Emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI), are changing the nature of work and opening the door to greater employee productivity. Business functions like accounting and finance are feeling this wave of change acutely: Technological advancements are evolving many positions rapidly, leading to the demand for new skills — and the need for employers to consider upskilling employees.

Upskilling is an opportunity to make the best use of the talented professionals in your organization, equipping them with the skills they need to handle more strategic and value-adding work for the business. Upskilling is a longer-term play compared to a process like reskilling (learning skills in preparation for moving into an entirely new role) because it involves continuous learning and helping a staff member to continue growing professionally and progressing along their current career path.

Advanced technology tools are already helping to relieve many workers of the burden of routine and time-consuming tasks. So, there’s no time to waste in developing an action plan for upskilling your team members. The good news: You’ll likely find your employees are up for the challenge. In a recent Robert Half survey, 44% of U.S. workers who reported that the pandemic had stalled their career also noted that their ability to develop skills has suffered during this time.

Upskilling employees to work with new tech

We’re only at the starting gate with many of the transformative technologies coming into the workplace. So, it’s not yet too late for anyone to build new skill sets and gain an understanding of emerging tech. Following are some examples of the technologies that professionals in departments from finance to marketing will soon be working with, if they aren’t already:

  • Robotic process automation (RPA) tools
  • AI software that adds a “human” element to tasks such as risk assessment or fraud detection
  • Machine learning (ML) or self-editing software
  • Natural language processing (NLP) programs that translate documents and speech into data

Also, don’t forget about technologies that your team may already be working with that they could deepen their expertise in, like big data and advanced analytics. Many business functions already use analytical tools like predictive analytics or are likely to adopt them soon.

Deciding the best course for upskilling team members

So, now that you recognize the urgency of preparing your team for the future of work, and the types of technologies they may need to understand (at least, at a high level), where do you start with upskilling them? The following approaches can be effective, as well as budget- and schedule-friendly:

1. Virtual training. Offer hands-on training via an online platform that workers can access remotely on their own time.

2. Microlearning. Upskilling team members doesn’t have to mean months-long courses and new certifications. It can be done gradually through microlearning.

3. Mentoring. Pair up employees in mentoring arrangements or offer job shadowing opportunities.

4. P2P learning. Peer-to-peer (P2P) learning is informal, and takes many forms, including employee-led workshops and team projects.

5. Providing financial aid. If you know your team members will eventually require certification or in-depth study of a new subject, consider offering tuition reimbursement or assistance.

Don’t forget about soft skills

Recent research by our company on the future of work found that many employers see soft skills as the most valuable skills in the future workplace. After all, machines can’t replicate everything — especially uniquely human qualities like the ability to show empathy.

Future workplaces are likely to be highly collaborative, with many businesses continuing to expand their use of hybrid and remote teams. That means excellent communication skills will be even more important than they are today. So, when upskilling team members, make sure to connect them with professional development options that will help them build and master abilities such as written and verbal communication, emotional intelligence, and leadership.

Upskilling is, in many ways, just as important to your company’s long-term competitiveness as is investing in new technologies. Upskilling can also enhance staff retention, if you do it well. Don’t make your employees come to you first. Approach them and explain the digital journey your organization is embarking on — or plans to pursue soon — and the role they can play in it. Proactively encouraging your team to consider professional development around new technologies shows you’re invested in their success and support their efforts to future-proof their careers.