Learning and Development

What is upskilling in the workplace?

Upskilling can help you tackle the challenges brought about by changing landscapes while maximizing your time and resources. Find out how in this article.

Jenna Bunnel

Published on 

August 24, 2022

Updated on 

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Adaptation has always been crucial to survival; this also applies to the workplace. When you want to apply for a position, let’s say a high-paying tech job, for instance, one of the things you do to increase your chances is to upgrade relevant skills or, in other words, upskill. However, there is much more to it than meets the eye, and this is what we will be talking about in this article.

What is upskilling?

As we briefly mentioned, upskilling refers to upgrading a set of skills. In the workplace, this can look like a company investing in improving the skills of its employees. Usually, this is to fill a gap and meet particular business needs.

For example, it has become clear in recent years that good customer service is essential for a business looking to succeed. Therefore, companies are spending time and resources training their staff in the art of customer service to hone their pre-existing sets of skills.  

8% of organizations working to imrove customer service report an increase in revenue.
Image sourced from Groove

Reskilling, upskilling, cross-skilling—what’s the difference?

Upskilling, reskilling, and cross-skilling are used in the workplace to achieve particular goals. Having said this, though they may sound the same and all promote a culture of learning in the workplace, they are very different.

Cross-skilling, for instance, involves training employees to tackle tasks that are not part of their designated role. 

Reskilling, on the other hand, is all about teaching a recruit or existing employee the skills needed for them to be able to perform in their new role.

For example, your company has been rapidly expanding, meaning that to keep up with customer demands, you have implemented live virtual receptionists, an auto-attendant phone feature that does everything a live operator can. 

This results in the employees who previously held the receptionist role moving to another one. Here, reskilling is needed to train them to perform their new role as well as possible. Whether you opt for reskilling, upskilling, or cross-skilling depends on your company's needs.

Now that we know the differences between differing “skilling,” you’ll want to focus on upskilling if you want:

  • … to boost your employees’ ability to carry out their roles;
  • … to improve your staff’s performance in their existing role; or
  • … employees to understand changing trends in your industry and update their skills so they’re relevant.

However, if:

  • you are experiencing a shortage of staff, or
  • automation is becoming a big part of your industry sector and changing the roles of your employees,

then reskilling is what you need.

Lastly, if:

  • you want to improve your employees’ versatility;
  • you wish to broaden the scope of your staff’s knowledge of the industry; or
  • you would like to promote communication between members of different departments;

then cross-skilling is what you need.

Though the above lists are by no means exhaustive, they can help you to figure out the type of training you or your employees might need. 

In this article, however, we’ll be focusing on upskilling and its benefits.

Why Is Upskilling Important?

There are many benefits to upskilling in particular;

Upskill provides a solution to skill obsolescence

According to Kaufman, a research professor at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, 

“skill obsolescence is the ‘degree to which professionals lack the up-to-date knowledge or skills necessary to maintain effective performance in their current or future work roles.”

In today’s landscape, everything is constantly changing. Some companies are switching from traditional phone systems to virtual PBX phone systems, while others are finding that a hybrid work culture works better for them. Some degree of skill obsolescence can be difficult to avoid, if not near impossible.

For this reason, upskilling can be a career-saving practice.

Facilitates adaptation to change

Tying in with the previous point, upskilling is necessary within the context of change. As we have seen, skill obsolescence is due to change. Many industries or sectors are having to change how they operate due to events such as the pandemic, which saw a hiring surge of remote workers, and advancements in technology. 

Let’s look at remote working as an example. This type of work has become increasingly popular in recent times, and its implementation has been accelerated by the pandemic. 

Knowledge of how to send an email or use the NATO alphabet is not all there is to it; remote workers, especially those dealing with customers over the phone or online, need to be trained extensively. Therefore, companies upskill their employees and give them the resources and training they need to work remotely successfully, whether this is within a customer service role or team management. 

Helps with employee retention

An employee who feels valued and gets opportunities to grow professionally will not want to leave. A company with a high employee turnover can be detrimental, which is why businesses tend to keep track of their employee turnover rates and want to keep them low. 

One of the ways in which to get ahead of this issue is to ensure your employees get plenty of chances to learn and flourish. Upskilling can help with this by providing team members with training designed to improve their pre-existing skills, such as teaching an employee who regularly writes reports and gives presentations how to create a more detailed infographic. Plus, this will help with their performance and knowledge of their role. 

Saves time and resources

Another benefit of upskilling is that it can save companies the time and resources needed to hire outside the company. Instead, current employees can be upskilled so that they can comfortably take on a role that is relevant to their existing one. It saves businesses from having to hire and onboard a new team member.

How to Implement Upskilling in the Workplace

Now that we have explored upskilling and its benefits, let’s look at how you can implement upskilling programs that yield results.

The key to this is to formulate an internal upskilling strategy—have one in place to avoid feeling overwhelmed or lost when the need for upskilling arises. Planning from now on means that you can implement this strategy for the process to run as smoothly as possible. 

The following steps can help you get started with this.

1. Take stock of the current skills at your disposal

You won’t know whether there is a need for upskilling and what needs to be upskilled if you are not first aware of the skills your employees already have. Before deciding on how to promote your employees’ impactful learning, You can assess these by measuring employee competency, which can involve questionnaires, KPIs, and annual appraisals, amongst other things. 

2. Figure out what skills you need and the upskilling method to use

Once you have understood the skills your employees have, you need to be able to compare that with the skills that you believe your company will need to succeed and reach its goals. Working backward can help you with this; identify the goals you want to achieve, determine which skills would help you do this, and then you can compare.

When it comes to the actual process of upskilling, it can be executed in a number (or combination) of ways.

Internal training

Having a mentoring program is a great way to upskill employees. Though it can take a little bit of time to set up, it can be greatly rewarding and cost-effective, as opposed to hiring someone to lead training sessions. It also helps with establishing links across team members and fostering a healthy work culture.


You can also consider sending your employees on a course—whether onsite or online and consider more formal education. There is a multitude of courses covering many topics out there, answering questions ranging from “how to get a business license?” to “what is cloud computing?” If you have the budget, this can be a structured way to invest in your employees.

Form a partnership

Get creative and partner up with another company to learn from each other, in this way upskilling each other’s workforce. If you choose this route, it is a good idea to draw up some papers to protect the involved parties. You can find resources online to help with this, such as a memorandum of agreement template.

Set clear goals

Knowing which skills you want your employees to develop is not enough. There needs to be a clear finish line to aim towards. Otherwise, how will you know when your employees have upskilled to the desired level? Ideally, these goals should align with your overall general business aims and objectives.  

Keep track of progress

Monitoring your employees’ progress is necessary. It will help you to react swiftly should they need anything or if, for instance, the training you have chosen to administer is not working for them. This way, you can choose a more appropriate program or training style, saving you and your employees time and money.

Stay on top of trends

To maximize your upskilling strategy, you must stay up to date with trends and changes within your field, as well as the business world in general. This will ensure that you implement the strategy with enough time to spare, leaving you with enough time to tackle any challenges or roadblocks that appear.

It also means that you can organize your employees’ training appropriately and ensure that it is done in a way that least disrupts their work schedule.

Upskill to Keep Up!

Businesses are always looking to keep up with continuously occurring changes. Developing an upskilling strategy helps to tackle the ever-changing landscape while retaining employees and maximizing time and resources. To formulate a winning strategy, ensure to:

  • Identify your employees’ skills
  • Figure out the skills needed to reach your business goals
  • Determine the gap between the skills you have and the skills you need
  • Employ one (or more) of the many methods to bridge the gap and successfully upskill your employees.

A good strategy will benefit your business hugely and make your employees feel valued and cared for. Take advantage of these benefits and get started today!

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