A woman, seen in profile, sits at a white table in front of a digital drawing tablet and a computer keyboard. She wears a fur vest over a white sweater and holds a digital stylus or pen in one hand, as if getting ready to draw something on the tablet. Another woman stands over her, leaning forward to look at the tablet. On the wall behind the two women, a high shelf holds small canvases of artwork.
Upskilling involves building on skills and knowledge that your employees already utilize, strengthening them in their current roles. — Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt

In an increasingly dynamic professional landscape, many managers and entrepreneurs can benefit from retaining valuable employees, reducing turnover, and creating a more efficient workforce. Upskilling, the practice of teaching employees new skills to complement the existing and future needs of the business, is an excellent solution to today’s labor shortage.

Upskilling focuses on elevating both soft and hard skills — including communication, organization, and role-specific knowledge — to fill gaps in the current workforce. Upskilling (and reskilling) employees enables businesses to remain adaptable, maintain flexibility, and stay ahead of industry trends. Here’s how you can use upskilling to improve your existing employees’ performance.

Upskilling vs. reskilling

While both upskilling and reskilling involve learning new skills, upskilling focuses on developing skills that will improve an employee’s performance in their current role, while reskilling teaches an employee new skills they can use to transition to a different role. Both approaches, however, help managers and HR professionals fill workforce gaps.

Upskilling builds on existing skills. For instance, when upskilling a journalist, you might focus on further developing their interviewing skills so they can thrive in their current role. When reskilling a journalist for a role as an editor, you will teach them entirely new skills (like providing clear feedback and proofreading content) that will enable them to adjust to that new position.

[Read more: How to Create a Resilient Business]

In-demand skills to consider upskilling

A recent report from World Economic Forum identified the most in-demand business skills today:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation.
  • Active learning and learning strategies.
  • Complex problem-solving.
  • Critical thinking and analysis.
  • Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility.
  • Creativity, originality, and initiative.
  • Leadership and social influence.
  • Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation.
  • Emotional intelligence.
  • Technology design and programming.

[Read more: Skills Gaps: How to Identify Them in Your Business]

Use every tool at your disposal to secure clear storytelling data when making upskilling decisions.

Upskilling strategies

When setting out to create an organized upskilling program, keep in mind the size, budget, and future goals of your business. Here are five strategies to consider when upskilling your employees.

  • Consider Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM). For businesses that don’t know where to start when upskilling employees, lean on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s framework, designed to help employers better organize and manage talent supply chains. Businesses can learn how to fortify their talent pipelines — whether that means upskilling current employees or increasing the quality and number of new hires to fill the most critical job openings.
  • Assess current and future assets. Strategize with key decision-makers to identify the gaps in your workforce, as well as the core competencies you have and want to retain. Map the skills of each role and the complementary training needed to attain those skills. Larger organizations tend to have skill matrices at their disposal, while smaller businesses and startups can use tools like MuchSkills, which helps visualize the breadth of employees’ hard and soft skills. While mapping skills, think about what the business may need one, two, five, and ten years from now.
  • Follow data. Use every tool at your disposal to secure clear storytelling data when making upskilling decisions. Use surveys, face-to-face interviews, automated data collection, and other tools to ensure the gaps you’ve identified truly need to be filled — or if employees who work their processes day-to-day see other opportunities for growth.
  • Get employee buy-in. According to CEOs surveyed by PwC in 2020, motivating and aligning resources is one of the biggest challenges to organized upskilling programs. As such, it’s important to have transparent communication about expectations, promotions, and rewards for employees. The program should facilitate a two-way street to enable mutual growth. Entrust employees with control over their learning by allowing them to pick critical skills to learn and how they’ll learn, which will help them build a sense of ownership in their education and role.
  • Remain flexible and open. Don’t let upskilled employees sit on what they’ve learned. Stay flexible and offer new opportunities to the employees who’ve shown the initiative to learn and grow. Always fall back on data and research, and place your newly upskilled employees in the gaps identified at the outset.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published January 25, 2023