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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.

This approach, known as strategic human resource management, includes reskilling and upskilling programs, which provide employees with opportunities to grow within or beyond their existing roles.

What is Reskilling?

In the workplace, reskilling is the process of obtaining new skills to move into a new or different role, often within the same organization.

A common example of the need for reskilling is a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer’s transition to e-commerce. In this scenario, current employees have the opportunity to train on new, remote customer service processes to remain with the company in its new iteration. Where before their responsibilities may have consisted of customer service, merchandising and store maintenance, a new e-commerce platform may require employees to understand how to prevent or identify a cyberattack, among other considerations.

No matter the industry or workplace, new equipment or technology brings new operating and maintenance processes, which requires training for both new and existing employees. Fortunately, connected technologies make collecting data much easier — metrics including production speed, machine downtime, system malfunctions or manual overrides can indicate that employees may need reskilling on newer equipment to avoid interruptions to production. Data including employee absenteeism is also valuable, since it could indicate a need to re-engage employees with more compelling responsibilities.

The recent cultural shift toward more remote work has certainly provided ample opportunities for internal reskilling across almost all industries, as has the transition from Industry 4.0 to Industry 5.0. Where Industry 4.0 incorporated robots, smart technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 5.0 builds upon these capabilities by embracing concepts around person-centered leadership and a focus on sustainability/corporate social responsibility, where leadership skills become even more critical to organizational success.

Of course, as with any new workplace tool or process, there will be a learning curve among employees. When it comes to reskilling for Industry 5.0, look for existing employees who are particularly tech-savvy; they may not be familiar with a specific new technology, but they likely have the fundamental knowledge to learn a new tool quickly and adeptly. This avoids the need to hire someone solely to work with a new piece of equipment or technology.

Similarly, there may be team members whose jobs include repetitive manual tasks that could be automated for increased efficiency. Rather than laying these employees off, organizations have the opportunity to retain their workforce by implementing reskilling programs, thereby helping these employees identify areas where their abilities could be put to better use.

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 reskilling can help an employee make a move within their organization or enhance their skills in their existing role, upskilling can help an employee secure a promotion to a new role or prepare to move on to the next phase of their career.

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.

The Benefits of Reskilling and Upskilling For Employees

Both reskilling and upskilling enable existing employees who may have demonstrated relevant abilities or skills to move into hard-to-fill (and better-paying) roles, opening up roles that may be easier to fill with new hires. Being recognized in this way can contribute to a boost in employee morale, which in turn increases employee engagement, or the level of investment in their job.

Other benefits to employees include:

  • Job security: Knowing that they bring something unique and valuable to the table gives employees confidence that their jobs are essential to their employer.
  • Upward mobility: With more experience and an expanded skill set comes the potential for promotions or higher-level positions down the line.
  • Role diversity: This refers to both a diversity of jobs on one team or in one workplace, as well as one individual’s diversity of professional experiences. Reskilling contributes to both types of role diversity.
  • Personal growth: Learning new skills not only bolsters your employees’ professional growth, but it also helps individuals build confidence, perseverance, curiosity and pride in their accomplishments.
  • Building a habit of lifelong learning: Reskilling demonstrates that training does not have to end with onboarding; anyone can learn a new skill at any time, and doing so can spark an ongoing desire to learn new things, in and outside of work.

The Benefits of Reskilling and Upskilling For Organizations

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
  • Help companies locate people with hard-to-find skill sets in their own organization
  • 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

How to Build Your Reskilling or Upskilling Plan

The key to building a successful reskilling or upskilling plan is to train for the future — don’t wait for the future to happen to your organization. In the words of Wayne Gretski, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

Hit each of the following steps on the way to building your reskilling plan, and you’ll be on your way to a newly empowered workforce:

  1. Identify future needs: If you know that your organization is poised to adopt automation on a large scale, determine how that will change your workforce. What types of new roles need to be created? Which roles will become obsolete, and how can you reassign those employees to other roles?
  2. Identify current needs as they relate to future needs: There may be open positions or skills gaps among your employees that currently make it harder to accomplish tasks efficiently. Will neglecting to close these gaps delay your progress toward future goals? Current needs can include individual employees who need reskilling, certain roles that need updated training or entire departments that could use a new training program altogether.
  3. Define program participants: Look for employees who demonstrate a willingness and eagerness to learn new skills. An employee who is motivated to be challenged signals an opportunity to grow their engagement — maybe they currently can do the job they’ve been assigned, but do they want to do it? Finding team members who express interest in moving into different roles can contribute to increased employee engagement overall.
  4. Define reskilling criteria: How will you know that an employee has successfully completed a reskilling program? Will you determine progress markers? How long should a program take? These criteria can all be defined by measuring an employee’s progress against work standards and skills matrices.
  5. Choose a training method: Will the program be virtual, in-person, instructor-led, hybrid, discrete from the actual work or delivered just-in-time while the employee is on the job? Who will have the time and skills to carry out the training — will you enlist an internal training team or hire an outside consultant? The training method you choose depends on the particular workplace environment, but make sure you get buy-in from the employees who will be participating to ensure the method suits their learning styles.
  6. Communicate objectives: All parties involved in reskilling efforts should understand what the end goal is, whether that’s utilizing existing employees to fill open roles, preparing employees to take on newly-created roles or something else. This includes the trainees, their managers, department leaders and the executive team.
  7. Analyze metrics of success: How will you know that your reskilling efforts have been successful? Metrics such as employee attendance and production time may reflect positive trends as a result of reskilling, but employees can also provide their own insights through regular engagement surveys.

The biggest source of waste in most large organizations is unused or underused talent. Reskilling employees helps companies make the best use of their existing talent while simultaneously eliminating repetitive or non-value-adding tasks and increasing engagement.

Best Practices for Building a 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.


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FAQs: Reskilling

Q: What is workforce reskilling?
A: Reskilling is the process of obtaining new skills to move into a new or different role, often within the same organization or department. Upskilling differs from reskilling in that it is usually intended for employees to expand their roles or achieve higher positions in their field.

Q: What is reskilling the workforce for the future?
A: The onset of Industry 5.0 — the proliferation of robots and smart technology — has indicated a need for internal reskilling on a large scale, as employees in multiple industries need to adapt to working with robots, cobots and the IoT. Reskilling for the future involves looking ahead at changing industry trends and deploying training programs that target future growth, rather than respond after the trends have already arrived.

Q: What is an example of reskilling?
A: A traditional brick-and-mortar retailer wants to transition to e-commerce. Their current employees have the opportunity to train on new, remote customer service processes while remaining in their current roles, or they may gain new skills to move into brand-new roles. By reskilling their employees for e-commerce, the retailer gets to retain their workforce while keeping pace with industry changes, and the employees get to keep their jobs.


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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