Upskilling in 2023: Here's How HR is Trying to Level-Up the Workforce


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

In the battle to close the skills gap and keep up with both the pace of digital transformation and the shifting demands of employees in a post-COVID world, one learning & development tactic has become a major buzzword in the HR industry: upskilling.

Article 4 Minutes
Upskilling in 2023: Here's How HR is Trying to Level-Up the Workforce
  • Home
  • HR
  • L&D
  • Upskilling in 2023: Here's How HR is Trying to Level-Up the Workforce

A popular alternative to hiring new talent, upskilling involves training existing employees in new talent sets. This technique can help HR leaders and managers close talent gaps – be it for soft skills (communication, leadership), digital skills (familiarity with software), hard skills (use of specific and difficult tools e.g. programming), emotional intelligence or any other skills their teams are deficient in.

However, upskilling isn’t without its challenges, and amid the Great Resignation, businesses need to ensure they’re striking the right balance of engagement, learning and recognition if they want to retain their most talented employees.

To find out more about how businesses are faring in their upskilling initiatives, we surveyed over 200 HR professionals, from Managers all the way to the C-Suite, across the UK and the US. These respondents worked for businesses with at least 250 employees all the way up the largest enterprises with over 25,000.

Why is upskilling so important?

The skills gap is no passing trend. According to our research, 68% of HR leaders have observed a high rate of staff turnover as a direct result of skills deficiencies in their organization. What’s more, well over half also identified lower-quality work (63%), a loss of productivity (60%) and lower levels of morale (54%).

If left unchecked, skills gaps can not only have a serious impact on employee satisfaction, engagement and retention, but they can also impact the business as a whole, with an inability to expand operations (33%) and a loss of revenue (21%) two significant consequences our respondents have encountered.

Employees can upskill themselves, but they need guidance

When asked to rate their employees’ ability to upskill themselves proactively, almost a quarter claimed it was ‘very good’. The vast majority think there’s room for improvement – 59% rated it as just ‘good’.

While only a combined 18% of respondents rated the competence of their employees here as bad, very bad or claimed they weren’t sure, the results suggest HR leaders and managers need to take a more proactive role in guiding upskilling initiatives and giving employees direction.

8 reasons why upskilling is so difficult

We asked our respondents to identify the single biggest challenge in upskilling their employees, and instead of flocking to one option, the results were varied:

1.     Talent shortage

Over a quarter (26%) of our HR leaders cite talent shortages as the biggest challenge in upskilling employees, reaffirming our hypothesis that workers ultimately need outside engagement to drive their upskilling programs rather than being trusted to manage it all on their own.

2.     Budget constraints

Budget constraints (22%) is the first of several challenges that present an overarching obstacle with upskilling – getting buy-in and signoff from the wider organization. Despite the fact that retaining employees is commonly viewed as better and cheaper in the long-run than recruiting, there’s clearly resistance to investing significantly in upskilling employees.

3.     Getting staff to engage in training programs

Another key issue for HR leaders to overcome is getting staff engaged with training in the first place. 22% cite employee engagement as the number one challenge in their upskilling initiatives.

4.Encouraging employees to upskill themselves

As touched on previously, there’s room for improvement when it comes to the ability of employees to proactively upskill themselves. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that 10% of our respondents identified this as their biggest upskilling challenge.

5.Getting executive buy-in

While less likely to be cited as the key reason why their upskilling initiatives are struggling, executive buy-in (7%), when combined with demonstrating value and securing budget, highlights the work senior HR leaders need to do in the boardroom to get these programs off the ground.

6.Providing 1-on-1 training

As with talent shortages (and reinforced by their lack of confidence in workers upskilling themselves), our respondents are lacking the time and ability to provide 1-on-1 training (5%) to employees in upskilling programs.

7.Demonstrating value

Upskilling is often a long-term process where the benefits are less immediate than they’d be securing talent that can fill skills gaps. As such, 5% cited demonstrating value as their biggest upskilling challenge.

8.Providing access to learning

Just 3% cited providing access to learning as the biggest HR challenge, which is reassuring news but still shows that, on the whole, there’s plenty of work to be done to make upskilling a success.

Access the State of Learning & Development research report

For more detailed insights into the latest trends in learning & development, including more statistics on upskilling and reskilling, the impact of the skills gap and the investment plans of HR leaders moving forward, download the full report here.

HR Insights for Professionals

Insights for Professionals provide free access to the latest thought leadership from global brands. We deliver subscriber value by creating and gathering specialist content for senior professionals.


Join the conversation...