Executives across industries and around the world have made devising and implementing employee reskilling programs a top priority. Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report found that a whopping 72% of executives saw “the ability of their people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles” as workers’ most or second-most important skill.

Learning and development (L&D) professionals play a leading role in many employee reskilling and upskilling programs, from analyzing needs to developing and delivering effective tools and resources.

What are reskilling and upskilling?

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Reskilling teaches new skills to employees. Updating and extending their skillsets can prepare learners to move into new roles within the company, whether laterally or promotions, and can prepare workers to take on new challenges and adjust to changes.

Upskilling generally refers to enhancing workers’ existing skills as demands in their current job roles change, whether due to automation, adoption of new software or tools, or shifts in processes and procedures.

The COVID-19 crisis brought the need for reskilling workers to the forefront of managers’ and executives’ minds, as the pandemic forced rapid changes in the way many companies operated. But the need for reskilling programs has long been on the radar for executives and L&D leadership:

The truth is, skill gaps have always existed and tools and processes change rapidly, factors that ensure a constant need for upskilling and reskilling programs.

Benefits of reskilling the workforce

A reskilling program offers L&D teams and organizational leaders the chance to get ahead of skill gaps by anticipating and proactively filling those gaps. It’s an all-around win, too: Not only does the organization benefit from a prepared and highly skilled workforce, employees benefit from development and advancement opportunities.

The 2021 LinkedIn Workplace Learning report found that more than half of L&D professionals are focusing on supporting internal job mobility, with 59% citing reskilling and upskilling employees as top priorities. That’s because they see clear benefits:

  • A reskilling program can reduce the need to recruit and train new employees, which is costly and time-consuming: In a 2019 study, Josh Bersin found that “it can cost as much as 6 times more to hire from the outside than to build from within.” And new hires have “a potential turnover of two to three times higher than an internal recruit.”
  • Workers seek growth opportunities and stay longer with companies that offer them ways to develop new work skills through reskilling and upskilling.
Forbes states that tough times, like during and immediately post-COVID, are an ideal time to focus on reskilling employees and asserts that “upskilling and reskilling programs can improve employee engagement and retention, attract new talent, increase collaboration between departments and speed up the adoption of new trends within the company.”

The employees most likely to succeed in a reskilling program are those who are motivated to learn and develop — self starters, the people who “get stuff done” by managing their time effectively and knowing how to prioritize. These are also the employees who are willing and able to delegate or ask for assistance when they take on too much or too many deadlines converge. Happily, these efficient, organized high-performers are the employees you’re most likely to want to hold on to, promote, and groom for leadership roles.

Upskilling and reskilling employees takes time

When reskilling employees, it’s important to ensure that they are able to balance online training and other reskilling programs with their daily and weekly work tasks without becoming overwhelmed or burning out. That’s why planning ahead and ensuring that reskilling is proactive is so important.

When implementing an employee reskilling program, design a path for employees to develop new work skills over time and grow into new roles or responsibilities, while also ensuring that managers at every level support a learning culture.

Planning ahead will ensure that the skills your organization needs are available, rather than having to scramble to fill an urgent need as a crisis unfolds.

Steps to successful employee reskilling and upskilling

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1. Perform an audit

Designing a solid, relevant employee reskilling program starts just as any training initiative should: with a thorough analysis of current and anticipated skills needs, an “inventory” of which employees have needed skills, and an analysis of existing online and face-to-face training courses, job aids, and other resources.

In assessing the skillsets of employees, take a wide view. An employee skills and interests survey could unearth hidden talents within your ranks. While it might seem logical to look at existing customer support staff to fill anticipated IT or equipment maintenance roles, other employees might have adjacent interests or skills that are not leveraged in their current roles. 

In some fields of work, organizations may find that it makes sense to increase flexibility among employees by up- and reskilling them in “adjacent skill areas,” according to McKinsey’s report on reskilling to emerge from the COVID crisis. “For instance, truck drivers learned how to be excavator operators. This approach yielded multiple benefits for the organization.”

It’s often helpful to call in outside experts to perform skills audits, training needs analysis, and audits of existing training.

2. Prioritize skills & training development

Your audits and analyses are likely to unearth a wide variety of skills that are or will be needed. The next step will be prioritizing the training. Your training audit consultant is likely to be helpful here too, providing guidance as you develop a strategic training plan to meet current and future needs.

Your training plan might include:

  • Tools, resources, and training courses your organization has already developed
  • Third-party course libraries
  • Performance support tools and job aids
  • A knowledge base
  • Collaborative resources created by employees
  • A roadmap for developing or sourcing additional training and resources

Understanding what you have and what you need — both in terms of skills and training resources — can ensure that your employee reskilling program is relevant and effective. Use your strategic planning to inform and guide the development of training, reinforcement, and performance support resources.

3. Deliver and evaluate training

All the preparatory analysis in the world won’t matter if your reskilling program is ineffective. Build in ways to measure progress and effectiveness from day one.

Using LMS-based online training courses, as well as microlearning and other platforms that provide training, knowledge reinforcement, and performance support, is a great start. Many LMS and microlearning platforms are able to track essential training metrics. Some include tools to correlate training metrics with performance metrics and provide a more complete picture of the impact of your reskilling efforts.

When choosing training platforms, be sure to ask your vendor about data and analytics collection, analysis, and reporting features.

Poor Use with
Adult Learners
Effective with
Adult Learners

Games

Simple games layered on top of content

Scenario-based games that use the content

Leaderboards, competition

Fan excessive competition among employees or teams by offering large prizes for top performers and/or shaming those with lower scores

Challenge employees to beat their own past performance, or design a leaderboard that shows each employee only the four scorers above and below them

Points, rewards, badges

Award points or levels for completing sections of training or playing for a set number of minutes

Award levels, badges or points for recalling or applying content correctly, demonstrating mastery

  • Remember — bookmark, google, link, search
  • Understand — annotate, Boolean search, journal, tweet
  • Apply — chart, display, execute, present, upload
  • Analyze — attribute, deconstruct, illustrate, mash, mind map
  • Evaluate — comment, editorialize, moderate, network, post
  • Create — blog, film, integrate, podcast, program, publish
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Comparison of the Three Levels of eLearning Content
Type
Off-the-shelf subscription libraries
Pros
  • Saves development time - you don’t have to create any courses yourself.
  • Good fit for a limited budget.
  • Quick to set up and launch.
  • Access to hundreds of courses on a wide variety of topics.
Cons
  • Users cannot make any changes to the pre-existing content.
  • Users do not own any of the content.
  • An overwhelming amount of courses and a short time in which to complete the training can create a higher likelihood of users experiencing learner fatigue.
  • Learners may view content that isn’t relevant to their learning objectives.
  • Time and resources can be spent curating your content library to suit your learners.
Type
Course customization
Pros
  • A premade course that is quick to set up and launch.
  • Customization options such as adding your logo, branding, choice of colors, or some fonts.
Cons
  • You do not own the content of the course.
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
Type
Fully custom courses
Pros
  • Completely tailored to meet your organization's audience, needs, and strategies.
  • You have limitless creative potential.
  • You own the original content/IP.
  • Prevent learner fatigue through personalization.
  • You can change, personalize, and maintain the courses however you want and at your discretion.
Cons
  • More expensive - custom courses are a bigger investment for both time and resources.
  • Learners will not have access to as many course options as quickly as they would through a library subscription.
  • A professional eLearning development team should be assigned to this project - either hired in-house or contracted.
Pamela S. Hogle

An experienced writer, editor, tech writer, and blogger, Pam helps you make sense of learning science and eLearning technology. She provides information you can use to drive improvements in your training effectiveness and ROI.

Read more articles by Pamela S. Hogle