Employee development

What is employee reskilling and how can it prepare your workforce for the future?

Learn all about how you can roll out reskilling programs to maintain your workforce in a shifting labor market with this helpful guide.

Kevin Kessler

October 12, 2022

Many find it strange that there can be so many open jobs available while unemployment numbers remain high. 

In May of 2021, the unemployment numbers in the United States reached 9.3 million people. At the same time, the number of open jobs was also 9.3 million. So why did these jobs remain unavailable while unemployment numbers were so high? 

In general, the unemployed population lacked the necessary skills to fill these roles. This is especially true for jobs requiring a lot of specialized knowledge in using new and emerging technologies. As these new technologies become the norm, replacing tried and true business solutions, companies like yours might run into the issue of needing to implement them while having no one available with the necessary skills. 

That’s why reskilling your employees should be a normal part of your company culture. But what is reskilling? Why is it important? And how can your business become reskilling-ready to make way for future market shifts? 

In this article, we’ll be answering all these questions and more. 

What does it mean to reskill your workforce? 

Reskilling is the process of training existing employees on a totally new skill set to prepare them for new roles within your organization. 

The definition of reskilling
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This becomes necessary as new automation technology emerges, replacing some of the roles and functions that skilled laborers currently fill. While the morality of replacing a human worker with an automated system is questionable, it often becomes necessary from a profitability standpoint. 

Industries are shifting toward new technologies, such as data pipeline advancements, that give your business a more robust view of users and have all the information needed to make data-driven decisions. Whereas once data analysts poured over this information, it can now be compiled automatically in the blink of an eye by a machine. 

Your company must embrace these technologies to remain competitive and profitable. But rather than eliminate valuable team members because of these advancements, reskilling can help them find a new place within the company. 

Essentially, you’re maintaining your current workforce while reshuffling them into new roles that allow them to be even more productive as they drive the business forward. This is similar to internal mobility, which when HR teams develop pathways for employees to move up the ranks, rather than hire externally. 

Why is reskilling important?

Reskilling is a necessity of modern business for a few simple reasons. 

For starters, as the demand for specific technical skills in the labor market increases, job applicants find themselves in increasing need of resources to improve hireability and provide them with the necessary tools to succeed in new roles. This need is felt by HR managers throughout the world who are finding fewer qualified candidates

You won’t have to look outside the organization to fill these new and evolving roles if you work on reskilling your current employees. When you consider that the average cost of hiring a new employee is $4,000 in 2022, you’ll quickly see how reskilling your workforce can save you a lot of time and money. 

The costs associated with hiring new employees

Additionally, you’re saved from the PR nightmare of letting employees go to replace them with technology. This is something that the public often has a hard time accepting. If you let a bunch of employees go because automated systems took their roles, you’re opening the door to public scorn and a potential PR nightmare. 

By reskilling your workforce and moving them into new roles, you’re showing the world and your employees that you care about their career advancement and are committed to maintaining a healthy and empathetic working environment. 

What’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling?

Reskilling is often used in the same breath as upskilling. This is done so often that many people have started to believe that they’re the same thing. 

That’s actually not true. There are several key differences between reskilling and upskilling.

The differences between reskilling and upskilling
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As we mentioned, reskilling is the process of teaching your employees new skills in order to take on entirely new roles within the company. Upskilling is the process of teaching your employees new skills associated with their current roles to make them more productive in the future. 

If you’re a data analyst whose role is being eliminated and you learn sales skills to move over to a role on the sales team, that’s a classic example of reskilling. 

If you’re a member of the web design team and your company has you take classes on new design platforms to improve your performance as these new technologies are adopted, that’s upskilling. 

The difference lies in the destination when comparing the two. Reskilled employees move on to entirely new roles, while upskilled employees level up in their current roles

How can your business become reskilling ready?

Assess business needs

Before reskilling, you need to look at the needs of your business and employees alike. 

Reskilling boils down to a business addressing its future needs and making an investment in that future. These needs might look different from industry to industry. A development team, for example, could notice a need for a new tech stack that would automate processes in the future, creating a list of employees that would need to be reskilled if they were to remain. 

Fleet drivers might foresee a need to equip vehicles with safety devices compliant with DVIRs and other regulations. The drivers of these vehicles would then need to be upskilled to operate new devices.

Reskilling isn’t a charitable action. It must serve the overall needs of the business. By taking a long look at how your needs are evolving and predicting what will come in the future, you can have a reskilling plan put in place that will let you keep your existing workforce and move them into new roles as needed.  

Identify strengths and weaknesses

To ensure that you’re reskill-ready for the future market, you must assess the current strengths and weaknesses of your company. 

Ask yourself what skills you’re missing that will come in handy in the future as emerging technologies are adopted. Are there gaps in your operations that more skilled workers can fill? 

Once you know this, you can identify candidates in positions that might become obsolete in the future who would be able to fill these future roles with the right guidance and education. Then you can put together a training plan that will help you get them ready for this new opportunity. 

By examining company data, you’ll be able to tell what is and isn’t working. Once you know that, you can put new processes in place and shuffle your team members around to fill these voids more productively. 

Your goal in developing these reskilling plans is to make a long-term investment that will pay off in the future. Once you have a reskilling plan in place, the next step is the identification of candidates, the actual training needed to reskill them, and ultimately retaining their services over time. 

Open reskilling opportunities company-wide

Your reskilling initiatives should never discriminate. That means stepping outside the traditional career advancement ladder and opening opportunities to everyone. 

You can obviously identify candidates that interest you for reskilling, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to those individuals. Your managers can communicate team member goals up the ladder to identify reskilling opportunities. 

If an entry-level employee has business management aspirations, figure out what training they’ll need in the future to ultimately get there. This not only improves the skills of your employees but also creates loyalty among team members. There’s a term for this: career pathing and it’s a key part of employee development programs

A graph detailing the factors that contribute to employee loyalty
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Loyal team members don’t look for other jobs, and as we previously mentioned, hiring new employees is expensive. That’s why you should promote an environment of internal growth and advancement, where employees' career paths are respected and encouraged.  

You also can’t limit your reskilling offerings to in-person staff members with classroom-based learning. Over 50% of workers today prefer working remotely, which means you need to create training programs that are inclusive for that environment. A lot of businesses are moving toward fully remote or hybrid teams, so you can’t leave them out.

Organize formal mentoring programs

Mentoring programs are an integral part of employee development. We found in our study of over 200 HR professionals, 72% of HR teams believe mentorship accelerates an employee’s development and, in turn, the organization’s performance.  

Mentoring programs are also a great way to give employees the support networks necessary for them to learn new skills. Numerous studies have shown that corporate training and online courses only go so far in reskilling employees. Collaborative and social learning programs that include mentorship are the future of reskilling programs.

Starting a mentorship program can be difficult, however. Manually matching participants can easily take weeks if there are hundreds of employees. Likewise, it’s nearly impossible to match employees with mentors with any kind of insight when it’s done at scale. For that reason, platforms like Together make it easy to invite all your employees, have them create a profile, and match them with a relevant mentor in the organization. 

Mentoring platforms make it much easier to run mentoring programs at scale.

Educate team members on other departments

Your team members might not know where they want to go in your company. Sometimes, this boils down to not knowing enough about your other departments. That’s why you should always make it a point to educate your team members on how your business works and what other departments do. 

Understanding your internal structure and how different departments relate internally is key to reskilling. 

Suppose you have a service business that provides both satellite TV packages and internet packages. An employee working in your satellite TV division will find it easier to move within that same vertical. But by educating them on the other areas of your business, including internet packages, sales, marketing, and customer service, you could open up a whole new world of opportunities they never thought about before. 

If you’re asking employees where they see themselves within the company in the future, and their answer is “I don’t know,” then perhaps they simply need to learn more about what you do and where they can go as they advance their careers.

This also serves the function of eliminating operational silos from your business. When the different departments understand what everyone does, they’re more likely to work together to resolve customer issues and create a more cohesive and effective workforce going forward. This is commonly referred to as knowledge sharing.

There are several ways to do this. You could have special days where representatives from your different departments give a talk to other groups within your company about who they are and what they do. This can be great for engagement, but it also takes time away from the actual daily workload that needs to be done. Job shadowing could be another option, to walk employees through the average day of other departments. 

You could also create presentations about your different departments using a photo editor or design programs to illustrate the functions and responsibilities of your other departments through visual explanations. These can include PowerPoint presentations, infographics, and other content designed to educate and inform. 

By ensuring that your employees know every department within your company, you can more easily identify opportunities for reskilling initiatives in the future. 

Keep communicating

Make sure your employees know about the reskilling opportunities available to them. Drive awareness of these programs, highlighting what they offer. 

Make sure that every level of your company has access to this information and highlight success stories detailing how others have reshaped their careers with it. 

It should be known that these are voluntary programs, but also be transparent about their needs. If you have an at-risk department that might become obsolete due to emerging technology, talk to them about reskilling initiatives and urge them to engage. 

Of course, communication about reskilling programs shouldn’t be limited to their initial rollout. You should regularly communicate with employees about the options available to them to ensure that no one forgets or misses out on what could be an incredible career opportunity.

Conclusion

It’s a reality in the business world that new technology constantly changes the game. If you don’t adopt these advancements, you can get left in the dust by your biggest competitors. That’s why it’s crucial to think about reskilling your team if you want to save money, hold on to your workforce, and avoid any disastrous PR mishaps. 

Letting employees go is never ideal. With a reskilling plan in place, your company can adopt new technology while keeping staff turnover to a minimum. By doing this, you can get the best of both worlds. You’re keeping your existing workforce while still embracing market changes to stay on the cutting edge. 

To review, when making your business reskill-ready, make sure that you:

  • Assess the needs of your business
  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses
  • Open reskilling opportunities for everyone
  • Enroll employees in mentoring programs
  • Educate your team members on other departments
  • Communicate effectively and regularly

By sticking to these guidelines, you’ll create an environment of advancement, loyalty, and efficiency for years to come.

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