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Upskilling and Reskilling: The Employers’ and Employees’ Role

Date Published: June 03, 2022 | Last Updated: September 15, 2023 | By Sharlyn Lauby

According to the March 2022 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (aka the JOLTS report), a record number of 4.5 million people voluntarily resigned from their jobs. This is causing employers to take a hard look at what they can do to engage and retain talent. Obviously, one strategy is raising wages and enhancing employee benefits. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy and many employers are doing it. But another strategy to consider is offering learning opportunities.

95% of workers are considering changing jobs, according to a report from Monster.com and a lack of growth opportunities is a primary factor in this decision. And in a survey from LinkedIn, 94% of employees say they would stay longer if the company simply invested in them. What’s the point of all these surveys? Employees are looking for opportunities to learn and grow in their roles.

There’s more than one way for an employee to learn. 

The good news is that when we’re talking about learning, there’s more than one way to do it. To start, let’s talk about what learning means. Learning is defined as “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or being taught”. This opens a lot of doors when it comes to employee learning. For instance, a new employee learns a company policy or procedure during orientation. Here are other ways that learning can occur:

  • UPSKILLING is the process of acquiring new skills. Example: a computer programmer learns new software.
  • RESKILLING involves learning new skills, but it’s typically for a new role. Example: An administrative assistant learns how to process payroll.
  • RETRAINING happens when an employee receives training for a second time. Example: The organization goes through a merger and everyone in sales must learn the new way to process expense reports.
  • DEVELOPMENT is traditionally associated with employees learning new skills that they will use in a new job (with greater responsibility). Example: The company offers a management or supervisory skills development program.

Learning involves both the employer and the employee. 

As organizations are thinking about employee learning opportunities, it’s absolutely essential to bring employees into the process. And let employees know their participation is expected. Without employee buy-in, the learning process doesn’t have the same level of effectiveness. Employees could potentially resent the lack of control over their career and create barriers to learning where they didn’t need to exist. So here are some activities where employers can include employees in the learning conversation.

Talk about learning during the interview. Let candidates know that learning is important to the organization by discussing it during the interview. Ask candidates questions about learning like “Tell me about a time when you had to learn something new.” Or “Tell me about a time when you felt unprepared for an assignment.” These questions will open the door to talk about how the candidate likes to learn.

Use a journey map to show employees their onboarding roadmap. The new hire onboarding process can take weeks, even months. Organizations should develop onboarding roadmaps so an employee can see their learning path and ask questions. Managers can discuss with employees the roadmap, then regularly follow-up with the employee about where they are in their onboarding journey. The onboarding roadmap also allows employees to monitor their own learning progress.

Include learning topics in one-on-one meetings. Managers often have one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss performance, what’s happening in the department, etc. These meetings should also include a discussion about learning: what employees want to learn, how they would prefer to learn, and the connection between learning and their jobs. A key to this discussion is making sure that employees know how to communicate their learning needs and wants.

Explain, don’t mandate. Yes, there are required training topics and programs. But instead of using mandates, consider explaining why the learning is beneficial to an employee’s role. The principles of adult learning indicate that people want a sense of self-direction when it comes to their learning. And they want the learning to build off their experiences. For example, managers should be able to discuss the connection between upskilling and/or reskilling programs and the employee’s career goals.

Discuss learning goals during performance appraisals. Speaking of career goals, this takes the one-on-one meeting discussions a step further. During the performance appraisal process, both the manager and the employee should discuss learning needs and wants. The employer might want to talk with the employee about participating in a reskilling program. Conversely, the employee might want to talk with their manager about being considered for a development program.

Solicit feedback on future learning activities in training sessions. Most training programs have some sort of feedback mechanism in place, like a post-training survey. If the survey doesn’t already ask the question, it might be good to ask participants “What type of training would you like to see in the future?” Employees might have some great ideas for future learning content.

When employees get a say, learning helps with retention.

Recent surveys are telling us that employees want learning, and they will stay with companies that offer learning opportunities like upskilling, reskilling, and development. But not when it’s mandated or dictated to them. Give employees a chance to be an active participant in learning conversations.

There are many opportunities throughout the employee life cycle to discuss learning – onboarding, performance management, and one-on-one meetings. These are great activities to show a commitment to learning and supporting employee growth.

P.S. If you want to learn more about how learning opportunities like upskilling and reskilling can help with employee retention, check out this webinar “How to Keep Top Talent During the Great Reshuffle”. During this session, talent experts Megan McGrady, Accurate’s senior manager of talent development; Mackenzie Egan, director of talent experience at iCIMS; and Caitlin Landis, learning and development manager at Huddl3 Group, discuss the connection between learning and employee retention, why upskilling and reskilling bring value, and tips for implementing upskilling and reskilling programs.