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How Upskilling and Reskilling Programs can Give Your Company a Competitive Edge


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Today’s low unemployment levels and high demand for skilled workers have created fierce competition among companies seeking to hire top talent. For job seekers, this is a blessing. For employers, it’s an increasingly expensive and difficult challenge to ensure that their workforce’s needs are being met.

Identifying the Issues Facing Employers 

The first problem is hiring staff members with the right skills for the digital age. Another is ensuring existing staff members can compete with new, highly technical entrants. Eighty percent of all job roles will require key digital competencies by the end of 2020 and Artificial Intelligence is on a path to replace about 120 million workers from the world’s 12 largest economies in the next three years. But the vast majority of today’s workforce isn’t digitally native.

This is especially critical for women in the workplace, who are in a disproportionate level of jobs affected by automation and the need to be trained for higher-skilled roles.

Workers lacking proper experience or training don’t just find themselves at a disadvantage in the broader labor market — they can keep companies from reaching their full potential. According to consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 55% of employers believe skills shortages prevent companies from being able to effectively innovate.

Training Employees Through Upskilling and Reskilling

To enhance and retain their workforce, companies are resorting to two essential strategies: upskilling and reskilling programs. These programs enable companies to help employees develop new skills for existing roles or new positions, or prepare for future leadership.

Each program is distinct in its own right. Upskilling helps one develop new skills for their current role; reskilling helps one develop different skills in preparation for a new role. For example, an Adobe Premiere video editor learning how to use Avid is upskilling; while a video editor learning how to become a producer is reskilling.

These programs must be tailored towards specific skills. Three of the most essential workforce upskilling categories are business and science skills, like marketing or data; human or soft skills, like critical thinking or leadership skills; and technology skills, like digital literacy or artificial intelligence applications.

Upskilling and reskilling are leading to some shifting trends in the workforce:

Workers are Spending More Time Learning

According to a survey by Boston Consulting Group and The Network, 65% of respondents spend significant amounts of time learning new skills to stay competitive and relevant in their jobs. This trend is most visible in countries that believe trends like upskilling will greatly affect employment. Most notably, 85% of respondents in Nigeria spend greater amounts of time learning compared to less than 43% of respondents in France. In Southeast Asia, 20 million people will learn digital skills by the end of 2020 via the World Economic Forum’s Digital ASEAN initiative. In the United Arab Emirates, 93% of workers are ready to invest their free time to learn a new set of skills.

Trainings are Paving the Way for More Internal Hiring

In Deloitte's recent Global Human Capital Trends survey, 77% of organizations lean towards training existing new employees rather than hiring new talent. Companies are providing the resources necessary for employees across the world to engage in web-based learning, such as AT&T's $1 billion USD investment in online courses through Coursera and Udacity. Re-educating existing employees can offset recruitment challenges caused by low employment and a lengthy hiring process.

Workers are Getting More Long-Term Support at Their Jobs

According to PwC's Talent Trends 2019 report, one of the most effective methods of reskilling leans towards the development of soft skills, resulting in fulfilling, rewarding workplace experiences. For example, IBM believes that personalized employee development experiences, which allow employees to develop skills in areas that will impact business the most, can ultimately lead to greater innovation from within.

The development of these soft skills also promotes diversity and inclusion. For example, it helps women, who bring more soft skills to their roles than men, better use those skills to break into roles or departments that are traditionally dominated by men.

Women’s Upward Mobility in Leadership Roles 

Upskilling and retraining programs require a focus on potential in future jobs — something women stand to gain the most from. In fact, women outscore men on three of the four “potential” traits in the workplace — curiosity, determination, and engagement. But women often don’t have the support and guidance to capitalize on that potential, thanks in part to only 5% of women in CEO roles in the Fortune 500 to look to and shouldering more unpaid work than men in every region of the world. Thankfully, trainings that source promising leaders and proactively teach them the skills required are giving women that stepping stone.

Organizations looking to strengthen the skills of its workforce, build strong relationships, and create opportunities for future advancement will continue to use upskilling and reskilling to future-proof operations. Delivering those new skills and information in the workplace can help companies strengthen and ultimately maintain a competitive edge in today’s labor market.