Level Up the Workforce: How to Build a Solid Upskilling Program

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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Upskilling employees is becoming ever-more essential, but how do you get started as an employer?

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Level Up the Workforce: How to Build a Solid Upskilling Program
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Employee turnover and retention is a key issue for businesses of all sizes, with employers eager to keep hold of their star players among obstacles such as an aging workforce, digitization, and post-COVID economic recovery. 

But as the average cost per hire now stands at an estimated $4,425 according to SHRM, boosting expertise in the existing workforce could be the best - and in some cases the only - way forward for companies.

This is where building upskilling initiatives comes in.

What is upskilling (and why should you do it)?

Upskilling is defined as the process of augmenting the knowledge, competencies, and skills employees need to advance their careers. It’s also a great, cost-effective alternative to hiring new personnel.

Teaching current employees fresh skills is becoming a key priority among learning and development professionals, according to LinkedIn’s 5th annual Workplace Learning Report, and it’s not surprising after the World Economic Forum recently suggested almost half of the global workforce now needs to either expand or replace its current skills.

There are significant benefits for firms that do invest in skills learning, as those with advanced upskilling schemes report improved engagement among employees, greater innovation, better performance, and a greater ability to attract and retain talent.

Workers know they have skills gaps and are keen to fill them with the opportunities that are on their own doorsteps - and if employers fail to recognize this, they could lose out on some great talent.

How can upskilling be implemented?

But how can businesses plan and implement a successful upskilling program within their organization? The best way is to let employees lead the way, support them in their quest for knowledge, and enable them wherever possible.

Here are a few top tips:

1. Know your employees and their goals

In order to build an upskilling initiative, it’s vital to coordinate your business goals and skills gaps with the individual interests of your employees. That means knowing them well, so holding one-on-one sessions to discuss their professional passions and goals is a great place to start.

During these sessions, you may also find that workers have been quietly coveting more training but have been reluctant to ask for it, or are unsure about where exactly it might be applicable. If you find several employees suggest training in one area, this could be a key consideration for upcoming training development.

2. Make training easily accessible

Once you know what you’re going to focus on, it’s time to consider how exactly you’re going to do it - and the delivery needs to be as easily accessible as possible. Fortunately, there are so many learning options available these days that you should be able to build your upskilling initiatives around your business needs without too much trouble.

As the pandemic taught us, virtual training provides plenty of opportunities, with organizations such as HubSpot and SkillShare offering courses and microlearning units on a range of topics.

You could also consider having group training with expert visitors, which is a good way of boosting morale as staff build their skills together.

However, it’s important to remember that upskilling needs to be supported by the employer - workers shouldn't feel as though they’re falling behind with their jobs because they have to squeeze in training. Instead, ensure paid time is set aside and cover is provided for the appropriate members of staff.

3. Build career pathways around training

Upskilling can be fun, but if it’s brought in without structure or an apparent purpose, employees may become disillusioned or frustrated. That’s why upskilling programs must be built around goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.

For example, completing a particular course on commonly used software could lead to a bonus or official certification, while a longer module might end with the opportunity to apply for an internal vacancy.

Ensuring employees know they’re working towards something will keep them motivated to learn more.

4. Use feedback to update training regularly

Even when you have an upskilling scheme in place, don’t rest on your laurels and assume that’s enough. Instead, ensure it’s regularly updated based on feedback from the people who have been participating in it.

Asking if training has been useful and what employees liked and disliked about it could not only improve existing upskilling strategies but might also open up ideas for new options in the future.

Build your future workforce with upskilling

Upskilling is an extremely useful tool when it comes to retaining employees, ensuring business growth, and future-proofing your organization.

Offering your staff the opportunity to build their knowledge shows they’re important to you and that you’re willing to invest your time and money in their professional growth.

By simply listening to what your workforce wants, offering simple programs to provide it, and building on that upskilling going forward, you could ensure your company is ideally positioned for success - and stands out amid your competition.

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