Tips for Upskilling Employees

In 2021, 47.8 million workers quit their jobs in the phenomenon known as the Great Resignation. And in the last two months of 2022, employers announced 120,486 job cuts.  

The act of employees leaving employers happened during a time when labor demand was strong and unemployment was low. And now, some employers have laid off employees in an effort to cut costs. 

Whether there are jobs to fill or areas where jobs are being cut, these situations have created a need to help existing employees grow their career with your company by honing in on their skills and learning new ones. This is often referred to as the need for upskilling and reskilling. 

What is Upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of helping employees learn new skills through training courses and learning modules, which are often completed online through a company portal or other digital platform. This process often focuses on teaching employees how to navigate new technologies that help them with their current job. 

In an article from Forbes, the publication wrote that “technology has created new possibilities that can be fully realized only by a modernized workforce. That means the workforce must learn new skills and competencies that are required for new and/or changing jobs.” 

Walmart (No. 26 on DiversityInc’s 2022 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) is one example of a company that’s invested in upskilling. The company launched a global Walmart Academy that allows its 2.3 million associates to participate in both digital and in-person learning. Some of the courses offered through the academy include retail training that is job-specific, well-being courses and leadership courses. 

The academy focus on three key areas: developing on-the-job skills, growth skills for associates and leadership skills for managers. When talking about its on-the-job skills training, Walmart said it offers this training to help employees “grow and be successful in the job they’re in today,” whereas the other two areas are focused on helping employees prepare for opportunities that could arise in the future.

Marriott International (a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company) has invested in upskilling for recent college graduates through its Global Voyage Leadership Development program. The 12- to 18-month program provides future leaders within the company with in-person and online training across disciplines like finance, culinary, engineering, event management, revenue management, rooms operations and more. 

Reskilling Employees

Upskilling is one way to meet the talent challenges employers face. Another path forward is reskilling.

When an employee is reskilled, they are learning new skills to do a completely different job rather than learning new skills that apply to their current job. Through the academy, Walmart also focuses on “helping associates for new roles in retail.”

“For example, just a few years ago, we didn’t have InHome Delivery specialists,” according to a Walmart press release. “As customer shopping habits evolve, this role is becoming increasingly important to our customers. Walmart Academy will train associates to build new skills and prepare them for new career opportunities.”

Tips for Designing Learning Management Systems

When it comes to upskilling and reskilling employees, it’s important to have a strategy centered around employee goals and aspirations. PwC has a learning management philosophy it calls infinite learning where the company finds ways to make learning accessible and flexible for its staff, whether they want to learn in “bite-sized chunks or longer chunks” so people can learn “when they need it, how they need it, wherever they need it,” said Leah Houde, Chief Learning Officer at PwC (a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company). 

It took some time to meet the needs of employees to deliver learning in the best way. Learning management systems (LMS) don’t necessarily make it easy for employees to navigate their choices. These systems don’t take in who the person is, what their job is and which course of the thousands of choices there they should take. 

“We recognized that we needed to create something that was going to be more personalized and simpler for people to engage in. We created our own tool called My Learning that helps our staff create their own personalized learning plans. We’ve worked with the business to populate some portions of those learning plans with courses that the business feels are most important for people at those stages of their career to take, given the skills that the business needs folks to have,” she said. 

“But there’s also flexibility. We create a list of recommended learning, given both where people are in their careers and also answers to some questions that we asked them about who they want to be in the next few years. And we create a set of recommended courses for them to take to help them build the skills that they may not have yet or may not need yet on the projects that they’re currently working on, but will help them grow for the future. Those are two ways that we’re thinking in the broader scale about upskilling and reskilling and also at this individual personalized scale.”

Setting Goals for Upskilling

Launching your own learning and development courses for targeted upskilling starts with setting goals. Here are a few things to ask employees, leaders and stakeholders within your organization:

  1. What skills are needed to support a particular business function?
  2. How can we increase retention through upskilling?
  3. What types of learning opportunities are needed to support the growth plans of the organization?
  4. How can we utilize reskilling? Where are there opportunities to teach employees the skills needed to move to other roles within the company?

Once you’ve asked these questions, think about what your learning management system will look like, just as PwC did. How long should each session be? Where will in-person training be held? Should employees be able to attend upskilling and reskilling training on a full-time and part-time basis? How is progress being tracked and accounted for in the employee’s work day?

Answering these questions and seeing the results will take time, but as companies like Walmart, Marriott and PwC have shown, upskilling is worth the investment.

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