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Nov 6 2019

Why—and How—to Invest in Your Employees Through Upskilling

Signature Consultants General

Competition for the best talent is stiff, and in the IT market, the battle to attract and retain great employees can be especially intense. Many employers are unable to fill jobs because of a lack of qualified talent, and employees are finding themselves with outdated skills in a rapidly changing economy. In terms of magnitude, McKinsey Global Institute says this challenge is akin to the early 20th century large-scale shift from agricultural work to manufacturing—only it seems to be happening much faster.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, as many as 375 million workers (around 14 percent of the global workforce) may need to switch occupational categories as digitization, automation, and advances in artificial intelligence disrupt the world of work. In addition, 62 percent of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023, which will significantly affect the types of skills companies require, as well as the career paths workers can take. This should sound an alarm for employers who foresee skills disruptions at their own workplace.

The cost of doing nothing

Losing employees can cost companies significant time, productivity, and revenue—and employers who don’t work to address the skills gap now may suffer the biggest losses. Seventy-two percent of respondents in Udemy’s 2018 Skills Gap Report think skills needed for their jobs will change, and 73 percent say they’ve already had to gain additional skills to do their jobs. In addition, 83 percent of those who said the skills for their job would change also said they would quit their job if their employer didn’t offer the requisite training. This mentality is especially prevalent among millennials and Gen Z workers, who make up an increasing cross-section of the workforce, although workers of all ages are realizing they must learn new skills to keep up with changing business needs.

Building a culture of growth through upskilling

As skills evolve and AI impacts jobs in new ways, employees are looking to employers to teach them the job skills they need to stay relevant in their respective roles. Likewise, employers are looking inward to address the skills crisis and retain the best talent, and are realizing that upskilling is both a smart and necessary step to make.

Upskilling means teaching current employees new skills through on-the-job training programs and development opportunities, while creating an environment of career-pathing, growth, and upward mobility within the organization. Not only does upskilling benefit both employees and employers, but with more Gen Z candidates entering the job market, employers have even more incentive to approach recruitment and retention in a new way. Gen Z candidates are looking for an employer who will give them job security, and by offering upskilling as an integral part of your company’s programs, you will not only retain valuable employees, but also attract more of the candidates who value learning, growth, and a long-term career with an employer.

The mutual benefits of upskilling

Upskilling gives employees the opportunity to continually expand their knowledge, skills, and the value they offer. More than that, upskilling helps foster a culture that results in happier employees, a spirit of innovation and growth, and, ultimately, higher ROI. At Signature Consultants, we consider ourselves a teaching organization: We believe that when you invest in employees, they will likely want to invest in and grow with you, too. We take our commitment to living this out in our everyday actions seriously, which is why we’ve invested millions of dollars into our Training & Development programs. These programs are designed to help our team grow and gain the skills they need on a continuous basis and ensure they are knowledgeable about our changing market.

Another major reason for companies to upskill is turnover: It is more cost-effective to re-train workers for more highly skilled jobs than to hire and train new employees. AT&T realized that of their 250,000 employees, only half had the necessary science, technology, engineering and math skills required to succeed at the company. In addition, 100,000 workers were in hardware-related jobs that likely wouldn’t exist in the next decade. Rather than lose valuable employees, the company invested in a $1 billion web-based initiative called “Future Ready” to re-skill half its staff. “Future Ready” includes online courses; collaborations with sites such as Coursera; and a career center that enables employees to identify and train for current and future job needs. An online portal called Career Intelligence gives workers a roadmap for success. If the initiative works as planned, AT&T will have successfully upskilled 100,000 workers by 2020.

Ways to approach upskilling

It’s important to keep in mind that every employee learns a bit differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to upskilling at your own organization. Here are some upskilling ideas that can be customized depending on your organization’s needs.

  • Define a career development plan. When employees have a clearly defined roadmap of where they are and where you expect them to be in the future, it helps ensure everyone is on the same page, and gives employees structure and vision. The plan will likely be developed over several meetings, and it should be as detailed as possible. When the career development plan is finished, all parties should understand which requirements, resources, and touchpoints are necessary for the employee to be promoted or move up to the next phase of their career path—and an agreed-upon timeline to follow.

  • Include upskilling and training at every level. Learning should be inclusive, not a “members only” club. Teaching employees new skills and ensuring they are honing their knowledge at every turn, regardless of their positions or departments, is crucial for both your organization’s success and employee morale.

    Do some digging to find out where each department is strongest or weakest in terms of skills and knowledge. What does your IT department need most? Which skills could your accounting or marketing departments benefit from? Get feedback from department leaders and employees themselves, then consider customizing learning opportunities to fill the biggest gaps in each area.
  • Host lunch-and-learn meetings. Upskilling can have more heady initiatives, but sprinkling in more light, fun educational opportunities can help keep employees engaged on a long-term basis and keep learning top-of-mind. Guest speakers can be outside experts or employees themselves—or you can schedule a series of thought-provoking documentaries and encourage lively discussion.
  • Create an office mentoring program. Creating opportunities for employees to learn from one another is an important aspect of any upskilling initiative, and it fosters a culture of upward mobility that is beneficial to current employees and attractive to job candidates. As employees move into more advanced roles, consider assigning them as a mentor or coach to help train more junior employees. These junior employees will shadow them, with the goal of eventually moving into the advanced employee’s former role. This type of situation gives both parties valuable learning opportunities: For the more seasoned employee, it’s an opportunity to hone their leadership skills; for the employee they are training, it’s an opportunity to learn real-world lessons that are often difficult to teach in a formal classroom setting. Studies have shown that people learn well this way, particularly with soft skills.
  • Encourage outside and self-directed learning. While company-directed efforts to upskill are valuable, it’s also important to ask your employees what they want and need—and take the time to really listen. Perhaps they really want to get an advanced certification or attend industry speaker events on a regular basis. Help them discover how their activities of choice can help enrich their current role, future role, or the team as a whole, and incorporate this into their career development plan. If possible, offer reimbursement or other incentives for them to take advantage of these outside learning opportunities.
  • Learn as a team. Attend an industry conference as a team, or sign your team up for skill certification at an offsite location. Mix up formal training with a morning spent wandering around the local museum and discussing findings over lunch afterward: Ideas can come from unexpected places. Networking events, conferences, speakers, seminars, and classes are all great ways for your employees to get inspired outside your organization and bring what they’ve learned back into it.
  • Don’t leave out soft skills. While finding employees with technical skills and certifications is an important part of addressing the widening skills gap, many employers, particularly in the IT field, are making it a priority to recruit and retain candidates who have the right mix of soft skills. Soft skills such as being effective communicators and collaborators are vital for IT employees to succeed, and hiring someone without the skills to effectively work with a team of non-technical members can actually be detrimental to both the employees and the employer. Soft skills are often harder to train for than hard skills, but there are ways to do both while being cognizant of employees’ different learning styles. Any of the learning program ideas above can — and should—be adapted to include soft skill-training.

About Signature Consultants, LLC

Headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Signature Consultants was established in 1997 with a singular focus: to provide clients and consultants with superior staffing solutions. For the ninth consecutive year, Signature was voted as one of the “Best Staffing Firms to Work For” and is named the 15th Largest IT Staffing Firm in the United States (source: Staffing Industry Analysts). With 28 locations throughout North America, Signature annually deploys thousands of consultants to support, run, and manage their clients’ technology needs. Signature offers IT staffing, consulting, managed solutions, and direct placement services. For more information on the company, please visit https://www.sigconsult.com. Signature Consultants is the parent company to Hunter Hollis and Madison Gunn.

Signature Consultants General