A June 2020 survey from learning management system TalentLMS found that companies have made employee training and retraining a major focus in response to COVID-19.
In conjunction with Training Journal and Workable, TalentLMS surveyed 282 training and hiring managers, C-level executives and decision-makers in various companies to see why they decided to reskill or upskill their workforce and how it benefited their business. They then interviewed 400 full-time U.S. employees to ask about their employers’ upskilling and reskilling training initiatives.
The survey found that 42 percent of companies stepped up their upskilling/reskilling efforts after the coronavirus outbreak, and that 91 percent of companies (and 81 percent of employees) say upskilling/reskilling training has boosted productivity at work.
“The pandemic is driving constant change, and that often means new skills are needed,” says Jacques Hart, CEO of the digital-first marketing agency Roar Media.
Upskilling or reskilling programs are a way to bridge the skills gap brought on by constant change. While you could hire in the skills that your company requires, investing in your existing workforce can save you time and money. The more you can work with your current staff and help them make themselves more marketable, the more employee loyalty and productivity you’ll inspire—the following tips can help.
1. Decide on formal versus informal reskilling and upskilling.
Executing employee training can be done formally, by requiring specific classes and training sessions, or informally, allowing employees to study on their own. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches.
“An informal process may allow employees to control where and when they want to invest their time in flexible learning objectives, but without a formal professional development or training plan, your company's time and financial investment may not align with business goals and objectives,” cautions Lori Eaton, senior vice president of company relations at LaunchCode, a nonprofit offering free tech education and job placement opportunities.
Learning new skills is one thing, but applying them in the field is what matters. We ask our employees—whose courses we cover the cost of—to bring to the table ideas on how their new skills can help our company.
—Neal Taparia, founder, Solitaired
“A structured, formal training program allows a company to set goals, objectives and timelines upfront, so employees know what to expect going in," says Eaton. "It’s also crucial to build in an evaluation process, and measure and monitor the time, effort and financial investment of the training program.”
Formal training does allow for uniformity in terms of messaging and training, adds Joe Casper, owner of Casper Funeral & Cremation Services.
“When there is formal training, it is clearly understood what is ‘important,’" Casper says. "On the other hand, employees learn differently, which is where informal training can be useful.”
Analyzing your employees and business will be the best way to decide whether upskilling and training will be formal, informal or a combination of both.
2. Assess which employees will receive reskilling and upskilling.
Eaton suggests establishing an assessment process to determine which employees are primed for retraining.
“At LaunchCode, we’ve created an assessment to identify individuals with passion, drive and aptitude to learn new skills," she says. "In our experience, individuals who demonstrate these three attributes, even if they have no prior experience working in technology, can quickly learn new skills.”
Software development company Future Processing has a selection process in place for choosing which employees receive additional training.
“Upskilling and reskilling involves a financial outlay for our company, so we select key members of our staff who have usually been with us for a year or more,” says senior associate Jack Zmudzinski. "We offer them the opportunity to extend their skill sets and take on more responsibilities."
3. Appeal to your employee's interests and goals.
Neal Taparia, founder of the app Solitaired, makes it a point to learn about his employees’ career goals.
“We then suggest courses for them as a way to support their growth and development,” he says. He has found this keeps employees motivated to continue learning, which enhances productivity.
“Learning new skills is one thing, but applying them in the field is what matters,” says Taparia. “We ask our employees—whose courses we cover the cost of—to bring to the table ideas on how their new skills can help our company. Then we expect them to put those ideas into action.”
4. Get involved with employee upskilling and reskilling, and incentivize it.
Rather than asking employees to study during off hours and pay for courses on their own, some companies cover course costs and allow for training during work hours.
Hart of Roar Media offers his employees an annual learning budget. In addition, his employees may spend 50 percent of their study time towards earning a certification during normal working hours.
It's important to note that reskilling and upskilling initiatives aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. It’s vital that you or someone on our management team oversee retraining efforts.
“Just as teachers hold their students accountable, you need to do the same with your team,” says Taparia.
Along with covering the cost of courses, Taparia's team helps employees stay on track with their studies.
“We check in with our employees who are taking classes regularly to make sure they are progressing. This serves as a system of accountability to make sure they follow through on their goals within the company,” he says.
5. Hire with upskilling in mind.
Hiring employees who embrace change helps when it’s time for upskilling and reskilling.
“By hiring new employees who welcome the chance to upskill or reskill, you create a stigma around the ‘status quo,’ ” says Casper. “When we’re hiring, a behavioral attribute we place a significant amount of weight on is adaptability.”
Casper asks interview questions that point to whether a potential hire is open to reskilling, such as:
- What do you do to stay current in this field and continue to improve your skills?
- Share the last work scenario where your work priorities/job description substantially changed and what steps you took to adapt.
- Can you share a time when a project you were working on did not go as planned? How did you manage the challenge or turn it around?
No matter what your business or industry, there’s only one constant, and that is change. Reskilling and upskilling employees helps companies prepare for those inevitable changes and stay competitive, and has the added benefit of keeping your employees satisfied and productive.
Read more articles on motivating employees.
Photo: Getty Images