In the face of a tight job market and a widening skills gap, employers in many industries are catching on to the benefits of “upskilling.” More than just your typical employee training, upskilling takes a broad approach to development.

It can involve teaching workers additional skills in areas related to but outside their current positions to help fulfill the employer’s existing or anticipated needs. Or it can simply give employees access to learning that will help them progress in their careers, either with their current employer or elsewhere.

Real-world examples

Take, for example, Starbucks’ College Achievement Plan. It offers workers tuition reimbursements to earn an online bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University. The coffee company doesn’t stop at tuition — it also provides coaches, advisors and 24/7 tutoring.

Another example is Boeing’s recent launch of a program that will give employees access to online lessons, certification courses and degree programs, as well as several programs to help enhance technical skills, starting with digital literacy.

Potential perks

The potential perks for employers are many, including:

• Improved employee retention,
• Reduced recruiting costs,
• Higher productivity,
• Better engagement, and
• Stronger branding.

Companies also are finding that many customers increasingly prefer to do business with organizations that invest in society by investing in their employees. And financial investors often prefer companies that demonstrate a commitment to their long-term success by arming their employees with the tools needed to compete in the future.

Best practices

So, what makes upskilling programs effective? Successful programs generally share several hallmarks. For starters, they take the time to craft individualized development plans, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach. These personal plans identify clear goals for each employee and chart a course to meet them.

Making multiple avenues of learning available is also advisable. People learn in different ways — while some employees might thrive in online education, others may get more out of traditional classroom settings. Some people are visual learners; others prefer text.

Regardless of the delivery mechanisms, employers should offer upskilling on an ongoing basis. Experts estimate that skills today have an average shelf life of only five years, so learning should be a constant.

Finally, successful programs usually focus on instructing employees in areas adjacent to their existing skills, instead of “re-skilling” (for example, teaching a coal miner to code). Employees are less daunted and more confident in such circumstances.

Considerable upside

Finding the time and resources to offer upskilling to employees isn’t always easy. But the upside for both your organization’s productivity and its public image can be considerable. For further ideas, contact us.

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