With uncertain global economic forecasts, employees increasingly seek to improve their prospects of moving to better jobs or at least keeping their current ones. In January, WellRight, a provider of wellness programs to companies, said in its blog: “In 2023, a crucial must-have for candidates and employees alike will be the freedom to explore career advancement opportunities as the job market evolves.”
That means seizing all opportunities to improve their skill sets and knowledge. A 2021 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report found 65% of workers were spending more time than ever learning skills that can translate to various opportunities.
Attaining the latest skill sets is a must. “Gaining new-age skills and thus securing and growing in one’s career with either a new job or by doing better in one’s existing role are the most powerful motivators for professionals,” Great Learning, an online education and upskilling platform, said in a February report.
Upgrading employee skills also benefits employers. It allows them to retain top talent, ensuring they never fall behind the competition. “As we move into  with economic uncertainty on the horizon, upskilling opportunities for the workforce will become a prominent retention strategy,” Robert Boersma, Talent.com vice president for operations in North America, wrote in the Fast Company publication in January. It “demonstrates an organization’s desire to drive employee growth and development.”
Selecting the correct strategies and approaches to improve employee skill sets is vital for everyone. It also would allow the company to automate functions and assign redundant employees to other roles.
The three “skills”
WellRight highlighted three ways of upgrading skill sets. The first is upskilling, “the easiest and most commonly implemented [when] companies evaluate which types of learning opportunities make sense for their employees,” the blog post noted. “Upskilling is more effective for employees who want to advance their career paths within their current field.”
For employees, upskilling “increases the potential for promotions and enhances productivity,” the post said. It also “facilitates the acquisition of valuable skill sets amid global and economic shifts.” One of those shifts is the need for more automation. The World Economic Forum in 2020 projected that by 2025, “automation and a new division of labor between humans and machines will disrupt 85 million jobs globally in medium and large businesses across 15 industries and 26 economies.”
That would create new functions within organizations, increasing job opportunities. Ankur Aggarwal, co-founder and managing director of LaunchMyCareer, a career advisory firm, wrote in a January blog on the education platform EdTechReview, that increased automation would likely create “97 million new jobs … as a result of digital transformation and technological advancements.”
The second way to upgrade employee skills is through reskilling. WellRight explains, “Instead of honing existing skills to further their careers, employees can also grow professionally by learning … new skills for jobs in different fields or departments.”
Reskilling is more effective than upskilling for “employees who need a change in pace.” It can “reduce burnout and improve morale.” The BCG report noted, “almost seven in 10 employees are open to reskilling … This willingness is particularly high among young employees in the early and middle parts of their careers.”
The third type of upgrade is cross-skilling, where employees “develop skills that translate to many different functions and departments,” said the WellRight blog post. “It’s particularly effective at mitigating lapses in operations by training more than one employee in an organizational task.”
A main advantage is that it enables employees to “engage with different tasks [to give] their position value and further secure them as assets to organizational success,” the blog said. Its most immediate benefit is that “an employee from a different department can be cross-trained to learn any necessary skills and fill in” for a colleague on vacation.
Rashmi Mandloi, a co-founder of Leadup Universe, a career advice firm in India, noted that since the 2020 lockdowns, companies have accelerated the pace of adopting technology. That resulted in business leaders permanently changing how their organizations operate.
Accordingly, companies and employees need to upgrade their skills in line with the organization’s strategy and the changing business environment. With unfavorable economic conditions expected in 2023, the impact of upskilling, reskilling, and cross-skilling is more pronounced than ever. “Going forward, corporate learners will consider the [return on investment] of skilling,” Mandloi wrote in the Telegraph India in December. “It will enable them to advance their roles and take advantage of fresh opportunities within the company.”
During potentially game-changing events, business leaders may have to push employees to implement their newly acquired skills quickly. “Technology continues to rapidly change the way most organizations operate,” said Mandloi. “In response, employees must consistently look out for knowledge requiring immediate deployment.”
Mandloi recommends training in bite-size chunks. “It is a highly focused teaching strategy in which learners acquire subject matter through smaller inputs over shorter periods of time.”
In December, Raluca Cristescu, a corporate trainer for 10 years, wrote in the executive education platform Cypher Learning, “Bite-sized learning is … a favorite and effective teaching method for busy corporate employees having to learn at the moment of need.”
That bite-sized curriculum needs to use “data-driven learning [to] create personalized learning paths for each employee,” said Cristescu. It “is a natural development that learning management systems have become increasingly proficient at collecting, analyzing and suggesting actions based on data.”
Mandloi stressed the importance of such personalization: “Every professional learns in a unique way and at a unique speed.” Accordingly, each employee taking the content receives a “lesson plan based on their learning style, prior knowledge, abilities and interests,” added Mandloi. “It goes against the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy.”
Companies should outsource their training content, looking at global trends and complementing them with local insights. Cristescu explained, “with the workforce becoming increasingly globalized and the need for just-in-time learning, companies must ensure they have quality content available at all times.”
However, other employees should deliver those training courses, as participants “show more trust in the learning content when their colleagues create it,” said Cristescu. “Employees may be less scared to acquire skills than they otherwise would be in a more traditional seminar-type setting,” Mandloi added. “People learn best when they can communicate with their peers.”
Technology also is vital in delivering training content, including “all immersive learning technologies, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality,” said Cristescu. “All these make the employee experience more interactive and engaging.”
Another benefit of using technology in upskilling, reskilling and cross-skilling programs is that it allows for learning on demand. Cristescu stressed this is “a must for any organization that wants to thrive in the hybrid environment,”
The WellRight blog stressed that favorable internal policies are essential to fully benefit from upgrading employees’ skill sets.
Business leaders need to ensure HR departments can “identify talent needs associated with the organization’s future goals.” Leaders can then establish a strategy to ensure the company has the right mix of talents, a process known as strategic workforce planning, according to Gartner, a consultancy for corporate education programs.
The WellRight post said companies should treat “strategic workforce planning as a toolkit that can be amended in real-time, especially as economic conditions and business circumstances change.” It added the skills mix should be reviewed at least once a quarter.
Top executives sometimes need to instigate the upskilling, reskilling, and cross-skilling of their workforce. “People managers who encourage and reward employees for learning new skills are integral to identifying current and future skills gaps,” said the WellRight blog.
Companies also need to allocate a separate budget to implement training programs. Accordingly, top executives need to carefully plan how to scale up the upskilling, reskilling and cross-skilling of the workforce. “Prioritizing skills learning in the workplace may seem simple,” the WellRight blog noted, but “planning areas of focus often seem impossible to forecast.”
To identify focus areas, managers should build “large-scale learning and development programs centered around continuous skills management,” said WellRight. “It all starts by infusing a learning-journey mindset across all areas of the organization.”
Correctly determining the best deployment of upskilling, reskilling and cross-skilling programs, plus the domains they would tackle, helps bring the organization’s most valuable employees to the light. “Not only does it demonstrate the value and versatility of each employee to managers, but it also allows employees to own, monitor and evolve their learning journeys,” noted WellRight. Also, it would help companies “determine [their] bottom line … for a sufficient skills investment.”
For a better future
Investing in upskilling, reskilling, and cross-skilling significantly reduces business risk and cost in the short and long terms. “Upskilling not only fills in current gaps but helps businesses avoid recruitment costs,” Kara Dennison, CEO of Optimized Career Solutions, a career consultancy, wrote on the Forbes website in January. “It can also create a more solid succession plan, increasing retention rates when high potential, high performers can see a path forward.”
Another advantage of upgrading employees’ skill sets is it “gives corporations a competitive edge in a strong labor market,” noted Dennison.
Finally, Great Learning, the education and upskilling platform, noted that investing in upgrading employee skills “presents enterprises with significant opportunities for innovation and growth in a competitive landscape.” It also helps businesses be “adaptive and readily respond to opportunities and challenges.”