By Nor Izmawati Mostapar, Vice President, MII Corporate Communications and e-Learning
Should we reskill or upskill? The decision to reskill or upskill the workforce highly depends on whether an organization truly understands the difference between the two terms. The term upskilling refers to the expansion of people’s capabilities and employability to fulfill the talent needs of a rapidly changing economy. An upskilling initiative can take place at larger scales, like an entire company, an industry, or a community. Whereas reskilling is a term associated with short-term efforts undertaken for specific groups in a department or organization.
An upskilling effort is long-term, more comprehensive and involves more initiatives. In other words, upskilling is not something that can be done overnight. It is a gradual process. It involves identifying the skills that will be most valuable in the future and the training needed to help them. As upskilling is not a one-off venture, every member of the workforce, from the front lines to the C-suite, needs to continually expand his or her skills and those skills are not limited to technology-related.
The Journey Towards Upskilling
An organization’s intellectual pool may depend on the organization’s understanding of how to effectively design and implement upskilling initiatives.
Here are three recommended steps that can be adopted in an upskilling initiative:
1. Analyze and define the initiative
Some upskilling efforts in an organization may begin as a departmental initiative, driven by the leader. Hence, it is crucial to first analyze the current situation by asking “Is there a need” and “Why do we need”. If answers to the questions steers towards the need to upskill, then comes the question “What do we need”. This includes identifying staff that needs to undergo upskilling training and match staff to the type of training required.
2. Create a skills plan
In this step, leaders define upskilling initiatives required or simply put – The Plan. Leaders should take a focused approach when creating a skills plan. In our current market, businesses are rapidly changing due to advancement in technology and the pandemic. Priorities must be given to the types of jobs and employees that are most affected by new technologies and the pandemic, as well as the businesses that have the most to gain.
Skills trainings are best customized to focus on strategic goals. Ultimately, organizations want their employees to become as competent as specialized new hires from outside and accomplish all this in the shortest time to keep up with the rapid change in the market and stay ahead of competitors.
3. Get employees’ buy-in
To some extent, upskilling is part of workforce transformation. When employees are removed from their comfort zones, there is bound to be resistance and underperformance. Leaders should consider rolling out assessment programmes that includes personal coaching and advice, measuring career achievements, and gather information about employees’ personal and professional aspirations.
Each employee should have an individual skills development plan, defining the steps and training necessary to address the new job requirements or even make broader changes. It is important to tailor each plan to ensure a higher chance of success in upskilling. Ideally, individuals should feel they are in charge of their own reskilling process. An upskilling plan should also include soft skills such as improving communication, fostering teamwork, and developing leadership as a mandatory part of the training progammes.
Training Budget vs Benefits
Planning the training budget is the most daunting part of the entire upskilling initiative, which is known to be expensive. But this is not always the case if organizations can foresee the long-term benefits of upskilling. If the training budget is very small, the initiative is not called an upskilling initiative. It is skills maintenance.
It is important to note that an upskilling initiative does not need to involve the entire workforce at once. Costly initiatives such as these should be target and done in stages. This way, successfully upskilled employees become testimony to the success of the initiative and become great examples to the next group of candidates. The focus is on developing people, not saving jobs.
Organizations should consider employees as an asset worthy of investment and recognize the value of continuous learning and a well-designed and well-managed upskilling initiative.
Now or Never
Upskilling the workforce is no easy feat. It requires careful planning, budget and many years of dynamic engagements and monitoring. Organizations should be discouraged by the complexity of rolling out such initiative. Upskilling does not require the creation of anything new. All the elements for success already exist in the organization. It is only a matter of putting them together and driving everyone towards a common goal. The sooner this is kickstarted, the better prepared we are.