6 employee cross-training benefits leaders can’t ignore

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

Learn why honing multi-functional capabilities is a business necessity

Most professional athletes don’t just play their sport to prepare for a competition. Instead, they usually practice a handful of complimentary activities, like ballet lessons for figure skaters or a soccer team that goes on group runs.

Much like these athletes, your employees will benefit from cross-training—development experiences that go beyond your peoples’ daily tasks and encourage them to build broader expertise. Rather than prioritizing one niche skill set, workers need to hone a breadth of capabilities that they can harness to pitch in on projects across your organization.

While employee cross-training has always been an important component of learning and development, it’s quickly becoming essential to equip workforces with the agility and transferable skills that our working world demands.

What is employee cross-training?

Employee cross-training, which is also sometimes referred to as cross-skilling, focuses on helping workers build skills that will enable them to efficiently manage multiple responsibilities that extend beyond their current roles. For example, a social media manager may choose to learn digital marketing skills such as SEO as part of their cross-training. This new expertise will enable them to improve their overall productivity and gain a deeper understanding of marketing best practices.

As opposed to being confined to one functional area of the business, cross-training gives employees the flexibility to learn and perform tasks outside of their niche. This helps workers continuously prove their value to their employer, even as market demands shift and new priorities emerge. Cross-training also empowers everyone in the organization to take on projects and responsibilities that align with their career ambitions and business needs.

Why is cross-training important for employees?

Cross-training is always valuable, but it’s especially important during times of market volatility like we’re experiencing today. In an effort to do more with less, many companies are pressing pause on external hiring and laying off employees whose roles may no longer align with business priorities.

Since talent is scarce right now, leaders are looking to their existing employees to step up and pitch in on projects that will help them grow their skills while meeting organizational objectives. Employees can only execute these responsibilities when they have access to opportunities that enable them to build these broader skills—which is where employee cross-training comes into play. Cross-training can help employees take their careers in new directions while ensuring their organizations have the talent resources needed to meet key deliverables.

Cross-training versus upskilling versus reskilling

While skill-building terms like upskilling, reskilling, and cross-training are often used interchangeably, each phrase has its own distinct meaning.

Upskilling describes any process that helps someone answer the following question: “What additional skills do I need to progress in my current career?”. It’s about enabling employees to accelerate their progression up traditional career ladders.

In contrast, reskilling is for employees who are interested in switching lanes. It empowers them to answer the question, “What skills do I need to transition from one department to another.”

Finally, cross-training is about building skills that everyone will need in the new world of work. The purpose of it is to develop a portfolio of skills that are valuable across multiple verticals, functions, or domains.

What are the benefits of cross-training employees?

If you’re interested in taking your cross-training program to the next level, here are some of the advantages you can expect to gain:

#1. Maximize agility

Most leaders know that agility in the workplace and agile operating models are the key to thriving in a world hallmarked by rapid market shifts and accelerated digital innovation. Businesses that prioritize cross-training equip their workforce with a wealth of transferable knowledge that managers can tap into to get key projects to the finish line. When employees possess foundational expertise across many areas of the business, it becomes easy to reallocate talent as new priorities emerge and challenges arise.

#2. Increase productivity

Skill gaps often lead to lags in productivity. Employees will need to reach out to colleagues for help and managers might find themselves playing more of an editing or troubleshooting role than they’re accustomed to.

Rather than letting these gaps hinder output levels, cross-training encourages employees to develop in-demand expertise that can be applied to many important projects across the organization.

#3. Minimize hiring and recruitment costs

When employees participate in a cross-training program designed to help them build the skills their organization needs most, businesses will no longer need to rely on external hiring to overcome skills shortages. Instead of acquiring new talent every time a different priority emerges, cross-training helps ensure that employees have the skills needed to take on these responsibilities—in turn minimizing the costs associated with external hiring and recruitment.

#4. Encourage cross-functional collaboration

If employees only build skills in their domain, they won’t have as many opportunities to pitch in on projects that other teams or departments are working on. In contrast, cross-functional collaboration will become a seamless process for companies that prioritize cross-training because their entire workforce will possess transferable skills that can be put to use in many different ways.

#5. Engage and retain employees

63% of employees are interested in being considered for different, new career opportunities within their companies. If these workers are employed at organizations with strong employee cross-training programs, they’ll have the opportunity to build the expertise needed to expand their professional horizons.

As a result, they are more likely to feel motivated to do their best work, stay with their organizations longer, and work with their managers to turn their career dreams into realities. LinkedIn research reveals 94% of employees say they’d stay at their company longer if they invested in career development, underscoring the importance of employee cross-training.

#6. Upgrade succession planning

Cross-training plays a key role in succession planning. When employees only have a very specific set of skills that are relevant to one domain, it limits the leadership opportunities that lie in their future. In contrast, organizations that prioritize cross-training can ensure their workforce has a breadth of technical and soft skills that will enable more employees to step into leadership roles down the line.

To learn more about cross-training and how it can empower all employees to achieve their full potential, check out our research report on workforce skills

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