What Is Upskilling? A Key Guide for Modernizing L&D Programs

Author: Intrepid by VitalSource
October 20, 2023
what is upskilling

The importance of effective Learning and Development (L&D) solutions has never been more apparent as the challenges of global disruption, skills shortages, and economic uncertainty persist. For organizations, this means embracing a skills-based approach to workforce development to ensure continuous relevance and progress.

Organizations are facing a skills crisis that is fundamental to their success. According to a McKinsey report, 87% of executives are noticing skill gaps in their companies or expect them in the next few years. Yet less than 50% of those executives know how to address those skill gaps.

Despite understanding the importance of upskilling practices, many organizations grapple with barriers to implementing them broadly.

  • Approximately 78% of employees are concerned they lack the skills necessary to advance their career.
  • Only 12% of employees say they apply the new skills they learn from L&D programs to their jobs, making it difficult for organizations to assess the true value of typical training programs.
  • 48% of American workers would switch to a new job if offered skills-based training opportunities.
  • 89% of employees said they are “extremely” or “somewhat” motivated to improve their skills this year, with 83% reporting that improving skills is a top priority.

But exactly what is upskilling and how can it empower companies to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges? Dive into this starter guide to discover the nuances of upskilling, its strategic importance, and actionable steps for its effective implementation in modern organizations.

What is upskilling and reskilling?

Simply put, upskilling means the proactive enhancement of employees’ abilities to match evolving job requirements or industry standards. Paired closely with this is the concept of reskilling, which involves training employees in entirely new skill sets due to the evolution or transformation of their roles.

More broadly speaking, both upskilling and reskilling are integral components of a comprehensive workforce development strategy, ensuring that individuals and organizations remain agile and prepared in the face of rapid industry changes.

Importance of upskilling and reskilling in L&D

In an era marked by technological leaps and rapid workplace evolution, the value of upskilling and reskilling can’t be overstated. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees would commit longer to a company prioritizing their growth, and three-quarters actively seek learning opportunities at work.

Upskill opportunities are even more crucial today. As LinkedIn’s 2023 report reveals, job skill sets have shifted by about 25% since 2015 and are anticipated to double by 2027. Here’s what this means in practice: by 2027, half of the skills required for jobs will be different from those in 2015. So, staying current isn’t merely about adding to one’s skill set, but continuously evolving and adapting to the demands of a transformed workplace. This data underscores the growing need for increasingly nimble corporate training in today’s ever-evolving digital work environments.

By cultivating a strong learning culture and championing the critical meta-skill of “learning to learn,” businesses can not only address immediate skill gaps but also position themselves for continuous growth and to navigate future industry shifts proactively.

Benefits of upskilling training for employees and organizations

An upskilling strategy offers many advantages for both employees and the organizations they serve.

For employees, upskilling presents:

  • Increased Confidence: New skill mastery boosts confidence, enabling employees to tackle challenging projects.
  • Career Progression: Advanced skills can lead to new work experiences, promotions, broader roles, and leadership positions.
  • Better Earning Potential: Continuously upskilled employees are positioned to negotiate higher salaries.
  • Job Security: A broad and evolving skill set maximizes employee value to organizations and offers protection against job obsolescence.

For organizations, the benefits of upskilling training include:

  • Sustained Competitive Edge: A skilled workforce helps organizations adapt to shifting market demands.
  • Operational Effectiveness: Skilled employees boost innovation and productivity through improved performance.
  • Reduced Turnover: Investing in skills boosts employee satisfaction, leading to longer tenures and lower hiring costs.
  • Reputation Enhancement: Companies focused on development are seen as industry leaders, drawing top talent, and earning client trust.

digital upskilling through collaborative learning white paper

How to upskill employees effectively: A 5-step approach

As the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the world of work, companies realized that rapid upskilling is now pivotal to sustaining growth. Yet, moving beyond mere survival, building a successful upskilling program requires a longer-term vision. This ensures employees grow while learning initiatives align with organizational goals.

To achieve this, here is a 5-step guide to practical and sustainable upskilling:

1. Define scope and assess current skills gaps in your organization

Before navigating the complex terrain of upskilling, it’s important to be clear on the business challenge that you hope to solve through upskilling. For example, are you seeking to upskill within particular roles, functions, regions, or leadership levels in your organization? Or perhaps there is a particular skill across the organization you are trying to develop, or perhaps you have a more ambitious objective to broadly upskill your talent.

Once you understand your upskilling scope, the next step is to pinpoint where skills gaps lie. By utilizing data from employee self-assessments where they rank their skills, for instance, you can examine the competencies within your workforce and contrast these against evolving market and organizational needs. Recognizing that technology’s rapid advancements may introduce high-stakes learning challenges, you should continually gauge the balance between current employee abilities and future demands.

2. Design tailored upskilling initiatives

Fostering a culture of continuous learning is more than just imparting knowledge; it’s about understanding and addressing the real-world scenarios your employees face daily. Take, for instance, a sales representative who, when using the latest digital upskilling tools, can better engage with clients, speeding up the sales cycle and enhancing customer satisfaction.

By blending traditional learning with the flexibility of cohort learning over time, employees receive an effective learning experience that resonates with individual learning needs and styles. With this blended learning approach and utilizing features such as gamified elements, social interactions, practical application missions, and AI-powered video assessments, learners are able to apply new skills on the job in real-time, solve real business challenges, and drive tangible business results.

3. Provide AI-powered, personalized upskilling pathways

Recent research suggests that AI’s integration into upskilling holds transformative potential. By harnessing AI-driven data analytics, organizations can craft personalized learning trajectories, pinpointing specific learner needs and adapting in real time.

For instance, instructors could use AI to summarize key discussion themes, find common topics or challenges, and perform a sentiment analysis to adjust and personalize the learning experience proactively. Intelligent course and content curation and auto-generated assessments, also propelled by AI, ensure learners engage with relevant resources customized to their unique skill gaps and aspirations. The integration of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and chatbots further enriches the learning experience, facilitating real-time queries and fostering a deeper understanding of complex topics.

4. Engage employees through collaborative learning

If enhancing learner engagement is the goal, tap into the benefits of collaborative online learning. By encouraging learners to work together, share tacit knowledge, and discuss module topics, they not only solidify their understanding but also foster cohort cohesion across diverse teams and geographies. Connection and joint practice underpin this collaborative ethos, enhancing knowledge retention and real-world application.

That’s why your learning solution should provide learners with an intuitive blended learning space to connect and engage: collaboration is vital for idea exchange and continuous feedback. Collaborative workspaces promote team problem-solving, and features like “liking” or “bookmarking” amplify the collective journey, making learning participative and dynamic for all.

5. Measure the impact of your upskilling programs

Measurement isn’t just the final step; it’s a reflection and execution of your initial objectives. Begin by revisiting the business challenge identified in your upskilling scope, be it a specific role, level, or skill. What impact are you seeking? Establish a clear measurement plan that aligns with these challenges. By integrating strategies such as assessments, practice modules, challenges, and performance and results measurement, you can assess the targeted change more effectively.

This multifaceted approach not only gauges training effectiveness but also offers insights into the ROI of your learning initiatives. After all, success isn’t merely about imparting skills but ensuring their tangible impact aligns with the original goal.

upskilling meaning and approach

Upskilling tools to optimize success

  • Data analytics and insights help businesses track the progress of upskilling initiatives so leaders can make proactive, data-driven decisions to optimize programs and improve results. Learning leaders can start by using data analytics to assess current skill levels and identify gaps between those skills and the skill necessary for current and future jobs. During the upskilling journey, individual and group progress can also be tracked, as well as engagement and performance metrics.
  • Cohort learning and upskilling platforms such as Intrepid blend collaborative learning with structured learning paths, real-time discussions and feedback with peers, gamification, and hands-on projects to acquire and retain new skills. Collaborative learning provides time-released macro-learning and is the most effective way to learn complex skills. Using a cohort learning platform in this way not only enhances the quality of learning through shared knowledge and a sense of camaraderie, but also helps ensure employees acquire the necessary skills to immediately apply to their jobs—benefiting both individual career growth and organizational success.
  • Mentorship and coaching as a tool can provide employees with personalized guidance and support in their upskilling journey. Pair employees with experienced individuals that can provide one-on-one advice and feedback that’s tailored to the employee’s specific goals, strengths, and weaknesses. They can create personalized upskilling plans that outline the learning objectives, resources, and timelines for developing necessary skills, regularly reviewing and adjusting it as needed to align with evolving goals and needs.
  • Feedback and assessment tools assist with evaluating the effectiveness of upskilling programs and gather employee input. Examples of these types of tools include quizzes and knowledge checks, peer reviews and discussions, and certification and badging for achieving specific milestones. In addition to these tools, Intrepid provides video AI assessment technology to effectively validate applied skills in real-time so learners can practice and refine those skills.

Recommended upskilling resources

Looking to learn more as you prepare to kickstart your upskilling initiatives? Here’s a curated list of recommended upskilling resources and insights on strategies and L&D trends:

The future of upskilling in rapidly changing work environments

In an age where technology and work dynamics constantly evolve, upskilling is a beacon for organizational resilience and growth. As we’ve explored, empowering employees with relevant skills and adapting to emerging demands isn’t just an option—it’s a necessity. With this change, collaboration emerges as a keystone, with diverse teams coming together, sharing expertise, and driving innovative solutions to ever-evolving workplace challenges.

So, if you’re aiming to sail smoothly into the future of work, make a strategic choice. Intrepid’s collaborative learning platform aligns learning with business outcomes, weaving together rich features such as blended learning, social interactions, and real-world applied learning. Book a demo today, and embark on a transformative journey tailored to your organizational upskilling needs.

Frequently asked questions about upskilling the workforce

What is upskilling?

Upskilling involves proactively enhancing employees’ abilities to align with changing job demands and industry benchmarks.

What is the difference between reskilling and upskilling?

Upskilling means improving employees’ skills to keep up with changing job needs, while reskilling involves training them in entirely new skills as their roles transform.

What is an example of upskilling?

Upskilling can apply to various areas, such as developing leadership skills, enhancing customer training and onboarding processes, and improving technology proficiency, all with the goal of helping employees stay competitive and adaptable in their roles.

Why is upskilling important?

Upskilling is essential as it helps organizations close current skill gaps, stay competitive, retain talent, and proactively adapt to future industry shifts.

How to build a successful upskilling program?

Here is a 5-steph approach to upskill employees effectively, a 5-step approach is to:

  1. Define scope and assess current skills gaps
  2. Design tailored upskilling initiatives
  3. Provide personalized upskilling pathways
  4. Engage employees through collaborative learning
  5. Measure the impact of upskilling programs

Discover the Impact of Collaborative Learning on Upskilling.

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Intrepid by VitalSource

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