Upskill or reskill? The decision-making process around employee learning

Cornerstone explains why reskilling and upskilling should be central to HR strategies regarding employee retention, satisfaction, and wellbeing.
By: | May 5, 2022

The “Great Resignation” shows no signs of abating, with more employees assessing the skills they need to grow their careers and be future-ready in the new post-COVID workplace.

Previously, companies only offered employee training to those who showed loyalty and persistence. However, that approach does not work anymore, as employees will switch roles to get the required skills. 

According to CEO Magazine: “Across Australia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, 58 per cent of employees are looking for new job prospects. This number is higher for a younger cohort of 18 to 24-year-olds – 65 per cent. Beyond the daily stressors, some of the top reasons people want to leave their jobs are due to a lack of growth opportunities, salary dissatisfaction and concerns about their well-being.”

Upskilling and reskilling should be critical priorities for companies grappling with the successful transition to the “future of work”. They should be central to the HR strategy for employee retention, satisfaction, and well-being.

Strong upskilling and reskilling programmes are critical for organisations to nurture and grow their skilled workforce quickly to slow down the momentum of the “great resignation” trend. 

Today’s employees want these skills, so they are receptive – creating an opportunity to super-charge a team’s capability. 

To develop a programme, companies first need to audit their workforce’s current skill set, identify the gaps, and develop the right learning opportunities to reach their team’s full potential. 

Understanding when to upskill versus reskill

It used to be that the skills you learned at 20 would last you a lifetime, but now the average lifespan of a job skill is under five years. Gartner’s research found that 58% of the workforce needs new skills to do their job today successfully.

To upskill, or to reskill? Both terms are used interchangeably when solving skills gaps.

However, failing to understand the distinct differences sets companies up to fail. Upskilling helps develop employees for significant shifts in their current roles. For example, a retailer might upskill its employees with digital to prepare them for a business transition to e-commerce.

Reskilling prepares an employee for a distinctly different role from their current one. Reskilling helps transition people from declining industries or functions to high growth, in-demand jobs. 

Sadly, many businesses often place greater importance on costs, time, and resources ahead of equipping employees with the essential skills to succeed in their roles. 

To enable employees to find success with appropriate learning opportunities, HR leaders must first discover where skills gaps might exist to identify what future training will be required and determine what traits are needed, beyond technical training, for successful employee growth and development.

A sound oversight of existing skills enables companies to invest more efficiently into talent software and solutions that support upskilling and reskilling strategies. It can eliminate the guesswork around what training or learning solutions are needed and enables HR leaders to match employees with learning content to fill existing skills gaps.

Focus on soft skills as well as technical ability

Soft skills, like adaptability, are critical to the success of any upskilling or reskilling strategy. Providing the proper technical training is only half the task of developing talent. 

For more than 20 years, businesses have been heavily focused on STEM skills and been more blasé about human skills. But as Matt Sigelman, CEO and founder of Burning Glass Technologies, points out in the book The Adaptation Advantage: “One of the most important trends for jobs in the future is the rise of hybrid jobs. In those roles, you need both technology fluency and human skills to be successful…this is not a choice between either technology skills or human skills, but rather a combination of both.”

The World Economic Forum, Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group, and McKinsey have all researched skills that make people employable, lead to job satisfaction and increase productivity in the future of work. Essential foundational skills include digital literacy and collaboration — less technical skills in nature.

The less tangible skill of adaptability consistently topped the list of soft skills for a higher chance of employment. Adaptability is one of the most important traits required to learn new skills. As long as workforces are adaptable, we can meet the challenges head-on.

Adaptability must be front and centre in a company’s upskilling and reskilling programme. Employees are much more adaptable than companies recognise, and once they realise that, organisations can tailor and develop learning programmes that address the requirements of their team.

Delivering the proper training not only helps employees build skills for the future and accentuates company capability, but it also keeps the team engaged and less likely to leave for greener pastures while simultaneously improving overall organisational adaptability.

Join Oliver Pestel, VP, Solutions Group, Cornerstone OnDemand, at HR Tech Festival Live on Tuesday, May 10, from 11am-11.20am (SGT), for his session titled Forging a Better World of Work: Connecting Skills, Careers, and Growth. HR Tech Festival Live is part of HR Tech Festival Asia 2022, which is taking place from May 10-13.