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Human Resources departments are typically associated with organizational policies and procedures — but they can also be excellent resources for employees’ professional development. Besides managing their company’s training and onboarding processes, HR departments that take a proactive, strategic approach to ongoing talent development can empower employees to attempt and achieve more, whether in their existing roles or the next step in their career. Reskilling and upskilling programs offer two such opportunities.

What is Reskilling?

In the workplace, reskilling is the process of obtaining new skills to move into a new or different career opportunity, often within the same organization. For example, if a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer wants to transition to e-commerce, current employees may have the opportunity to train on new, remote customer service processes to remain with the company in its new iteration. The recent cultural shift toward more remote work has provided ample opportunities for internal reskilling across almost all industries.

Reskilling programs enable organizations to leverage their existing talent while maximizing efficiency. Plus, when organizations invest in their employees’ growth, employee engagement improves. Reskilling also allows an organization to maintain an agile workforce, filled with people who are prepared to adapt their skills and abilities to meet industry needs. Effective training programs help employees grow their skill sets quickly and safely while empowering them to identify new areas of interest or further professional development opportunities.

The term “reskilling” is sometimes used synonymously with “upskilling,” though each implies a different goal: where upskilling can help an employee make a move within their organization or enhance their skills in their existing role, reskilling can help an employee secure a promotion to a new role or prepare to move on to the next phase of their career.

The Benefits of Reskilling & Upskilling

Reskilling can help companies locate people with hard-to-find skill sets in their own organization. Reskilling enables existing employees — who may have demonstrated an ability or skills that would enable them to be successful — to move into hard-to-fill roles, opening up roles that may be less difficult to fill with new hires.

When employees have opportunities to reskill or upskill within their company, they are not the only ones who benefit. Effective reskilling and upskilling initiatives can:

  • Save an organization time and money during hiring pushes by reducing the need for new employee onboarding
  • Keep an organization competitive and viable amid industry shifts
  • Optimize company resources and existing talent
  • Reduce turnover and improve employee retention
  • Attract job candidates who are motivated by a culture of professional growth
  • Strengthen employees’ morale and support for their employer
  • Support a company’s industry-wide reputation for innovation

What is Upskilling?

As mentioned above, upskilling is the process of enhancing one’s skills currently used for work to expand the scope of their job responsibilities or tasks. Upskilling programs enable organizations to close talent gaps or adapt to changes in their industry, such as incorporating more automation into their processes. For example, an employee formerly placed on an assembly line may upskill to operating and servicing new automated assembly equipment.

Upskilling actively involves employees in continuous improvement efforts, and can even prepare them to pursue more advanced professional opportunities once they leave their current organization.

How to Build Your Reskilling or Upskilling Plan

When building any type of employee training, it helps to view the process as iterative. Organizations should seek to help their employees grow on a continuum, meeting their desire for professional development in their current roles. Rather than framing training initiatives as strictly skills-based, HR or development teams should communicate that reskilling or upskilling opportunities support the growth of the whole person, not just one skill set.

Whether you partner with a training consultant or choose to build your own program, follow these best practices:

Embrace a company-wide learning culture. Adopting a new process often means shifting a mindset. Leadership teams and management should support and promote talent development within their organizations, which in turn will encourage employees to seek out and embrace new learning opportunities. HR and development teams can establish a framework for individual and team-based goal setting.

Identify current skills gaps. Are your teams lacking the right talent? Is it increasingly difficult to find candidates with the right skills? Make a concrete list of organizational and departmental needs, and build a training program designed to reskill or upskill your existing talent appropriately.

Seek out both soft and hard skill trainings. In today’s workplace, “soft” skills can be just as critical as “hard” skills. Employees need to know how to perform their specific jobs, but they also need to know how to communicate clearly and effectively, address confusion and conflict, and understand the needs of their team members. Training programs that incorporate these soft skills can even make practical job instruction more effective.

Encourage job shadowing for all. In a professional environment that supports continuous learning, employees should feel empowered to build their interdepartmental awareness or explore lateral growth opportunities. If an employee feels that they would perform their job better if they understood how it affected someone in another department, they should be able to shadow another team member to experience their day-to-day. This employee can then share their observations with their own team, which can enhance the whole group’s understanding of their roles.

Help employees leverage their existing expertise. Do you really know what your team is capable of? If a department identifies an evolving need, let existing team members know. Someone may step forward with the skills, knowledge or initiative needed to close this gap, and open up the chance for others to do the same.

Adopt a progress tracking platform or framework. Internal training initiatives usually require a measure of accountability: Is the training effective? Are employees learning the right skills? Is the appropriate amount of time being spent on certain units? Online portals or even regular employee check-ins can collect metrics that development teams can use to determine the success of training programs.

Speaking of time, the length of any training program depends on the organization. In general, single-day or short-term training sessions have no guaranteed staying power. Reskilling and upskilling should be framed as an ongoing, perpetually available resource; budget a realistic amount of time for employees to successfully complete each unit or program.

In the Training Within Industry (TWI) approach to talent development, there are several programs that specifically address reskilling and upskilling, for both employees with traditional “desk” jobs as well as frontline workers.

Job Instruction (JI): Based in practical, on-the-job instruction, JI helps onboard employees quickly, standardize processes and equip all team members with the same relevant skill set. Within JI, reskilling or upskilling can help keep frontline workers from becoming bored or complacent with their daily tasks. JI also provides existing employees with a proven pathway to move into a new role.

Job Methods (JM): Designed to help teams evaluate processes and determine how to make them more efficient, JM also enables teams to recognize whether they are using time and resources in the most efficient way possible. Once teams understand their needs, they can reskill or upskill members accordingly. JM process-building exercises can help smaller teams allocate responsibilities more evenly among members, so they can still accomplish all necessary tasks without creating additional roles.

Job Relations (JR): Long relegated to the realm of HR, Job Relations is the foundation for successful training programs that put people first. JR teaches workers to communicate more effectively, helps them practice solving problems on the job and strengthens the working relationship between supervisors and their teams. This skill set is critical in all occupations, but especially for those in which others’ safety and wellbeing depends on employee communication and empathy, such as pharmaceutical production and healthcare professions. JR also helps employees identify skills they may not have felt were relevant to their current position — for example, they may be excellent mediators who can now participate in or lead conflict resolution exercises.

As part of adopting a learning culture, managers and supervisors should keep an eye out for employees who show a potential for reskilling or transitioning into a new role. This can help prepare teams to respond to industry changes proactively or in real time, instead of scrambling to retroactively bring employees up to speed.

This approach applies to your technology as well. Regularly reassess the tools you use to determine whether they will support you into the future; if they are destined to soon become obsolete, don’t wait to train your employees on new tools until yours is the last company using the old ones.

Upskilling and Reskilling: Lay the Groundwork for Career Pathing

Career pathing is the process by which employees map out their professional journey. Steps in the process can include identifying educational or training opportunities, personal and professional benchmarks and career goals both small and large. Each person’s career path is unique to them, and can incorporate lateral, promotional or entirely new career moves.

Reskilling and upskilling activities are fundamental components of career pathing, since they equip employees with the tools they need to take the necessary steps forward. An employee’s short- or long-term career goals can help them identify the appropriate reskilling or upskilling they need, and HR teams who are invested in employees’ success (whether in or beyond their current position) can make further recommendations for specific development opportunities.

Building career pathing into an ongoing training program can help your organization understand employees’ goals, evaluate current talent and define the types of candidates that may fit into future open positions. Rather than pushing current employees away from your organization, career pathing exercises can establish a workplace culture of mobility and growth, both personal and professional. If and when an employee moves on, they will feel prepared and supported by their employer.

The Future of Reskilling

No matter the form they take, reskilling programs will likely become a cornerstone of every successful organization, if they are not already. Workers and their employers alike are increasingly aware of the need to remain agile, whether in response to industry trends, remote or hybrid work demands, automation and other new technologies, or larger societal shifts.

WeForum identifies the primary factors contributing to the so-called “Great Re-Evaluation” in the current workforce, including a mismatch between employees’ education and modern workplace needs. Employees too often feel that they haven’t accessed the right training required by companies looking to grow their workforce, resulting in a hiring stalemate — or under-prepared employees and a degraded quality of work.

According to a survey by McKinsey, two thirds of organizations believe that ongoing development programs will help close their workforce’s skills gaps, and a report by PwC finds that four out of five CEOs see their employees’ lack of skills as a threat to their company’s growth. However, the same survey by McKinsey reported that companies are slow to take action because of financial constraints and a lack of appropriate technology to support new and ongoing training.

To stay ahead of the curve and develop their talent accordingly, organizations across all industries need to:

  • Regularly assess and identify skills gaps
  • Determine the time necessary for ongoing employee training and development
  • Seek out appropriate training opportunities that will help foster a supportive, motivational culture of workplace learning
  • Budget resources accordingly, including funds, people and time

Simply put, reskilling and upskilling initiatives are no trend; they are essential to any organization’s survival. Investing in skills development can help solve challenges like lack of appropriate talent, limited money and time, high turnover and poor product quality. Even internal mentorship or shadowing programs can grow employee competency and enhance interdepartmental operations.

If you’ve felt the need for an internal reskilling program but don’t know where to start, explore the options offered by TWI Institute. Our experienced certified trainers work with organizations small and large across all industries — from small-scale manufacturing companies to large healthcare organizations and beyond. Our proven track record has helped companies across the globe optimize their workforce and leverage the power of their greatest asset — their people.

FAQs: Reskilling

Q: Is reskilling expensive?
A: It depends on the program you implement. The most comprehensive training programs require significant investments of time and money, but the success of the program will more than justify the initial price tag. Internal mentorship, shadowing or apprenticeship programs are a cost-effective way to grow your workforce’s skills without stretching your budget.

Q: How long does reskilling take?
A: Again, it depends on the program you implement, the skills required and individual employees’ learning styles. However, single-day or short-term training events have no guaranteed lasting impact on employees’ skills retention. Regular assessments can measure employees’ progress and gauge the effectiveness of training programs.

Q: Can I retain more employees with a reskilling program? 
A: Internal professional development programs have been shown to have a positive impact on employee satisfaction and motivation. Organizations that invest in their employees’ growth have a better chance of attracting and keeping the right talent.

Q: Can I build a reskilling program myself?
A: While it is possible to build an internal reskilling program, it always helps to partner with an experienced consultant. Training professionals can recommend the best program formats and timelines for your specific organization, and can even tailor proven approaches to your organization and its people. If money or time limit opportunities for training, shadowing or apprenticeship programs are an efficient way to close skills gaps on the job.

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