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PHOTO: Fab Lentz on Unsplash.

Reskilling and upskilling are having an extended moment in the spotlight. Already a key priority for many companies, a recent report from TalentLMS indicated that since the COVID crisis began 42% of companies have increased their reskilling and upskilling efforts and 74% of employees who didn't receive any additional skill training said they would prefer to work for a company that did.

Reskilling refers to learning initiatives that teach employees new skills that prepare them to move to a new job within a business. Upskilling improves an employee’s existing skillset and adds to their capabilities and knowledge. Businesses upskill employees to give them greater responsibility and prepare them to take on more senior roles.

Both learning initiatives provide growth opportunities within a company, and help to improve company culture, increase retention and resilience, and make for a more positive employee experience.

Creating a Culture of Continuous Learning

A 2019 report from Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace indicated that 68% of employers promote the value of upskilling to their employees, but less than half of them invest more than $500 per year to upskill each employee. This is unfortunate given the high cost of hiring a new employee versus the relatively low costs of upskilling or reskilling a current employee.

But it's not just dollars and cents. Fostering a culture of ongoing learning in the workplace demonstrates the employer cares about employees as individuals and recognizes their value to the business. Additionally, employees see a path for career progress. Ongoing learning initiatives are more important than other perks and benefits to millennials and Gen Z. A 2020 survey from getAbstract revealed that more than 50% of members of those two generations believe a successful career depends on frequently updating their skills and knowledge. Only 35% of Gen X and 34% of baby boomers felt the same way.

A clear developmental path is critical to the employee experience, said Peter Mann, founder of SC Vehicle Hire, a UK-based car hire service. "By giving them reskilling and upskilling opportunities, they can move on to more advanced positions in the company or change roles if they feel that they are stagnating in their current role,” he said.

Along with a greater sense of self-worth and accomplishment, reskilling and upskilling help to create a more unified culture of learning. “This also leads to the development of well-rounded employees with a strong understanding of how different departments come together and they become true masters that everyone can turn to for questions,” Mann said.

Related Article: Want to Be a Leader in the Digital-First Era? Upskill Your Workforce

Technology for Reskilling and Upskilling

According to a McKinsey report from 2018, 62% of executives said they will need to retrain or replace more than 25% of their employees between now and 2023 due to advancing automation and digitization. The report also indicated that 82% of executives at companies with more than $100 million annual revenue see retraining and reskilling as at least half of the solution to their skills gap, with new hires accounting for the other half. Additionally, 64% of those polled said the main reason they were willing to invest in retraining workers was to increase employee productivity.

Many businesses struggle to determine what skills will be needed in the future and when they complete a training initiative are often unsure of its effectiveness. A software-based competency management system can help analyze the skills gap and identify skills each team or employee requires. Many competency management systems are also integrated with a learning management system, or LMS, that enables a business to deliver targeted learning initiatives. Generally cloud-based, an LMS can be used to teach multiple skills to a single employee or thousands of employees simultaneously.

Using an LMS to keep track of metrics such as quiz results and progress within a course allows a business to evaluate effectiveness of reskilling and upskilling training. Employees can learn independently or as a group and can take in as much as they feel comfortable with, whether it is two hours a week or 10 minutes a day. An LMS also facilitates reskilling and upskilling training for remote employees.

Related Article: 6 Learning and Development Practices for a Distributed Workforce

Use Innovative Methods to Upskill and Reskill

That learning does not have to be boring or traditional. Upskilling and reskilling programs can take advantage of new technologies such as gamification and virtual reality to make them more interesting while increasing knowledge retention.

Doug Donovan, CEO at Interplay Learning, uses virtual reality for upskilling and reskilling in skilled trades such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and solar and facilities maintenance. By providing virtual hands-on learning, he's able to train employees in weeks when it would otherwise take much longer using traditional methodologies. The virtual environment recreates life-like training scenarios and provides a deeper level of learning than manuals and videos.

That approach has gained the attention of businesses during the current pandemic. “For many companies, COVID has brought to the forefront how essential their front line or technician workforce is to creating value for their organizations," Donovan said. "Add to that an ongoing skills gap, and the decision to invest in their employees' development is an easy one."

Gamification refers to the use of game-design elements and principles in non-gaming contexts. The trend of gamification has been steadily increasing, in part driven by millennials and Gen Z, many of whom are avid gamers. In a 2019 gamification survey TalentLMS conducted, 88% of employees said gamification makes them feel happier at work, and 83% said gamified training makes them feel motivated. Gamified learning management systems give employees points for doing specific actions, along with badges, levels and rewards.

Laura Foltman, a Philadelphia-based learning and development professional, said many people like to learn through experience, and gamification speaks to that need. “Gamification works because it creates an emotion, connection, or experience behind learning, making it multidimensional," she said. "Learning through experience is more effective because it connects to something. If there isn’t some form of learning experience or gamification in the learning process, I will move on to a program that does." Gamified learning also creates more "ah ha" moments and spurs self-driven learning, she added.

Another example of gamified learning is James Kies’ Guild of Guilds, a 6-week online learning system designed to teach leadership skills, agile methodologies and problem-solving to CEOs. Kies, an agile coach, created Guild of Guilds because he recognized the advantages of gamification in conjunction with team-building and learning. Using principles derived from massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), each CEO pairs off with four other CEOs to form a team within the full “boot camp,” as he refers to it, which consists of around 300 CEOs.

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Upskilling and Reskilling Boosts Morale and Engagement

Baron Christopher Hanson, lead consultant and owner of RedBaronUSA, said his company uses upskilling and reskilling to instill a sense of pride and enhance teambuilding and bonding. “In many ways, upskilling and reskilling can feel and wear like a promotion in the mindset of each candidate,” he said.

The team-based approach is key to success. “We always recommend the buddy system, or groups of two, three or four candidates upskilling or reskilling together as a team. Even if their roles or desk technologies are different, the employee experience can be greatly improved if they are not hurled into the process alone, or left in a sink or swim competition on their own," he said, adding that it allows for bonding, collaboration and support along the way.

Businesses can increase the feeling of pride and accomplishment when an employee completes an upskilling or reskilling course by acknowledging their achievement. “If your company can create a sense of graduation or pride or advancement or the public earning of a merit badge along the way, each employee will feel a deep sense and level of new accomplishment, and loyalty to your company,” Hanson said.

Along with increasing the resilience of a business, upskilling and reskilling initiatives provide employees with motivation and satisfaction, said Jessica Schneider, vice president of product development at DevelopIntelligence. “If a job starts to feel stale, enthusiasm can wane," she said. "You want employees to seek challenges within your company, instead of looking outside your organization for a new frontier.”

Reskilling and upskilling has employee engagement, too. "For many employees, motivation is directly proportional to how they are feeling about their professional growth," she said. "They want to be on a continuous learning curve. When you enable employees to choose their learning curve, you boost employee satisfaction.”

Related Article: Establish KPIs for Your Learning Management System

Upskilling and Reskilling Builds a Larger Skillset

Having new or revised skills provides employees with new opportunities for growth which increases productivity, engagement and loyalty.

Ruggero Loda, founder of Running Shoes Guru, said upskilling and reskilling is an investment in his team. “When you upskill or reskill someone, what you're really doing is giving them new skills. Whether these tools are connected to what they already know (upskilling) or completely new (reskilling) is irrelevant. The point is that there are new skills being transferred,” he said.

For a business, such initiatives kill two birds with one stone. It enables employees to transition to a new position or take on additional tasks and increases their ability to do a job more effectively. For an employee, it provides a sense of accomplishment and pride, shows their employer cares, and increases the value of the work they do.

“As a result, the employees who go through the learning process can take on more tasks," Loda said. "This means they can choose more engaging work, focus on tasks they find easy, do a better job with current tasks. All of this improves employee experiences and job satisfaction.”

Many business leaders worry employees lack the skills that are going to be needed as AI, automation and data analytics become more prominent. Coupled with the high cost of hiring new employees, reskilling and upskilling initiatives take on much greater importance. By fostering a culture of learning, taking advantage of innovative learning technologies, and continually evaluating the success of learning initiatives, a business can increase its retention rate and add to the skillsets of workers while improving the employee experience.