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What is reskilling and how can it benefit teams?

August 10, 2022 - 13 min read

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What is reskilling?

Reskilling vs. upskilling

What are the benefits of reskilling?

5 ways to start reskilling at your workplace

How long does it take to reskill?

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.

manager-giving-presentation-to-employees-reskilling

What is reskilling? 

Reskilling means helping employees develop a new skill or skills in order to be reassigned to a different position within the organization. 

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.

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 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 is upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of training employees in new skill sets so that they can grow in their current roles 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 current data analysts to incorporate big data analysis skills.

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

manager-training-employee-in-office-reskilling

Reskilling vs. upskilling

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 have caused large shifts in the way we work. Organizations and employees alike must continue to 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? 

While reskilling involves teaching current employees new skills to prepare them for new or alternative roles, upskilling involves developing the skills these employees already have. An organization may benefit from leveraging both of these, to ensure each individual has the chance to live up to their potential.

What are the benefits of reskilling? 

Though it might seem as though reskilling purely benefits employees, it is actually good for both the employee and the employer.

How reskilling benefits employers

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
  2. It helps retain top talent
  3. It helps attract new talent

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 employee 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. Reskilling 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's one (among many) reasons why having a workforce development strategy is crucial.

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 and improves your employer brand, making your organization more attractive to potential employees.

How reskilling benefits employees

Most employees seek growth opportunities throughout their careers. Whether they are working with a company for two years or 20 years, chances are that they will look for new challenges and opportunities at some point. That is where reskilling comes in.

These are the top three ways reskilling supports employees:

  1. It keeps employees engaged and motivated
  2. Employees feel valued
  3. Employees feel supported to set challenging goals

1. It keeps employees engaged and motivated

While this is clearly a benefit for employers, workers also want to work in a role where they feel motivated to learn. If an employee wakes up each day excited to take on a new task or they feel refreshed in their job (no Sunday scaries), they will perform better and be more satisfied in their job.

2. Employees feel valued

Automation and technology can be scary for some individuals whose jobs could become obsolete. Getting ahead of the fear and reskilling your employees to be relevant in their industries shows that you are invested in their success. 

3. Employees feel supported to set challenging goals

When employees feel like they have the support of their managers and their organizations, they are more likely to stretch themselves. This can lead to more innovative and creative ideas and more satisfied workers overall.

team-discussing-in-office-reskilling

5 steps to start reskilling at your workplace

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 in-demand 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. Or teach the necessary skills to thrive in a hybrid workplace.

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:

  • 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:

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 engagement levels. Then, adjust it accordingly.

man-and-woman-working-together-in-an-office-reskilling

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.

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.

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Published August 10, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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