The Importance of Upskilling Your Employees

By Robert Half July 10, 2018 at 12:00pm

In an era of increasing automation and changing business priorities, upskilling is taking on new urgency.

Upskilling is more than just a new term for professional training and development. It comes along at a time when teaching your employees new skills is no longer just a nice thing for a company to offer but a must-do. Here’s why:

Why upskilling matters

The nature of jobs is shifting. Digital innovations are affecting every company and nearly every employee these days. Automation has taken away many jobs but at the same time replaced them with new roles requiring new skills. Those who could do their jobs without strong technical abilities just a couple of years ago must now use an array of technology tools in their everyday tasks. Finding and developing people with digital business skills is not just a priority in IT, but across the organization.

Employee expectations are changing. Another reason upskilling is becoming urgent for employers is because newer professionals aren’t going to be satisfied in their jobs if they’re not given serious opportunities to learn. In a Robert Half and Enactus survey of Generation Z workers (born 1990-1999), a whopping 91 percent cited professional training as an important factor when choosing an employer. It’s not just Gen Z employees, either – smart professionals of all ages know they need to be continually developing their skills if they want to stay relevant in the workplace these days. Often, they don’t have the time or money to invest in upskilling outside of work, so they look to their employer for support in this area.

Training fuels motivation. Training and development programs boost morale, employee satisfaction, and succession planning. Any time you invest in your employees by providing or supporting upskilling opportunities, they feel more valued, and in turn, grow more loyal to the company. What’s more, when your employees learn new skills, they put themselves in a position to take the next step on their career path with the company, and that’s a win-win: The employee gets a desired promotion, and the organization gets to fill an important position with an experienced, skilled worker who has plenty of institutional knowledge and can hit the ground running.

It boosts the bottom line. Though upskilling programs can cost money, they also provide strong ROI. For one thing, it’s often easier and cheaper to address skills gaps in your company by training your current employees, rather than going out and hiring new ones. For another, employees who feel like they don’t have the opportunity to grow and move up at their company tend to leave for other opportunities. That means you have to replace them, and the costs involved in the recruitment and hiring process are high, from advertising the position to potentially paying a signing bonus to the new person. And that’s not even taking into account the time it takes to train the new person once they’re on the job, and the loss of knowledge and experience the former employee took with them when they left.

Even if you’re convinced your company should be investing in upskilling opportunities, you may not have a good sense of how to implement them in your organization. Here are a few ideas:

Upskilling opportunities

‘Lunch-and-learn’ training sessions. These are attractive for staff who feel they don’t have time to fit in training in the middle of a workday. You can either provide lunch or ask attendees to bring their own to these meetings. You can bring in outside experts to lead the sessions or tap an employee with expertise in the subject.

Mentoring and shadowing. You have plenty of subject-matter experts within your company, so why not give them a way to pass their knowledge along? Mentors get to hone their leadership skills, while the employees shadowing them gain valuable real-world experience and advice that can be difficult to pick up in a classroom setting.

Virtual learning. It can be hard to get your staff together for on-site training these days, when an increasing number of people are working remotely or from different locations. One solution: an online platform for training, where employees can log in at a designated time and follow a facilitator through a class or lesson. These days, training software is more immersive and dynamic than ever; participants can take quizzes and surveys, watch videos illustrating a particular topic, and even use virtual “rooms” for breakout sessions.

Microlearning. For certain subjects, like boosting employees’ understanding of a particular software program, learning in quick bursts can be particularly effective. It entails watching short web-based videos focused on a specific topic, and sometimes completing an exercise or quiz at the end. The sessions typically take between five and 10 minutes, which means employees can take part in them almost any time they have a short break during the day.

Tuition reimbursement or assistance. Sometimes, your employees need to study a subject in depth, in a way that goes beyond the organization’s capabilities. When that’s the case, it’s often best to consider paying in part or in full for pertinent courses and industry-recognized certification programs.

Creating upskilling opportunities at your company isn’t just smart, it’s critical to the health and growth of your organization. Forward-thinking companies that consider what they want their staff to learn and what training and development methods are best for their goals reap the benefits with employees who are better at their jobs, more motivated and more likely to remain with the company.

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