What Is Reskilling? Why Is It So Important for Today’s Workforce?

What Is Reskilling? Why Is It So Important for Today’s Workforce? | Workforce Development | Emeritus

Are you, your team, and your organization ready to meet the demands of the future?

No matter your industry, technology and economic demands are changing with unprecedented speed. And disruptive events like the COVID-19 pandemic have only hastened that trajectory. 

That’s why the World Economic Forum (WEF) argues the world is facing a reskilling emergency. 

In this new world, companies and individuals that don’t act fast risk falling behind. 

Reskilling Definition

So, what is reskilling? Unlike upskilling, which focuses on adding to an existing skill set within a role (for instance, due to new technology), reskilling refers to the process of learning new skills needed to do an entirely different job. 

Reskilling has become a buzzword among governments and nonprofits as a way to help left-behind workers find new careers. But it’s also an essential strategy for organizations to meet their staffing needs and succeed in a changing world. For individual employees, reskilling can present opportunities to change roles in their current organization or at a new company. 

Examples of reskilling can cover anything from retail store workers retraining as customer support specialists, to warehouse workers becoming robot technicians, to accountants becoming data scientists.

Definition of reskilling: When an employee develops new skills to take on an entirely different role.

Why Is Reskilling Important for Today’s Workforce?

According to McKinsey & Company, 87% of executives reported experiencing skill gaps in 2020. But less than half of them have a clear sense of how to address the problem. At the same time, the WEF reports that more than 40% of workers globally will require reskilling by 2025. 

These changes are happening faster than most realize. In fact, Gartner found that 33% of the skills required by an average 2017 job posting are no longer necessary in 2021. For organizations that respond quickly, employees in now-defunct roles provide an ideal pool of talent ready to be trained for new roles. These employees are already familiar with their company’s culture. Plus, they may not have to go through an extensive onboarding process. 

All of this comes with massive financial implications. Firms that don’t address their skills gaps stand to lose their market position or worse. Meanwhile, those that prioritize reskilling can earn dividends on their efforts. In fact, in a 2020 UK study, McKinsey found that reskilling would have positive economic impacts for three-quarters of companies. 

The Benefits of Reskilling

For Organizations

The benefits of reskilling aren’t limited to addressing evolving roles within organizations, however. Companies that invest in reskilling their employees can expect numerous other benefits. 

  • Avoid layoffs and rehiring: For many companies, the changing nature of business and the elimination of old roles results in layoffs. But layoffs often involve severance costs and can negatively impact morale. Plus, rehiring for new positions has its own costs. Companies that instead reskill employees in defunct positions can avoid these problems
  • Reduce employee turnover: Reskilling also helps reduce voluntary employee separations. IBM found that employees given access to training are 42% more likely to stay with a company long-term, and reducing turnover is a plus for both companies’ bottom lines and their cultures. 
  • Recruit new employees: Understandably, employees want to work for organizations that will commit to them for the long haul. Since 82% of employees believe they’ll need to gain new skills each year to stay competitive, according to a 2020 Citrix study, demonstrated commitment to employee growth is a major bonus in the hiring process. 

For Employees

If you’re looking to change career paths on your own, reskilling can help you reach your goals. This is especially important at a time when automation and artificial intelligence are eliminating certain roles. 

Those who retrain for other roles, either in their current organization or elsewhere, may also feel a greater sense of job security, especially as they seek out in-demand roles in a changing workforce. 

Benefits of Reskilling

For Employers

  • Avoid layoffs and rehiring
  • Cost-savings compared with hiring new employees
  • Reduce employee turnover
  • Recruit new employees

For Employees

  • Change career paths
  • Adapt to a changing workforce due to automation and digitalization
  • Feel a greater sense of job security


How to Reskill Your Workforce (in 6 Steps)

Reskilling employees—especially when that involves moving them into more technical areas—is a complex task that demands strategic planning. Organizations can follow these steps to set themselves up for success.

1. Prioritize the Most Essential Skills

It’s simply not possible to reskill an entire company at once. Organizations are most likely to succeed when they base reskilling decisions on what skills are needed rather than what employees are available. 

Companies should identify and rank the skills most necessary to their continued success, like new technology or communications platforms. They should direct their funds and training resources toward areas where reskilling is most likely to meet an immediate need. As the reskilling process is refined, it can be rolled out across additional areas. 

2. Identify Employees with Transferable Skills

While the whole point of reskilling is to teach employees entirely new skill sets, the process is much simpler if those employees have some relevant background knowledge. Companies can start by creating a database of the skills represented across the organization. They can then use this database to both identify skills gaps and  select employees who can most easily transition to new roles. 

3. Incentivize Reskilling 

The prospect of learning a whole new skill set and role can be overwhelming to many employees. Clear communication is essential so that employees understand that reskilling is the surest path to longevity in both the company and the industry. They should also know they will have support throughout the process. 

Tying reskilling milestones into performance objectives or future raises or promotions will help employees overcome their concerns and move past inertia. Organizations should also recognize what they’re asking of their employees and reduce workloads as needed to provide bandwidth for reskilling efforts.

4. Put Employees Through Formal Courses and Programs

Internal training opportunities are fantastic, but when it comes to building new skill sets in an organization, formal, external training might be the way to go. Emeritus offers dozens of programs designed to help professionals gain new skills and adapt to changing workforce demands ranging from machine learning to digital marketing. Plus, these courses are highly customizable to meet companies’ specific needs. Group enrollment options are also available for team training.

5. Provide Cross-Training Opportunities and Rotations

If a certain skill set already exists within the organization, departmental rotations or assignments to specific projects can help employees dip their toes into a new role and identify what they need to learn. To make these efforts successful, companies should consider formally identifying mentors and creating a learning structure complete with milestones so employees can stay on track and identify concerns early on.

6. Collect and Analyze Metrics of Success

The reskilling process involves many complex factors. These range from individual motivation levels to specific trainers to company investment. Organizations should set clear goals for reskilling programs and regularly measure progress. Randstad suggests setting goals that are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Graphic identifying steps for organizations to take to reskill employees.

Ideally, goals should be set on at the individual level as well. Aggregating individual data may prove especially useful as organizations work to identify which training approaches are most and least effective.

How to Reskill Yourself

These days, more opportunities than ever exist for employees hoping to reskill into new roles or even new industries. A wide range of online and in-person training courses now make reskilling possible without the commitment and expense of a new degree. In some industries, apprenticeships and learning on the job are also options. Consider following these steps.

1. Identify Your Objectives

If you’re looking to reskill, it’s important to first consider your goals in the context of your broader career and life. Are you drawn to a particular industry or type of work? What specifically makes that feel like a good fit? Will the type of role you’re considering provide opportunities for growth and longevity? Or is it likely to be phased out as technology changes?

2. Network and Ask Questions

Before you leave your job or invest in a program, take advantage of your network and look for connections who work in similar roles or fields. Ask questions about their day-to-day responsibilities and the skills that are most useful in their roles. Then, learn how they entered the field and developed those skills. 

3. Take Advantage of Training Opportunities in Your Current Company

Shifting roles may not require leaving your current company. Many organizations now offer formal reskilling programs or less formal opportunities to rotate through different departments or get mentorship. Even if your desired role would require changing organizations, internal moves or skills development could provide a bridge to that new position. 

4. Enroll in Courses or Programs

Whether you’re hoping to become a data analyst or work in sales, there is an online or in-person course or program out there to help you gain the skills you need to succeed. Many of these programs, like those Emeritus offers, are designed to fit around a working professional’s schedule and are surprisingly affordable. (Learn more about the benefits of online learning.)

5. Rework Your Resume to Highlight Transferable Skills

As you prepare to look for a new role, take time to assess how you present yourself to potential employers. Often, skills are highly transferable even across roles and industries. Showing employers how your previous experience required strong critical thinking, for example, will help show that you can rise to the challenge of a new role. 

Staying on top of ever-changing skills needs can be daunting. But with a well-thought-out process and appropriate investments, companies can set the framework for reskilling programs that get results even as specific skills evolve.

Reskilling with Emeritus

Looking for courses to reskill employees on your team or in your organization? Emeritus can provide learning opportunities tailored to your company’s needs. Contact us to learn more. You can also view our full list of online courses for individual enrollment.

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