How to build a successful upskilling strategy

Learn how to take skill-building efforts to the next level

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By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

There’s no doubt that skills are under a spotlight. Most leaders recognize that prioritizing workplace capabilities pays off, as evidenced by the fact that 98% of organizations want to shift to skills-based work and 90% are already experimenting with it.

While skills-based organizations are a relatively new concept, the benefits of this strategy are quickly becoming apparent. Skills-based organizations are 79% more likely to have a positive employee experience—a major advantage considering that employee experience is correlated with less turnover, better performance, and greater revenue.

It’s no surprise that most leaders are moving skills-based strategies to the top of their agendas. However, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what it takes to build an impactful upskilling initiative and the steps HR leaders can take to get started.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling describes any process that helps someone answer the following question: “What additional skills do I need to learn to progress in my current career?”. It enables businesses to stay competitive in rapidly evolving environments and unlocks the agility needed to get ahead of today’s accelerated pace of change. Since the World Economic Forum predicts that 50% of the global workforce will need to learn new skills by 2025, companies are rolling out enterprise-wide upskilling initiatives to keep from falling behind.

While upskilling often gets used interchangeably with reskilling, the terms have distinct meanings. Reskilling is about helping employees who are interested in switching lanes or taking their careers in a new direction, while upskilling is dedicated to building capabilities within an employee’s chosen career path. There’s also cross-skilling, which recognizes that there are some competencies that everyone must learn, regardless of the role or department they’re in.

Why is upskilling so important right now?

Skill-building has always been important, but recent events are raising the stakes. We’re now entering what’s often called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” a time in which advances in AI and automation are revolutionizing the way we work. Since the pace of change is accelerating and the half-life of skills is shrinking, developing new competencies can no longer be an afterthought.

While the rise in automation and AI isn’t going to push employees out of the job market as some people once feared, The World Economic Forum predicts that it will create as many as 133 million new roles. Although that’s good news, these jobs are going to come with new sets of required knowledge—which is where the increased need for upskilling comes into play.

5 steps HR leaders can take to enhance their upskilling initiatives

Now that workforce capabilities are on everyone’s radars, the race to embrace skills-based strategies is on. There are a few best practices that HR leaders should keep in mind to maximize the impact of their upskilling initiatives.

#1. Ensure your strategy is employee-led

The best upskilling programs don’t tell employees how to grow their careers—they let them take the lead. Although upskilling is about developing new capabilities to progress within the same function, there are still many different directions that skill-building can take.

To maximize engagement and performance, skills programs must be rooted in workers’ goals and interests. That’s why career pathing tools are so important—they showcase all of the options that employees have in front of them, so they can identify the opportunities that best align with their long-term ambitions.

#2.  Let experiential learning lead the way

While compelling learning and development (L&D) content is a strong starting point, upskilling initiatives must also include opportunities for your employees to practice the lessons they’re learning. Integrating related projects, gigs, and shadowing opportunities will give your people the experience they need to become experts, rather than novices, in what they’re learning about. Companies that want to get upskilling right are increasingly harnessing talent marketplaces, which match people to relevant experiential learning opportunities based on their career goals and interests.

#3. Incorporate a mentoring component

Mentoring programs are a surefire way to encourage employees to expand their networks while also picking up new skills. These initiatives are a powerful skill-building tool because they allow people to observe how their more-experienced colleagues execute tasks and ask them questions throughout the process. Simultaneously, mentors will develop the leadership skills they need to confidently oversee teams, creating a mutually beneficial relationship for everyone involved.

#4. Create a single destination for development

Since the average organization has more than 70 different employee applications, figuring out which tools to harness when is far from straightforward. As a result, some employees may struggle to tap into skill-building opportunities because there’s too much uncertainty and too many bottlenecks.

Rather than letting your skill-building initiatives suffer from low engagement rates, why not create a single destination for employee growth and development? Leading organizations are turning to Opportunity Hub to streamline career development by providing employees with access to coaching, mentoring, volunteering, well-being, and learning experiences, all delivered through their talent marketplace.

#5.  Don’t forget cross-skilling and reskilling

Upskilling is essential, but leaders can’t lose sight of other ways to build skills. Some employees may be eager to take their careers in entirely new directions, which is where reskilling comes into play. There might also be some competencies that everyone will need to learn, underscoring the need to integrate cross-skilling as part of your overarching skills strategy.

To learn more about what it takes to put skills at the center of your strategy, find out how a workforce agility platform can help your business become a skills-based organization.

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