to your rating and request an endorsement from a colleague.

Skills endorsement

Get quick insights into skills levels in your team

Once you’ve spent all that time collecting and assessing your skills, you want to report on it in the blink of an eye. We’re not quite that quick, but it’ll only take a couple of clicks to filter skills by proficiency, job role and when they were last updated!

Skills Dashboard

This means you can quickly identify which skills you have in your team, to which level and whether they’re current! All within one easy-to-use dashboard.

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Step 3: Mind (and measure) the gap

By this point, you can look at the skills gap between what you need and what you have in two ways.

Quick wins: Skills we need and already have but without the proficiency to perform effectively.

Long-term goals: Skills that we are lacking entirely and present a different, pressing challenge.

This important step helps you avoid the knee-jerk reaction to bring in external talent to plug holes. Instead, it’ll enable you to recognise who has the internal potential to progress and where you might be advised to bring in someone from the outside. It’s a case of being measured and prioritising which talents are most pressing.

Step 4: Closing the skills gap

Congratulations, you’ve now got everything you need to address skills gaps! And this essentially means you’re guiding all your resources and upskilling efforts in the right direction.

How you’re going to do it is the next big question. We’ve got a few things to wrap up in this section, but you can click this link and jump ahead to how to upskill, reskill and develop your people.

The role of a personal skills gap analysis

Now, some companies won’t invest in upskilling, leaving employees to take talent destiny into their own hands. For others, they might encourage people to undertake a personal skills analysis as part of identifying their overall gaps. 

Here are few things someone can do to carry out a personal skills analysis.

  • Assess current job descriptions for similar roles and identify the key skills listed.
  • Speak with people in your current role or ones you aspire to enter and ask questions around their skill set.
  • Study your own performance, what are you good at? This will help you identify skills, as will analysing weaknesses.
  • Download reports and research. All it normally takes is a quick form with some personal details, and you’ve got the latest studies there on your screen. Those will help you recognise where the industry is headed.
  • Scrutinise your own CV. When you learned a skill is important, but can you really remember when that was? If not, get your CV up and analyse the time that’s passed since you picked up a skill.

How to upskill, reskill and develop your people

Even when two people need to develop the same new skills, it’s highly unlikely they’ll have the same starting point, the same existing knowledge or the same experience. And most upskilling guides fail to recognise this fact, instead, listing out techniques as if they can be rolled out across the board.

The reality is that if we’re going to upskill well, we need to understand the context of how we apply upskilling techniques as well as the where and why. Essentially learning how to spot skills gaps and give people the talents to close them is one of the most overlooked and underrated leadership skills.

Personalise your upskilling and learning programs

Arguably the most important tool in your arsenal, simply for the fact that effective upskilling is all about individual people! You’re lacking a certain skill (or proficiency level) in your team, you recognise potential in someone and capitalise on that to shrink the gap.

But there are so many variables at play that only a personalised approach can work! You have to consider:

  • The existing level of skill and knowledge.
  • Where that’s been obtained (in the same company, industry or elsewhere?).
  • The day-to-day tasks or responsibilities of that individual.
  • How that person likes to learn.
  • Where that person works (both physically and in terms of tools they use).
  • Their current performance and metrics in the role.
  • Personal goals for that individual.

When you see all that written out, it’s obvious that blanket programs and courses can’t close specific gaps. 

Establishing existing knowledge means you don’t waste time teaching them to suck eggs. Understanding where someone works and wants to build their skills helps you tailor learning to the moments of need. Recognising where someone obtained existing knowledge gives you context around the content they need most. That’s the power of personalised upskilling!

Define impact: Without it, how do you know if you’ve achieved success?

Sometimes, in the upskilling fog, people lose sight of why they’re building a skill. As we already know, it’s typically to help the company reach a goal. But what happens if we only measure the skill proficiency and not the impact it allows us to have? We won’t truly have a picture of success, which is why we have to measure both.

When you’re building out these upskilling pathways, establish the goals along the lines of giving Person X, Skill Y in order to achieve outcome Z.

You might build the skill effectively but not achieve the outcome or start reaching the target before the presumed proficiency gets reached. Unless you set that clear and defined impact, you won’t have that clarity.

Leverage social learning and your internal experts

You’ve got to watch out for the skills blinkers, getting tunnel vision and viewing upskilling solely as a means to bring new skills to the team. It can just as easily mean developing existing skills in more people.

In fact, that’s arguably a key part of building a sustainable upskilling strategy – otherwise, you’ll always be thinking about buying or borrowing talent, rather than building it!

For example, we might have one expert in product launches and start ramping up our number of releases. Unless that one expert is an octopus and can spin eight plates at once, it’s a skill we’ll need to build in more employees.

Our expert/octopus is perfectly placed to share that wisdom with colleagues, given their experience is company-specific, tacit knowledge that’s been developed on the job. But this can only happen if you’re capturing it and making it available to the right people in the right moments.

Your role as an L&D professional or people manager is to build out formats and spaces to capture that wisdom. It’s no use in silos, but ultimately you won’t know it’s trapped in there unless you’re auditing skills and proficiency.

And finally, remember that if you’re going to upskill employees through social learning you need to be a great listener and relationship builder. Why? Because you won’t know which problems people are facing, skills they need or have, and when to connect employees to internal opportunities.

Everything you need to upskill team members and get it right

Everything you need to upskill team members and get it right

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Incorporate mentoring and coaching

On a similar note, you might need to pair two employees together over a longer period to transfer that knowledge. There’s a difference between making wisdom available to people and a wise colleague guiding them through a journey to build new skills.

Say one of your biggest pain points is closing deals. You’re generating enough leads, but during the sales process they drop off rather than signing on the dotted line. Your subject matter expert and chief deal closer can help others master that talent. From taking them through the theory and letting them shadow calls, to creating mock client meetings and troubleshooting as they tackle issues on the job.

Create low-stress practice environments

Mentoring or not, setting up practice environments is a fantastic way to remove the pressure from developing a new skill. Even KFC have used virtual reality restaurants to train chefs, proving that if people can’t handle the heat, maybe they need a less stressful kitchen to practice in.

Nobody is expecting you to build a VR game and send headsets to everyone, but the principle is the same. There often needs to be a middle ground between learning theory and applying it on the job, especially when we’re talking about people-facing roles. Who wants to learn about crisis management one day and manage a full-blown customer meltdown the next!? Or try to develop their compassionate leadership skills in one-to-ones when the company’s going through a tough time?

If you incorporate practice pitches, self-tests and low-pressure environments to measure proficiency, you’ll allow people to build confidence ahead of heading into the deep end.

Offer microlearning and short-form content

Brevity is not only the soul of wit, it’s often the sole thing people are crying out for when they really, really need to learn something!

If we are trying to develop a new skill on the job or during client interactions, we don’t need a course, we don’t need a colleague, we need guidance there and then. Something we can digest and apply in the moment.

That’s where the idea of microlearning enters the upskilling equation. Let’s go back to our crisis management example. You’re learning that skill, and during a customer call, the system goes down completely. The speed and quality of your response matters, so how are you going to do that well?

If the answer is to turn to lengthy PDFs or wait for a colleague to reply, you can’t quash the crisis. The ideal scenario is that you search your knowledge base for system failure and find a short-form resource that takes you through it step-by-step. If that exists, you perform better and go through a positive experience in honing the skill. Imagine the negative impact of struggling through that customer interaction and floundering under a tidal wave of information.

Provide access to on-demand content

When it comes to learning, none of us are built the same. From early birds to night owls and mobile learners to desktop studiers, we approach skill building in our own ways. But the biggest bugbear in a lot of companies is that content isn’t available on-demand. How are we going to upskill employees if they can’t find the information they need in the moment of need!?

We focus on the right content a lot, but too many overlook the medium! Like those on-the-job moments we just discussed, it’s crucial that people can find the resources they need on-demand. You might host monthly live sessions on key topics, but why not upload those for people to watch back in their own time. While you’re at it, you could add timestamps for each issue discussed and open up a comments section to drive social learning.

Meet the LXP that supercharges your upskilling

From bringing all your resources to the end of a single search to empowering subject matter experts to share wisdom with teammates, HowNow is designed to give your people the skills and knowledge they need to perform their role effectively, everywhere they already work!

Let us show you how and start the journey to upskill your employees in style 👇

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