Do Upskilling and Reskilling Make Sense for Your Organization? 3 Steps to Success

Upskilling reskilling advancing career walking up stairs concept

Adaptability, agility, flexibility, and the ability to recognize future needs are hallmarks of effective companies today and are paramount to the success of businesses tomorrow. For those who work at those businesses, similar attributes set high performers apart from others. Employees are adaptable, and their capacity to adjust has been proven time and time again as work has been disrupted by powerful forces, including the current unprecedented situation with COVID-19.

 As employees settle into a reality of a work-life either full of many more specific safety restrictions and standards onsite or outside of a cubicle or office entirely, it’s become even more clear that people will acclimate to the circumstances presented to them. Where and when possible – and sometimes in creative ways – work has continued through severe disruption, and workers and businesses alike have pivoted by embracing newness and enduring uncertainty. So how do we make this philosophy of embracing change a core part of our HR processes moving forward?

Prior to the pandemic, there were more jobs available than people to fill those jobs. Unemployment was at historic lows. Now we’re suddenly facing the opposite situation with a saturated job market – and companies are having to ask workers to do more with less. It may seem like taking things one day at a time is prudent now, but in reality this is the best time to begin thinking about our perceptions of roles within our companies, as what we do now will have bigger implications on work moving forward.

Talent and skills shortages are prevalent, and companies need to consider different approaches regarding reskilling and upskilling their talent both now and in the future to maximize the amazing adaptability their employees are showing and empower them to tackle a more diverse array of tasks. Here are three focus areas to get you started.


Upskilling and reskilling defined

Although similar in scope, upskilling and reskilling are not interchangeable terms. Upskilling is a method of teaching current workers new skills but doing so to enhance their performance within the same job they hold now. It’s the process of asking current talent to enhance their skills and abilities to improve their performance in their current role in order to boost productivity and reach business objectives.

Reskilling is the process of training the current workforce to learn new skills and acquire abilities to do a different job within the organization, sometimes splitting their time between their current job and the new one or moving to the new one entirely for a specific period. Reskilling focuses on asking employees to adapt and change based upon different strategic business needs both immediately and in the future.

To figure out which is right for your organization and ensure success, ask yourself the following three questions:

1. Should our company upskill or reskill employees?

Both upskilling and reskilling of workforces will be increasingly important due to rapidly shifting demands that will be placed on businesses. As an example, some companies have shifted their usual business processes to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders. Doing this required upskilling front-line employees who are familiar with the machines they use, but not with process to create PPE.

Partner with managers to determine core competencies.

Human resources professionals are in a good position to determine whether the business has a need to upskill or reskill, and if so, which employees have the desire and qualifications to be a part of that process. Managers seeking high performing teams can partner with HR to determine where employees may be lacking in terms of needed competencies.

Sharing the challenge with managers and involving them in decisions and outcomes only seeks to strengthen organizational cohesion, breeding trust and productivity. It will also help you find out where there are overlaps between different roles when it comes to critical skills, helping you to identify which positions would be strong fits for reskilling in particular.

2. What do our current training and development processes look like?

Ensuring that training and development programs meet the learning needs of the workforce is key to a successful reskilling and upskilling plan. Are you tracking the trainings you require, and can you easily run a report showing which employees hold specific credentials?

Align training and skills with your business goals and vision.

Before beginning a reskilling and upskilling program, it’s useful to examine your current training and development processes and see where gaps lie. This will help determine what kinds of new training and development initiatives are needed to reskill or upskill employees. An analysis of your business's goals and vision, as well as a breakdown of tasks being performed to achieve those goals should help to identify training needs that are specific to each team and job. Ask questions, as understanding where training falls short from an employee perspective will help you identify where it is most needed.

An added bonus from this whole process is that you’ll have a much clearer vision for how to build cascading performance goals based on what’s important to your businesses. These goals can also reflect any upskilling and reskilling efforts you decide fit for your organization as well to recognize the employees participating.

3. Which employees should be upskilled or reskilled? 

A good place to start when determining who to upskill or reskill is by looking at past performance evaluations and peer feedback surveys by accessing them in your HCM system. Sorting by keyword will save time and weed out those who may not be a strong fit. While tenure is a good barometer for company loyalty, also consider which employees shine in their performance. Has anyone expressed interest in upward mobility at the company? Have any employees stood out in terms of being well respected by their peers or particularly adaptable and versatile?

Build a starter group of employees who are likely to succeed.

Investing in employees who are likely to succeed first and getting their feedback on training programs should yield answers as to who might excel working in a more flexible role. Additionally, having employees that are skilled in many aspects of the business can assist with succession planning in that it will be easier to identify future leaders, thus contributing to business continuity and setting up a network of people who could help train future upskillers and reskillers.

Conclusion: Upskilling and reskilling are mutually beneficial

Prioritizing lifelong learning and the drive to acquire new skills have been prevalent desires in a workforce that is hungry to succeed and prosper in their lives and careers. While this drive to succeed is sought after by many segments of workers, the newer generations of employees – Millennials and Gen Z – stand out in terms of their expectations that their employer will provide them the means to learn and grow. Take note: employers who lack training and development opportunities risk losing talent to companies that provide them.

Upskilling and reskilling are mutually beneficial endeavors for both the employer and the employees. Employees obtain new knowledge, skills, and abilities and feel that the company is invested in their development and future, fostering a sense of belonging and enhancing the employee experience. Forward-thinking companies that reskill and upskill employees now, even if the primary goal is to fill gaps in today’s times of uncertainty, can become known for investing in their workers down the road, thus becoming an employer of choice. Additionally, business needs are more consistently met when employees are armed with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to take productivity to another level.

If you’re figuring out the best way to move your organization forward through the pressures of the current moment, need more advice on ensuring employee well-being, or just want to find a community of HR professionals going through the same things you are, UKG is here for you.