Why Businesses Should be Focusing on Upskilling Their Workforce

It’s undeniable that the way we work is about to undergo significant changes. After the corona virus has made working remotely the norm, businesses can’t expect to return to their pre-COVID ways of working. If the way a company operates evolves to meet changing attitudes, then employees will also have to adapt. As we prepare to enter a digitally-driven world at a more rapid speed than anyone could have anticipated, job-roles and skills will need to be assessed. This assessment will ensure that employees can keep up with the shift in business and have the knowledge and skill set for it to succeed.

recent study found that 59% of organisations prefer to look outside for talent, rather than upskilling current employees for new roles. However, it’s implausible to think that companies can only rely on hiring new team members to meet the demands of our changing world. While recruitment is essential to fill skills-gaps, having a workforce which is mostly unskilled and unable to adapt to technological advances will lead to redundancies and high recruitment costs in the future. Plus it will put your employees at a disadvantage when looking for future roles, positioning you as a behind-the-times employer.

Many business leaders are using the downtime created by COVID19 as an opportunity to reskill and upskill their workforce, to give them a competitive edge and future proof their business. Plus, putting plans in place to upskill your workforce simultaneously identifies areas that need extra support and identify skills-gaps so you know where to focus your recruitment strategies.

Whether it’s by choice or they’re sensing the future, employees also realise that to keep up with the best talent, they need to learn new skills and adapt. LinkedIn’s latest Workforce Confidence Index revealed that 64% of professionals will increase their focus on learning during the downtime provided by the coronavirus crisis. In the UK, Google is working with the government to offer digital and online training to furloughed employees, showing how vital learning new skills could be for the future of the workforce.

The World Economic Forum estimated that 54% of all employees will require ‘significant’ reskilling by 2022 to keep up with the digital revolution. The coronavirus crisis will have fuelled this further with a higher reliance on technology, meaning that desirable skills are changing every day. 

So, what do business leaders need to know about upskilling their workforce, and how can they use it to gain a competitive edge once this crisis has lifted?

Should you be reskilling or upskilling?

While both refer to teaching new skills, there’s a considerable difference between upskilling and reskilling. Upskilling refers to teaching employees new, advanced skills to close talent gaps. Upskilling allows employees to continue in the same role but with greater capabilities, knowledge and offerings. Reskilling, however, is the development of significantly different skills to make someone suitable for a completely new role. Put simply; it’s retraining.

To know whether you should be upskilling or reskilling your employees depends on the nature of your business and its current capabilities. How much does your business need to do to adapt to the new digital culture and climate? If you’re already running smoothly in a digitally-driven era, upskilling is the route for you. If you think significant changes need to be made, then first plan what the future of your business will look like and the roles required before you consider reskilling employees.

What skills should you focus on?

One thing that the coronavirus crisis has made clear for business leaders is that flexibility and transferable skills are incredibly valuable. In a time where change is the only constant, upskilling allows employees to be more versatile and able to respond to market changes. Research has discovered an increase in searches for Excel, leadership and communication courses and 20% decreases in searches for Python and Java training. This shows employees are currently investing their time in skills which are long-lasting and can be applied to a large variety of roles. However, this may be due to uncertainty around their current job and the future of the company.

Leaders know that technical skills are still vital for business success in the future. While transferable and soft skills are useful in any role, it’s essential not to overlook skills such as data analytics, social media marketing and software development. COVID-19 has given us a glimpse of the future, and leaders need to ensure that they have the capabilities to deliver in a tech-first society; whether this means recruiting new tech talent or empowering your current workforce with in-demand tech skills.

Obviously, specific skills and necessary roles depend on the nature of a business and industry. However, generally speaking, focusing on both transferrable soft-skills and technical abilities should help to put you in a stronger position post-COVID19.

Create a learning plan

For an upskilling or reskilling programme to be successful, it requires in-depth planning. Businesses must identify the skills they wish employees to attain, which could add the most value to the company. Identifying these areas can be done through talent-mapping and insight into competitors and the future of your industry.

Customising programmes based on employee learning needs, closely monitoring adaption rates and exploring external resources for training are some of the critical aspects of any reskilling strategy and must be taken into consideration. You also need to find a way to motivate employees to learn while they work remotely. Consider an incentive with rewards or making the learning experience feel more collaborative with team hashtags, group learning sessions, or even quizzes to test skills.

What advantages will it have?

Other than having a skilled, future-proofed workforce, allowing employees to learn and grow improves your employer brand and employee value proposition (EVP). It positions you as a caring employer who invests in people and their futures as well as your business. Today’s employees want to feel valued and have a clear path to motivate them to keep improving. Upskilling can help with both of these factors as well as simultaneously improving employee retention rates. Findings reveal that employees who feel they’re progressing in their career are 20% more likely to still be working at that company in a year.

Plus, in a time that’s shrouded in uncertainty, setting goals for employees shows your intention to keep them with the business as long as possible, making them feel more loyalty towards you as an employer and reducing your recruitment costs in the long run.


If you need help assessing the future of your business, with talent mapping or improving your employee engagement, our team are ready to help. Our experts can help to create a focus for learning, identify future leaders and aid your future recruitment strategy ready for life after COVID, get in touch to find out more about the recruitment services we offer.