What is Upskilling and Why It’s More Important than Ever

According to Forbes magazine, “Upskilling has become a corporate priority essential to hiring, developing, and retaining the best talent to continue to constantly improve on behalf of customers.” In today’s job market, where COVID has driven unprecedented waves of job departures, the desire among workers to strike out in search of better, more gainful employment is fueling a boom in demand for upskilling activity. What is upskilling and how can hiring organizations take advantage of it in these extraordinary times?

At face value, upskilling is the process of workers being taught new job skills needed to help advance their career growth. In the broader sense, upskilling refers to a macro shift in the workplace driven by the growth and adoption of technologies which have revolutionized how, when and where work can be done by contemporary workforces. So, to a large extent, upskilling for most workers must necessarily involve learning how to manipulate new tech tools. If a worker is leaving a service or hospitality industry job for one in, say, sales or clerical roles, they will certainly have need for upskilling to get trained on technology tools they didn’t use in a kitchen or behind a retail counter.

However, even those workers who have some exposure to in-demand skill sets are finding it necessary to upskill as they seek out greener pastures. Today’s economy is a digital economy and COVID only accelerated the existing trend toward the delivery of goods and services through digital channels. As a result of this shift, organizations are in great need of tech-enabled personnel. Whether it is in healthcare, information systems, higher education or a host of other industries, more contemporary skills translates into greater opportunities.

Forbes contributor Mark Cohen notes that this wholesale change in dynamics means that many traditional jobs are becoming something altogether different if they’re not disappearing altogether and emphasizes that upskilling is the process by which businesses must prepare their workforces to fill these new positions. He borrows an aphorism from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky to explain how companies must embrace upskilling policies and practices to help attract and retain talent in a shifting market. Gretzky once said his prowess on the ice was due to his practice of “skating to where the puck will be” instead of to where the puck presently sits. Upskilling helps develop competencies which enable workers and organizations to anticipate growth and flex with rapidly evolving environments.

SHRM offers the five following upskilling program models that would be useful for any hiring organization to pursue if they were to field a strategy to promote upskilling of internal resources as well as to attract talent.

  • Internal training programs
  • Apprenticeships
  • Vendor partnerships
  • Academic partnerships
  • Career training programs

For guidance on how to establish a new, or burnish an existing upskilling initiative within your organization, reach out to your nextSource agent for guidance and resources.

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