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Five top tips for upskilling and reskilling employees

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

As the future of work looms, opportunities and trends call for new skills, new knowledge, and a new frame of mind. HR leaders play a key role in implementing the ultimate strategic response of the global workforce to such demands: upskilling and reskilling.

In a report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) stated that investing in the skills of the future "could add USD 8.3 trillion in increased productivity to the global economy by 2030." However, given the myriad of competencies needed for future career paths, not all employers know where to start.

“Across all education and income levels, what we saw is that over half of want to upskill, but awareness of what exactly to do was one of the biggest barriers,” Kweilin Ellingrud, future of work analyst and senior partner at McKinsey and director of its Global Institute, said.

Here are five principles HR leaders should adopt as they embark on upskilling and reskilling journeys at the workplace:

1. Enable self-employee advocacy

Companies are doing more frequent check-ins nowadays than the traditional annual review process. In one of those check-ins, employees must be asked about how they view learning and development and what skills they want to gain.

Insurance company John Hancock provides its employees paid time each month to choose and take courses on their online self-service learning center called Pursuit Learning Hub. In October 2021, data shows that their employees collectively spent 12,000 hours gaining skillsets.

2. Apply employees' feedback on skilling programmes

Asking workers about what they want to be changed or added to skilling programmes is one thing but actually showing them that they were used is another. In a Harvard Business Review article, Susan R. Vroman, a lecturer of management at Bentley University, and Tiffany Danko, an adjunct associate professor at USC Bovard College, shared how Medicus, a healthcare provider with 215 employees, improved its retention rate by adopting the insights of their employees.

"When an uptick in resignations was noticed in a job category, the L&D team gathered employee feedback on why employees were leaving, then, they acted. Posnik’s team collaborated with operators to identify barriers and opportunities to enhance the upskilling experience at key moments in the employee lifecycle. The result was a layered, four-week program that, when designed and implemented, improved retention by 50%," they wrote.

3. Practice inclusivity and equitability

Upskilling and reskilling should be extended to employees who are motivated to learn and expand their career opportunities. To close talent gaps, organisations should allow under-presented groups and entry-level workers to move into higher-level roles through mentoring programmes. HR can integrate the use of data-driven trackers into selecting and qualifying potential candidates.

In a CNBC report, Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of workforce development organization Year Up, emphasised the importance of going beyond the traditional means of nurturing talent. “I think it’s a really brave person as a CEO to say I’m willing to look at that data, I’m willing to question what might we be doing to perpetuate this, and then to say how might we disrupt it because we’re going to get the best out of everyone,” Chertavian said.

4. Diversify and connect skills

Skilling programmes should offer a blend of skills to choose from, according to a Harvard Business Review article by talent management experts at Boston Consulting Group. The skills can range from business, functional, and digital to leadership and soft skills. Integrating two or all of them is an option for organisations that need to fill new roles involved in addressing complex challenges.

"Instead of creating a module for each of these topics, the program focused on projects where all these skills needed to be applied in tandem. The result was a rapid learning curve over six months, where more than 65% of learners pivoted to new data and digital roles within just a few months of program completion," they wrote.

5. Make the upskilling and reskilling plans tangible

Laying down a clear and concrete map for development allows employees to set expectations, follow a direction, monitor their progress and performance, and identify any gaps they still need to address. While the rewards for their efforts to upskill or reskill would not be immediate, understanding their career progression and knowing there is a goal to fulfill can further motivate them to accomplish more.

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