Evolving Your Business Means Evolving Your Team's Skills: How to Reskill Your Workforce

An employee reskilling through digital training

Organizations typically understand the importance of reskilling employees, but they may not know how to get started. Here are some ways leaders can help their associates learn new skills so they can adapt and grow alongside the organization.

There's a lot of value in reskilling employees. Whether it's to ensure they're able to work in an increasingly digital environment and develop their careers, or to fill current or anticipated gaps from turnover and retirement, helping employees gain new skills must be a priority for every business.

While organizations are generally on board with this concept, many aren't sure how to help their workers upskill. To support these efforts, here are some ways leaders can help their associates learn new skills so they can adapt and grow alongside the organization.

Start By Creating a Culture and Space For Learning

When you're looking at reskilling at an organization-wide level, you'll need to begin by fostering a culture of continuous learning. This means maintaining an environment where employees are encouraged to learn and develop — and given the time and opportunities to do so. "Folks are waiting to shine," says Susan Hanold, Vice President of HR Strategic Advisory Services at ADP. "Businesses should start with a culture that is open to allow employees the time to learn, to go to conferences and to take the time right now to develop themselves."

As a leader, it's common to worry that once an employee gains additional skills, they may leave the department or organization. While that might happen, development is also instrumental in retaining employees, and those who stay will be better equipped to perform at a higher level once they've received additional training.

Focus on Retention

Organizations looking to reskill their workforce should consider what they are doing to encourage employees to stay. What are the retention rates? What does the employee loyalty index reveal? In today's market, employees are asking themselves, "what's keeping me from not leaving my job," says Hanold. If organizations aren't asking similar questions, they might be missing opportunities to boost retention.

While employees may remain with their organization in uncertain times, experts have long anticipated that a surge of resignations would occur once things settled down, and this is now underway. Businesses must look for ways to offer flexibility and opportunities for learning and development in order to increase retention. For example, they could help their employees feel more connected to their associates and the organization through programs like mentoring, reverse mentoring or new hire buddy programs.

Start Reskilling From Within

Many businesses have a culture of hiring people who already have the skills they need instead of building skills from within. However, organizations aiming to keep people with the right skills on hand should look to their internal talent as well and demonstrate regularly that talent mobility is a priority for the business.

Hanold says that building a technology road map outlining the skills your organization needs, and tracking when employees learn them is critical. Helping associates develop the skills they need for advancement doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. For instance, junior employees or employees looking to expand their knowledge of other roles or functions within the business could shadow veteran associates with experience in those areas.

When you're considering internal talent for open positions at your organization, think about your employees' transferable skills. They may not have the exact skills required for the role yet, but they have the foundation for learning. Additionally, unlike a new hire, veteran employees are already familiar with the organization, and it costs less to train a current employee than to onboard a new one.

Communicate Progress

It's not enough to have a mindset of learning if that mindset isn't shared across your organization. Leaders need to communicate the expectation that employees will learn and ensure that they're confident about taking on new tasks and responsibilities.

As Hanold says, learning shouldn't be a "do as I say, not as I do" activity. "It starts with leadership role modeling talent mobility, growth and upskilling," says Hanold. In addition to asking associates about their interests, goals and sense of progress in 1:1 meetings, leaders should act as role models for continuous learning by sharing their own progress in reskilling.

Protect the Budget for Reskilling

Reskilling employees is not a one-and-done activity. It should be viewed as essential maintenance for the health of the organization. Although financing for reskilling can be a concern, businesses should do everything they can to build upskilling into their budgets and invest in technology that personalizes lessons to the learner's needs where applicable. "Budgets are tight," says Hanold. "But the organizations that are really trying to be proactive and are really looking ahead for the longer term are the ones making those investments in the technology that help their employees upskill or reskill."

As a study from McKinsey & Company points out, training budgets should be examined and strengthened to ensure that skill building plays a strategic role in the transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic. With more employees working remotely or in hybrid environments, leaders must ensure that they don't overlook training when opportunities — or needs — arise in these unprecedented times, as workers and businesses are grappling with many challenges they've never faced before.

Not all organizations can afford to reskill everyone at once, but it is essential to prioritize critical roles and ensure that key associates are on track to gain the skills they'll need to support the business going forward.

Focus on Soft Skills as Well as Hard Skills

Technical skills are an essential aspect of reskilling, but soft skill areas, such as empathy, listening, communication, resilience and flexibility, are also necessary for success. Without them, it can be particularly difficult to take on new skills, address problems or adjust to changes.

Remember that reskilling isn't a one-time event. It's a long-term and essential part of maintaining your business, ensuring a satisfying employee experience and building an environment where learning is expected and valued.

Get the guide: How to Design a People-Centered Workplace