In today’s post-pandemic landscape, a company’s path to success depends on the quality, adaptability and resiliency of its people. But how do you cultivate a top-notch workforce ready to meet all the challenges of our modern and dynamic workplace? Upskilling your workforce is an important place to start.
When you need additional skills in your workplace, it’s good to have a mix of external candidates so that your company can incorporate new and more diverse capabilities, experiences and perspectives. But with a competitive labor market that has complicated attracting top talent, along with rapidly rising wages and increased demands for more expansive benefits, it’s not always feasible to rely on recruiting alone to reskill or upskill your workforce.
To stay ahead, it’s critical that your company invest in the people you already have on your team via a comprehensive training and development program. In other words, on a continual basis, your company’s leaders must intentionally and proactively take steps to prepare your workforce for whatever the future holds.
In this blog, we’ll cover:
- Why upskilling your workforce matters, and the benefits to your organization
- The employee attributes you should prioritize
- How to get started
- What to watch out for
Importance of upskilling your workforce
Many companies don’t put a lot of weight in ongoing training and development. Why? Because it’s often viewed as:
- Never used once completed
Furthermore, company leaders often say, “We hire people who have the competencies we need. Why do they need extra training?”
The counterargument to that is that the workplace isn’t static – and your people can’t be either. Knowledge and skill development is never a one-and-done deal – no one walks in the door knowing everything they need to know at their job, nor can all this education take place in a single training session. Plus, conditions are always evolving and require companies to keep up.
Furthermore, it’s not just always financially feasible to hire a candidate with the desired level of experience and mastery of all the skills you deem necessary. This caliber of talent is not always available at a competitive rate within your budget. Yet, you still need these competencies to succeed.
The benefits of upskilling your workforce
Upskilling your workforce via training and development has a strong return on investment when:
- It targets a specific competency that can be addressed by people and resolves a business need or problem (not a process or tool issue)
- Employees can demonstrate mastery of a competency following the training
- It connects to an employee and integrates within their role going forward into the future
And it does not have to bust your company’s budget. There are plenty of cost-effective training and development options.
Upskilling has very real benefits to your employees. When you equip your team members with the right tools, resources, knowledge and skills, they can:
- Perform their job responsibilities and everyday tasks most efficiently and effectively
- Maintain pace with industry and job trends
- Adapt to fluid internal and external circumstances with less disruption
- Expand their knowledge base and skill set to assume new responsibilities
- Gain autonomy and take greater ownership of their work, while requiring less support
- Advance in their careers
Upskilling your workforce can positively impact your business as well. It’s been proven that training and development:
- Strengthens employee engagement
- Inspires greater discretionary effort
- Better prepares organizations to manage unexpected change
All this can improve business performance.
Additionally, in the current job market in which the balance of power is tilted toward candidates and employees, people simply expect their employers to offer ongoing training and development. Employees want to continue to grow and progress in their careers, and they see this as a crucial enabler of that goal. It’s something that can help your company stand out and be an employer of choice.
Employee attributes to prioritize
When it comes to upskilling, it’s important to evaluate the qualities present within prospective employees that make them the types of people you’re able to invest in with training. As you build your team initially, consider their:
Certainly, mastery of hard skills – the practical knowledge an employee needs to do their job, or the basic boxes that must be checked – is required for an employee to get by each day. But hard skills are also pretty straightforward to quantify, teach and measure.
To build a strong, innovative, world-class business, soft skills are crucial. Examples of soft skills:
Any skill set can be built upon over time. However, soft skills usually must be developed through experience and mentorship.
When you hire employees initially, consider in which way they may be deficient in certain hard or soft skills. Ask yourself, honestly, whether you have the time and resources to dedicate to bringing them up to your desired level of proficiency. Are you willing to put in that work? If yes, make sure you have the appropriate training programs in place. If no, don’t hire them for your sake and theirs – it will only result in frustration. You also don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver on learning and development.
Additionally, an employee could have all the hard and soft skills you’d ever want, but if they fail to embody your culture and values, they won’t be successful – despite training – and can drag your business down. That’s why it’s very important to assess their cultural fit and alignment to core values.
Lastly, look at their internal drivers, which are arguably more important than skill sets. For example, does an employee:
- Have ambition and goals?
- Have motivators?
- Hold themselves accountable, and how?
During candidate interviews, ask behavioral questions aimed at identifying the presence of internal drivers. After an employee is hired, it then becomes the role of the manager to cultivate these drivers to encourage the best possible performance. Of course, an undesirable workplace culture can extinguish these drivers.
Cultural fit and internal drivers can’t be developed, period. Employees either have them or they don’t. If a candidate lacks these traits, it’s best to avoid hiring them and wasting resources on training and development.
Getting started with upskilling: The role of culture
How do you nurture the qualities you want to see in your workforce and allow these to thrive? How do you become a company of highly skilled workers that’s ready for the future?
It all comes down to your culture. Your culture must:
- Be intentional by design
- Prioritize learning
- Make people feel comfortable asking questions or speaking up
- Favor collaboration and communication
- Enable employees’ natural gifts and tendencies to shine
- Encourage recognition of others’ gifts
- Instill resilience and adaptability
- Welcome risk tasking
- Embrace innovation and creativity
- Tolerate the failures that inevitably accompany risk and innovation
As a leader, your actions demonstrate the culture to employees. Lead by example, remembering that you are a reflection of what you want your people to do. Be careful to not shut people down, exclude people, or express anger or frustration at failure.
Once you have your culture in place, you can implement training programs, deciding on the what, when, who and why.
It’s not uncommon for companies to acknowledge the need for training and the new capabilities within their workforces that rise out of it, but they lack the time and resources to train or have no idea where to begin.
Lots of businesses start with the solution: Train on X skill. Instead, work backward and start with your end goal in mind: “I’m looking to fix X problem, because then I will see X result.” Then identify:
- The skill sets and competencies that you need to develop
- From which employees you need these skill sets and competencies to flourish
- Whether training is required
- What else needs to change within the business to accomplish the goal
Things to remember when upskilling your workforce
1. Don’t create training and development solutions in a vacuum, discussing them at the highest echelons of your company and then rolling them out to the workforce. Instead, collaborate with your team and solicit their perspectives, feedback and opinions. Bring new voices into the conversation so that the training and development program will be more well-rounded and, ultimately, more empowering and effective.
This is because employees don’t like to have things done TO them. Nothing you do TO your employees will be well received, no matter how great the benefits are. Instead, introduce training and development initiatives WITH your people to obtain their buy-in, commitment and discretionary effort.
2. Training is not a one-time event; rather, it’s a series of steps involving repetition. Employees may have to hear new information multiple times to really absorb it.
3. Training is often cyclical in nature, not a straight line from start to finish. As a manager, you:
Identify what needs to be fixed.
- Administer training
- Provide feedback
- Assess whether the employee mastered the training according to success metrics
- Move on to the next problem or revisit the training. Either way, the cycle starts again
4. Employees learn in all sorts of ways. Deploy various methods to convey the same information to different people.
5. Mere observation likely won’t be effective. Embrace experiential learning in which people must think for themselves and DO. Making mistakes – and following up with a debrief discussion – is an important and necessary part of the learning process.
6. Despite what many company leaders want to believe, competency has nothing to do with tenure. Anytime someone encounters a brand-new skill or situation, regardless of how much time they have spent in their role, it causes them to restart the learning process.
7. “Working harder” is not a remedy for lack of knowledge or skill set. If you tell an employee who is struggling with a competency this, it will only make them more frustrated.
8. Employees crave direction and guidance, especially during periods of change. Yet, managers often fear micromanagement and, as a result, they tend to overcompensate in the opposite direction and end up under-supervising. This is also applies directly to when employees are learning new information. In trying to avoid doing their people a disservice, managers end up doing exactly that. Leaders must be directive during training, even with tenured employees.
9. Burnout is a real risk when you ask people to learn new skills and step out of their day-to-day routine. You must balance the need for training and development with avoidance of overwhelming people, especially if your workplace is understaffed and employees have taken on extra responsibilities already, or if change fatigue is rampant. In these cases, be mindful of the timing, duration and frequency of training, and how it can take a toll on your workforce.
Summing it all up
If you desire certain skills and competencies among your employees to future-ready your business, and recruiting isn’t an option, you’ll need to upskill your current workforce. This offers many benefits to your employees and business alike. To get started, assess the hard skills, soft skills, cultural fit and internal drivers of each employee to ensure that training and development are worth the time and resources you’ll need to commit. Examine your culture, including your dedication to learning and your tolerance for failure. Then start with your end goal in mind and, from there, determine which skills need development and how you will carry out training.
To learn more about preparing your workforce for the future, download our free magazine: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.