When discussed in the context of an organisation's learning and development strategy, upskilling and reskilling refer to the educational opportunities offered by a business to its employees. While the two words are often used interchangeably, there is a significant difference in their definitions.
To upskill is to provide training that enhances an employee’s existing skill set, allowing them to grow in their current role and bring added value to an organisation.
To reskill is essentially to retrain an employee for a new position. This process is commonly used when an employee’s post has become redundant and the employer looks to retain the worker by training them in a new discipline.
Although mainly associated with advancements in technology, upskilling and reskilling are also vital for the continued development of valuable soft skills. In today’s ever-evolving and highly competitive business environment, these are critical components of an effective business strategy.
By promoting continued learning and development as part of its company culture, a business can boost employee job satisfaction, remain competitive and increase its bottom line by bringing out the full potential of an existing workforce.
There are cost-related employee benefits too. Paying for professional qualifications outside of the workplace can be prohibitively expensive, and it is often best to seize paid training opportunities from within employment. Reskilling within an organisation can lead to a more exciting, diverse career path, create progression opportunities and uncover hidden skills.
There are also several factors associated with emerging workplace trends that drive home the importance of upskilling at work:
Retaining and Attracting Top Talent
Continued learning plays a significant role in job satisfaction, particularly among the younger generations. Even though millennials are known for job-hopping, the majority still value career development highly and will seek out employers who can provide this for them. People in their mid to late careers will be looking for long-term roles, and therefore roles within which they will have the opportunity to shift or grow as professionals without destabilising their lives with a big change.
Preparing an Organisation for Growth
Retraining employees who already understand and are committed to a company’s structure, culture and mission is another great reason for a company to retain and reskill its workforce. By reskilling existing employees, organisations invest in the long-term retention of staff and empower themselves to prepare for fast-changing skills demands. If employees are willing to learn and adapt quickly, an employer creates a workforce that can not only address an immediate reskilling need, but also meet future, emerging skills gaps as they arise.
Overcoming the Digital Skills Gap
The need for technical proficiency is no longer confined to the IT department. Digital technologies have entered every area of business operation and, to be used effectively, they require employees to have relevant knowledge and capabilities. The new generations entering the workforce (namely millennials and Generation Z) typically bring these digital talents to the table. It’s therefore crucial to upskill existing older employees – with potentially more industry expertise – to avoid any adverse effects resulting from a sense of redundancy.
Boosting Soft Skills
As technology becomes more prevalent in the workplace, focusing on employee soft skills has never been more important. With businesses increasingly reliant on automation and algorithms, key abilities such as communication, problem solving, networking and critical thinking can suffer. As the demand for digital skills grows, and more and more work is becoming remote, there is a real risk that communication and teamwork within an organisation will break down. Technology can only take a business so far. Employers that neglect upskilling interpersonal skills and analytical capabilities will often find themselves outdone by their competition.
Avoiding Unnecessary Cost
An increasingly competitive marketplace means more businesses are tightening their budgets. Filling a skills gap through new hires or temporary contract workers may seem like a sensible option but it is costly and, when combined with the time delays associated with recruitment, is more often than not a false economy. As colleges and schools are not producing work-ready candidates, oftentimes new recruits will require some level of on-the-job training to undertake a new role.
Encouraging Employee Engagement
While younger generations are comfortable in a technology-led workplace, they may lack important soft skills and industry expertise. Experienced employees with valuable knowledge may find their skills increasingly redundant. This can lead to a lack of engagement from both sides. By designing an upskilling strategy that encourages continuous learning through collaboration, employers can benefit from the combined talents of their workforce and ensure all employees feel relevant in, and engaged with, the company culture.