Upskilling, reskilling, and preparing for the future

Exploring different skill-building strategies and the role they’ll play in our next chapter

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

September 30, 2022

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As a business or HR leader, you’ve probably noticed that upskilling and reskilling are getting a lot of traction lately. Skills have emerged as a key area of focus for 2022, with Gartner naming building critical competencies as HR’s number one priority for the year. And it’s no surprise that so many executives are setting their sights on skills, given that McKinsey found that nearly 70% of businesses are doing more skill-building now than they did before COVID-19.

When it comes to future-fitting your workforce, focussing on skills is an important step. Yet, many upskilling strategies are still missing the mark. The confusion often starts with a lack of differentiation between upskilling, reskilling, and cross-skilling, and a blurry understanding of the role each plays in equipping your organization for the future of work. Although the two terms sound similar, several characteristics set them apart.

The basics

While both upskilling and reskilling are about learning new skills, the context for each is a bit different. Upskilling is focused on helping employees become more knowledgeable and develop new competencies that relate to their current position, while reskilling is about equipping workers to switch lanes and move into new roles within your organization.

To help you visualize the difference, we’ve created an illustration of how each form of skill-building impacts the famous T-shaped talent model. Upskilling is about lengthening the vertical base of the T, which represents an employee’s depth of skills. Reskilling is what happens when you move that vertical line entirely. And cross-skilling is the process of developing skills that are valuable across multiple functions. On a T-shaped talent model, cross-skilling is about elongating the horizontal top of the T, which depicts a range of skills.

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Why upskilling and reskilling are now more critical than ever

Skill-building has always been important, but recent events are raising the stakes. We’re now in 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.

Instead, research points to upskilling and reskilling as prerequisites for success. The World Economic Forum predicts that half of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, as the adoption of technology increases. 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. And 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 and reskilling comes into play.

Upskilling and reskilling vs. external hiring

There’s no denying that upskilling and reskilling initiatives require a significant investment, in both money and time. Superior approaches generally include both compelling content as part of a Learning and Development (L&D) curriculum, as well as experiential opportunities such as mentoring, projects, and gigs.

Given the effort upskilling and reskilling require, some might wonder if it might just be easier to prioritize external hiring. While it might sound like a simpler strategy on the surface, turning to new talent won’t solve your skill-building concerns. First off, today’s record-breaking labor shortage will make finding the right people exceptionally difficult. And even if you manage to recruit employees with the skills you’re looking for, they’re still going to need to build new capabilities down the line. Since the pace of change is accelerating, there isn’t a single person who can afford to skip out on upskilling and reskilling.

Consequently, the only way to prepare your organization for the future of work is by putting skills at the center of your strategy. As a bonus, prioritizing internal mobility over external hiring comes with its own set of advantages, including improved retention and engagement. 94% of workers say they would stay at their company longer if they invested in their careers and 86% of CEOs reported that launching digital training and education programs led to improvements in employee engagement.

Who gets reskilled—and when?

By now, most leaders know that upskilling and reskilling will be essential in the new world of work. However, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around the best approach to skill-building. Should all of your employees be included in upskilling and reskilling? Or is it better to save it for the high performers and the high potentials?

The best skills strategies aren’t limited to a select few. Instead, they give everyone an equal opportunity to progress their careers by identifying and participating in learning experiences that align with both personal goals and business priorities. But how can you make your people’s ambitions match up to business-critical objectives?

That’s where career pathing becomes critical. Career pathing enables your workforce to relevant opportunities within your organization. The most impactful tools don’t just show people one potential path; they present users with a few different options for what direction their careers can take, so they can choose the path that fits best. Ideally, these tools might help workers discover roles that they never knew existed within your company, giving them new reasons to stay.

The best career pathing tools take it one step further by presenting users with an immediate solution to start strategizing their career goals. AI-driven tools can identify the skills gaps that employees need to bridge to reach their desired role and present them with learning and development resources to get them up to speed. There are even some tools, like Gloat’s offering, that include boards so that employees can monitor their progress and see what they’ll need to do next.

If you’re looking to learn more about career pathing and the role it can play in enhancing your upskilling and reskilling strategy, download our guide, Unlocking career agility: Transitioning from ladders to lifelong reinvention.

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