Reskilling will be a difference-maker: Find out how

July 28, 2021 - 12 min read

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What is reskilling?

What are the benefits of reskilling?

How can you start reskilling at your workplace?

How long does it take to reskill?

Reskilling vs. upskilling

Ready to embrace reskilling at your workplace?

Advances in technology have been driving the reskilling trend for years. The main drivers have been automation and artificial intelligence.

These changes have left many jobs previously performed by humans obsolete. 

At the same time, companies had to change the way they work and hire to keep up with the ever-changing market.

Then along came 2020, bringing with it the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented rise of remote work

As we sowly emerge from the crisis, the way we work and live has changed forever. 

Companies that succeed in navigating these uncharted waters will have to be flexible enough to adapt to these new realities. 

Reskilling will play a crucial role in the adaptation process. So let’s take a look at what reskilling is, its benefits, and how to start reskilling at your workplace.

What is reskilling? 

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Reskilling is also known as employee recycling. It refers to the process of training existing employees to perform new roles within the organization. This helps the company respond to evolving needs.

According to the 2020 World Economic Forum (WEF), more than one billion workers worldwide will have to be reskilled by 2030. That's one-third of the global workforce.

In the post-pandemic world, digitization has accelerated at unprecedented rates. This has increased the urgency of the need for reskilling. 

Sheltering in place changed both the way we work and the way we consume, and companies had to respond to these new realities to stay afloat.

For example, online sales have seen a massive boom in almost every industry. This is particularly true among people who traditionally preferred bricks-and-mortar shopping. These include older people and those in rural areas.

This has caused many businesses to react by reskilling their logistics and sales staff to work in new ways.

The WEF estimates that 42% of core skills would change between 2020 and 2022 in response to these sudden market changes. 

In response, businesses will need to reprioritize and restructure. And if they want to minimize costs and make the most of the talent they already have, they will need to reskill their employees.

What are the benefits of reskilling? 

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Some leaders might be hesitant to undertake a reskilling process. It requires substantial upheaval and employee buy-in, which is not always easy to obtain.

However, failure to reskill your employees now could mean spending more on hiring in the future. Here are three reasons why you should start reskilling now.

1. It reduces costs and saves time

Hiring new employees is more costly than relocating an existing employee to a different job. 

There are HR costs, job board fees, background checks, and onboarding and training costs to consider. And after all that, there’s no guarantee your new hire will be better than an existing employee. Or that they will even stay at your company.

Companies reskilling employees save both money and time. It also gives employees a chance to better understand how the organization works, which can add value to their work.

2. It helps retain top talent

Reskilling can help your organization retain its most valuable employees. When talented workers feel their employer is invested in their growth and development, they’re more likely to stay.

It can also help you discover untapped talent within your team. 

Sometimes people just need to learn a few new skills in order to shine. Training and reskilling in it are great ways to bring out the best in people and keep employee turnover low.

3. It helps attract new talent

Companies that prioritize the continuous growth and development of their employees are more likely to attract new talent.

The kind of people that your company attracts will have a growth mindset. They will also be highly motivated to work in an environment that encourages growth.

Cultivating a culture of continuous learning generates support and enthusiasm for reskilling among employees. This creates greater team cohesion, making your organization more attractive to potential employees.

How can you start reskilling at your workplace? 

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According to McKinsey, 87% of executives are experiencing a skills gap in their organization, or expect to in the next few years.

To avoid facing a talent shortage in the coming decade, you’ll need to start reskilling your employees now. Follow these five tips to help you get started.

1. Identify the skills your company will need

The first step is to pinpoint which new skills your employees need to learn. 

For example, to reduce the number of brick-and-mortar stores and cater to increasing online sales, you will need to reskill your staff.

They’ll have to learn new digital skills and how to handle online sales and customer service.

Involve employees in the strategic planning process and include them in the identification of key skills. This will help get their buy-in.

2. Train all employees in core skills

Identify core skill sets that will be valuable to your organization no matter what position a person occupies.

McKinsey recommends focusing on four categories of essential skills:

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  • Digital — preparing employees to work in a fully digital environment.
  • Higher cognitive — such as problem-solving, innovation, and creativity.
  • Social and emotional — interpersonal skills such as emotional intelligence and empathy.
  • Adaptability and resilience — the ability to be flexible and adapt to changes and shocks.

3. Design personalized reskilling plans

When creating your strategic plan, you should think about not only the tasks and activities, but also the skills they will require. This will allow you to design a personalized learning journey for each employee to be reskilled.

Start with a thorough analysis to assess future customer needs and market challenges. This will inform your strategy and the skills required. 

Then design your reskilling program. Involve the employees who will be directly impacted in designing their learning journeys.

A reskilling program may include:

  • Formal training
  • Job shadowing
  • Leveraging employee expertise

4. Encourage a growth mindset

Encourage your employees to develop a lifelong learning mindset. They can do so by committing to continuous growth and development. Use coaching to help them see their challenges as opportunities to grow. 

Employees sometimes object when told they need to reskill. They may perceive it as an implication they’re not up to the job. 

Understanding that learning is an ongoing process can help eliminate resistance. And it will help make reskilling a part of your corporate culture, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis.

5. Test and adapt

Start by piloting your reskilling program with just a small number of employees. 

Select the early adopters — the employees who immediately see the benefits of reskilling. Use them to test and refine the program. Their success will inspire and encourage others.

Measure the success of your program based on both business metrics and employee satisfaction levels. Then, adjust it accordingly.

How long does it take to reskill? 

We’ve all heard psychologist K. Anders Ericsson’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. But does it really take that long to reskill?

Other experts, such as Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code, disagree. He argues that conscious long-term commitment reduces the amount of practice required.

Establishing the timeframe for a reskilling program may not be an exact science. However, companies that invest in intensive reskilling programs are seeing rapid results.

For example, the non-profit Laboratoria teaches in-demand tech skills to women in Latin America. Their bootcamp program lasts six months. Many of their graduates find work placements that generate an average of three times more than their previous income.

Reskilling vs. upskilling

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The words “reskilling” and “upskilling” are often used interchangeably. And though they are similar concepts, they are not quite the same. 

The evolution of the global labor market, technological advances, and the COVID-19 crisis are creating unprecedented changes in the way we work. Organizations and employees alike must adapt to keep up — hence the need to reskill and/or upskill.

Upskilling and reskilling both involve training existing employees and supporting their skill development. But what is the difference between the two? 

Reskilling means helping employees develop a new skill or skills in order to be reassigned to a different position within the organization. This is why it’s also known as recycling.

An example of reskilling the workforce would be when a production system changes from manual to mechanical. The manual workers will have to be reskilled to learn how to operate and maintain the new machinery.

Upskilling is the process of training employees in new skill sets so that they can grow in their current role and add value to the organization. Upskilling is usually closely related to the person’s evolution in their chosen career path.

Upskilling mainly applies to employees who are specialists in their field. These employees usually have experience within both the sector and the company.

For example, big data analysis is becoming increasingly important for monitoring market trends. But many companies face a talent shortage of analysts specializing in big data. Organizations can upskill their data analysts to incorporate big data analysis skills.

Another example of upskilling could be an HR manager who does an MBA. This helps them better understand the needs and characteristics of executive profiles.

Ready to embrace reskilling at your workplace? 

Reskilling can make your organization and employees more resilient and adaptable to changes.

It also fosters a growth-focused environment that attracts and retains top talent. And a culture of continuous learning encourages employees to be enthusiastic about reskilling.

If you need help with reskilling or any other leadership issue, contact BetterUp to discover how one of our expert coaches can help you.

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Published July 28, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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