How to Upskill Employees in Your Company (and Why It’s So Important)

How to Upskill Employees in Your Company (and Why It's So Important) | General | Emeritus

There’s no denying the economy is changing—fast. With that, the pace of technological change continues to increase, and in today’s globalized world, demands on workers continue to grow.

But many of today’s companies and employees aren’t keeping up with the needs of today, let alone tomorrow, to grow and thrive.

Why Upskilling Is Important in Today’s Workforce

The skills gap problem is so serious that Gartner found 58% of employees need new skills to do their jobs successfully. Upskilling, the process of expanding an employee’s skill set (generally by adding to an existing body of knowledge), offers a much-needed solution to this challenge.

And it’s a global issue. The World Economic Forum (WEF) released a report in 2021 detailing the economic imperative of upskilling. It argues that now is an important time for companies to embark on an “upskilling revolution” that allows employees worldwide to become immersed in the future of work, whatever that may entail.

That opportunity comes with massive financial implications. The WEF also predicts that a concerted effort to provide the upskilling employees need would grow the economy by trillions of dollars. And companies that act fast to upskill their workforce and stay ahead of the competition can enjoy a piece of that pie. 

The Benefits of Upskilling Employees

But the benefits of upskilling aren’t only visible at the macroeconomic level. Here are some additional reasons why it’s important for your organization and your employees.

Benefits for Employers

  • Increased employee retention: According to Gallup, the No. 1 reason employees leave their roles is due to a perceived lack of growth opportunities. Providing a pathway to new skills and career growth within your company can boost employee engagement and retention. 
  • Cost savings: Since the cost of replacing an employee who leaves a company averages around a third of their annual salary, upskilling can mean significant cost savings for a company.
  • A recruiting tool: While it’s harder to measure a company’s reputation among job seekers, providing growth opportunities can help with recruiting, since 86% of employees say job training is important to them. 
  • A culture of learning: PwC data shows 77% of workers want to upskill. A supportive work environment that prioritizes upskilling can boost employee morale, teamwork, and satisfaction.
  • Narrowing skills gaps: As the workplace changes rapidly in today’s economy, organizations increasingly recognize the role that upskilling can play in closing critical skills gaps and strategic transformation. In fact, in the 2022 Emeritus Global Career Impact Survey, nearly three-quarters (72%) of past Emeritus learners agreed that their program prepared them for current demands in their field.
Source: 2022 Emeritus Global Career Impact Survey

Benefits for Employees

Upskilling can also positively impact the workforce at an individual level. Benefits of upskilling for employees include the following.

  • Career advancement: Upskilling employees can enable them to move forward in their career. In our Impact Survey, 94% of past Emeritus learners said they saw a positive impact on their career and professional development after finishing an Emeritus program. And 55% said they specifically saw career advances.
  • Closing knowledge gaps and increased adaptability: In our rapidly changing workplace, digital transformation and automation have become top priorities, as have soft skills like digital literacy and flexible leadership. Upskilling is needed to meet these challenges. Our Impact Survey found 77% of past learners were able to close knowledge gaps by enrolling in Emeritus programs.
  • Improved confidence in their abilities: With the abilities to do their jobs better and adapt to changing needs, it’s no surprise that employees, in turn, would feel more confident about their ability to perform better in their current role, in turning leading to overall increased morale.

Chart showing the benefits of upskilling employees on an individual and organization level.

Strategies to Upskill Employees in Your Company

While the task can sound daunting, careful planning and targeted investments can get your team performing at its best in surprisingly little time. A multifaceted strategy is essential to a solid upskilling program. Here are six ways to upskill employees.

1. Identify Priority Areas and Skills Gaps

While most employees can benefit from upskilling, organizations will see the highest return on their investment when they identify priority areas and skills based on their company goals and vision. For example, an organization may want to ensure its logistics team is updated on industry software or that its sales and marketing teams are utilizing social media to its full potential.

Conduct a skills gap analysis to understand where development is needed within your team or organization. Company and team leaders should prioritize the skills most likely to move the needle and focus on upskilling employees whose roles will require those skills in the future. 

2. Build Upskilling into Employee Performance and Development Plans

To get their team or the wider organization on board with the idea, company and team leaders can emphasize how upskilling will benefit employees’ careers. For example, attaining certain skills might be worked into an employee’s annual goals or tied to a future promotion.

Company leaders must also recognize and prioritize the time that upskilling takes and, if necessary, adjust employees’ workloads to give them the bandwidth they need to focus on attaining new skills. 

3. Enroll Employees in Courses or Training Programs

For some skills, there’s no substitute for formal training. Whether companies are looking to get their employees up to speed on machine learning or prepare them for new leadership opportunities, they can consider online courses designed for professionals.

Emeritus has dozens of offerings created in collaboration with top universities, plus enterprise solutions for upskilling at a larger scale. Most of our programs are designed to work around a professional’s busy schedule, and many provide opportunities to work on specific company-related projects.

4. Utilize Internal and External Experts

Often, organizations have some employees with a particular skill set, just not enough. In this situation, companies can encourage skilled employees to take on the role of a mentor or even a trainer. Depending on the skills in question, companies might pair an employee who already has a particular skill with one who hopes to attain it for one-on-one coaching.

They might also encourage skilled employees to provide more extensive learning opportunities ranging from one-off talks to multi-week training sessions. 

No internal experts? Many companies find success bringing in external trainers specializing in an area for group coaching sessions on specific tools or skills. 

5. Provide Stretch Assignments for Employee Upskilling

Stretch opportunities, or assignments outside an employee’s existing scope of experience and job description, give employees the chance to learn on the job while proving their ability to take on new challenges. For example, an individual contributor might be given oversight of a project team in a stretch assignment, or an employee might take on a new role in a project (such as analyzing data or creating a marketing strategy).

Of course, for stretch assignments to be a success, employees must be given the support and resources they need to acquire new skills and meet the challenge.

6. Follow Up and Track Progress

As with any other business investment, measuring the ROI of employee training is essential to iteration and improvement. Tracking what works and what doesn’t helps employees continue to improve and gain new skills, and also helps other managers wondering how to upskill employees. While tactics may vary depending on the skill itself, options include asking the employee to complete an assessment or test project or report out on their learnings.

Looking for courses designed to upskill employees on your team or within your organization? Learn more about how Emeritus can develop online employee training programs tailored to your company’s needs.

This blog, originally published in 2021, has been updated for 2022.

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