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What Is Upskilling? A Comprehensive Guide

What Is Upskilling

What Is Upskilling?

It is the process of identifying skills gaps within your organisation and training existing employees to acquire those skills.

When it comes to finding the right people for your organisation, upskilling existing employees can often be as important as hiring new ones. So, in this guide, we’re exploring the benefits of upskilling and how to design effective upskilling programmes.  

Why Upskilling?

Upskilling has two main benefits.

Closing skills gaps  

When organisations upskill their employees, they gain a workforce with the skills to meet their specific requirements. With changing market environments, businesses need to be able to quickly adapt - upskilling employees means they have an existing talent pool to draw from when they need to pivot their approach.

Improving employee career prospects 

Training employees means teams can often have better job security and a greater chance of progression. Even if the direction of the business changes, employees will still be able to make a valuable contribution to their organisation.  

HR’s role in upskilling 

HR and hiring managers play an important role in the upskilling process.
  • First, they need to decide whether a business's needs can be met by upskilling or whether they need to recruit someone with specific skills.
  • Secondly, they can also help implement training programmes, ensuring that development initiatives are perfectly aligned with a business’s changing needs.
However, while a policy of upskilling can be transformative, it is by no means a quick fix. Training takes time, as does mastering a new skill. For that reason, it’s important to run upskilling programmes alongside well-thought-out hiring strategies. 

Understanding Upskilling 

Innovation is at the heart of today’s most successful businesses. But with innovation comes change. It’s rare that a business simply does one thing well - now, more organisations are diversifying and exploring new streams of revenue.

For that reason, having an adaptable workforce that is able to acquire new skills is increasingly important.  

Upskilling vs Reskilling  

Upskilling helps employees to enhance existing skills to meet new challenges within their organisation. So, for example, an engineer might be taught to use a new piece of technology to be able to perform their role more efficiently.

This is in contrast to reskilling, where employees are supported to learn totally new skills that are unrelated to their field of expertise. For example, an engineer might be taught business management skills and transition into a leadership position.

Reskilling is a more extreme approach to upskilling - while it certainly has its place within organisations, reskilling can be more time and resource-intensive than upskilling. 

Upskilling vs. Continuous Learning 

Upskilling directly relates to an employee’s existing role and the company’s requirements. In contrast, continuous learning is a general benefit encompassing professional growth in various areas of interest.  

You could consider upskilling to be more specialist training, while continuous learning is a more generalist approach to career development. 

Upskilling opportunities 

There is no one fixed way to upskill employees. However, many organisations use the following methods to help their employees acquire relevant new skills:

Formal training programmes 

Certified training for employees, such as a professional qualification or a degree 

Workshops, seminars and conferences 

Niche insight from industry experts, helping employees to keep abreast of relevant industry developments 

Online learning platforms  

A vast array of industry-specific training that employees can work through flexibly 

On-the-job training and shadowing 

Direct learning from an experienced colleague or mentor 

Peer learning 

Forums for employees to share their expertise with others in the organisation  

External partnerships  

Working with outside businesses and institutions in a mutually beneficial way 

Skills gap analysis 

Before you start an upskilling initiative, you should understand which employees could benefit from upskilling and which skills you need to develop within your team. 

First, it’s a good idea to conduct a skills gap analysis. Here’s how:  

Step 1: Define your goals  

Create a list of your company’s objectives and the skills needed to achieve them.  

Step 2: Assess current employee skills 

Measure your team’s capabilities against company objectives, grading them from strongest to weakest. 

Step 3: Prioritise skills gaps 

Identify the areas of weakness that are most critical to the organisation.  

Step 4: Identify underlying issues 

Find out what is causing these areas of weakness - for example, lack of resources, time or understanding  

Step 5: Make an action plan  

Create a plan to upskill employees, prioritising the most critical training areas. Reflect on the type of training that would be most effective,  

Step 6: Measure  

Regularly track progress and reassess your company’s skills gaps, making adjustments to your plan where necessary. 

Techniques to support your skills gap analysis

Surveys and questionnaires 

Gather data on employees’ perceptions of their performance, skills and training needs.  

Interviews and focus groups 

Create a focus group with employees of all levels of seniority to give feedback 

Job analysis  

Analyse job roles and define the core competencies needed for each position. Then ask managers to assess their team’s capabilities against the core competencies. 

Performance evaluations 

Use performance data and manager feedback to identify areas for improvement. 

Plan for the future 

Because of the long-term nature of an effective upskilling programme, you can risk your efforts becoming outdated if you don’t look ahead.  
Consider not just the needs of your organisation right now, but what skills it will require in the future. It’s worth looking at emerging skills and future job trends, and to speak with your leadership team about the company’s direction in two, five and ten years’ time. 

Engaging employees  

Upskilling employees means change - something that not everyone is comfortable with. If you are planning on undertaking an upskilling initiative, then it’s crucial that you involve your employees from the start.  
Help them to understand the benefits of upskilling both to them and to the organisation, and regularly communicate with them about progress. 

Ingredients of Effective Upskilling programmes 

While the steps above outline how to implement a strong upskilling initiative, the following steps can help to make your programme even more effective. They require extra effort but the benefits can be significant.  

Creating a culture of continuous learning 

Culture building takes a lot of time and a lot of communication. It requires the buy-in of leadership and employees alike.

To make your upskilling initiative stick, it’s worth helping to shift mindsets so that employees are open to learning and developing continually - not just when there are skills gaps. Employees need to feel that learning new skills is as important a part of their role as all other elements of their job description.

Organisations need to back this up with action for them to feel this way. Employees will need high-quality training and enough time to develop their skills alongside the rest of their roles. Providing dedicated learning time can help employees to take your initiative seriously.  

Developing personalised upskilling plans 

A blanket approach to upskilling might move the needle in the right direction, but a personalised approach can help your upskilling programme move faster and perform better.

Working 1:1 with employees doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s likely that you already have processes in place to check in with employees and give feedback. This check-in time can also include personalised goal setting, with managers feeding back the type of training that could work best for individual employees.  

Investing in technology  

There are now several digital platforms dedicated to upskilling. Many can help you see how much training employees have completed and track their progress. 

Making sure the tools that you’re using to support your upskilling platforms can keep up with the needs of the modern workforce can make all the difference. 

Obtaining leadership buy-in  

If leadership isn’t invested in upskilling, then employees won’t be either. It’s important for management to be enthusiastic about developing employees’ skills, and to embrace upskilling as part of their own work, too.  

Overcoming resistance 

It’s not uncommon to receive resistance to new initiatives. It’s worth taking some time to develop responses to potential objections to your upskilling approach. Often, uncertainty can be a cause of anxiety, so being very clear in your reasoning and in your communication can provide reassurance. 

Encouraging self-directed learning 

One of the most effective ways to bring about change is to help employees own their roles. In this case, empowering employees to take control of their learning can help you to make sure your upskilling strategy is adhered to. This approach can include asking employees to set their own development goals, identify qualifications that they want to gain or create their own learning schedule. 

Recognising achievements  

Create a positive and supportive culture around learning by acknowledging employee successes - whether that’s completing a module, gaining a certificate or completing a qualification. Think of how you award performance success in your organisation, and consider introducing a similar approach when recognising upskilling achievements.  

Upskilling is a long-term strategy for success. It requires a cultural shift and the buy-in from stakeholders across your organisation. 

The most effective upskilling strategies work in tandem with a well-considered recruitment approach.  

Hiring with Eden Scott  

At Eden Scott, we have access to a rich pool of skilled candidates, ready to work with you when you have a vacancy to fill.

The team at Eden Scott can help by: 
  • Providing an accurate assessment of the salary landscape  
  • Promoting your vacancies to our extensive network  
  • Screening candidates before providing a talented shortlist 
  • Building relationships with suitable candidates 
  • Eliminating time-wasting or unsuitable candidates  
  • Conducting or supporting job interviews  
  • Negotiating offers and responding to counter-offers 
For specialist recruitment support, get in touch.  


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