Article - HR

Employee Upskilling in 2023:
Five Reasons Why It is Key for Business Success

By Alex Wood|23rd December 2022

Upskilling is nothing new. It broadly refers to the process of individuals learning new skills and competencies. 

But on a macrolevel, it speaks to the seismic shifts that are happening right now in the modern-day workplace – shifts driven by new technology and automation. From hybrid working to cloud adoption, today’s offices look very different to those from a decade ago. 

But in order to grasp the opportunities these shifts represent, technology will only get businesses so far. The modern-day workplace requires a modern-day workforce, one that is equipped with the necessary knowledge to do their jobs today, tomorrow and in the future. Because as businesses continue to grow and evolve, they will need to be both resilient and adaptable – and this is why upskilling is so crucial, for individuals and employers alike. 

Here are five reasons and insights into why business leaders should be prioritizing upskilling in 2023… 

1. Post-pandemic recovery

The pandemic changed everything we know about the world of work – from where we choose to do our jobs to the hours we choose to be on-shift.  

It led to what is now commonly referred to as the Great Resignation. Millions of workers worldwide left their jobs in search of something better – whether that’s better pay, better working conditions or better career development prospects. 

And it is that final point – better career development prospects – that is of particular interest here. According to a study by LinkedIn, 94% of employees would be happy to stay with an employer who actively invests in their development. A similar report by Gallup and AWS, released just last year, suggested two thirds of US workers believe upskilling has improved not only their job performance but their quality of life and standard of living, too. 

‘Talent hires the company’ 

At a recent GDS Group virtual roundtable event, which brought a small group of senior executives together for a discussion on the future of the workplace, the EMEA Business Transformation and Programme Lead at a media investment firm said the whole premise of recruitment has changed as a result of the pandemic. 

“Now the talent hires the company,” he said. “We don’t try to do interviews and judge the candidate. Now, it’s about selling the company so that person joins us.” 

“People will leave if their experiences aren’t met. Also, after the pandemic, our leadership style has changed. Our leadership isn’t bossy – we have innovated ourselves. We have got rid of our old ways of working and I think today we are more innovative.” 

Upskilling improves morale, increases productivity, and it can also help organizations save on recruitment costs. These are all major benefits to businesses as they continue to recover from nearly three years of Covid-related disruption, lay-offs, and uncertainty. 

2. Addressing the skills – and attitude – gap

According to industry experts McKinsey, 87% of organizations are either experiencing a skills gap now or are expecting one in the next few years. But what can companies do to address this problem? 

According to the Chief Human Resources Officer of a leading IT service management company based in Belgium, part of the solution lies in “focusing on attitude, not just skills.” 

“Skills can be learned and developed – that’s the first thing we’ve tried to implement – but we actively tell our managers not to focus on specific knowledge,” she said at a recent GDS Group virtual roundtable event. 

“At the same time, for many of our main functions, we’ve tried to define what are the core skills needed. We do this because the required skills can be different for someone at a junior level compared to someone who is senior, even if they’re in the same role.” 

“We have a metro plan – a bit like the subway – with different colours and stations. People can change job function and we know what skills they need to develop on that new line.” 

For many businesses, the process starts by highlighting problem areas – comparing what skills their workforce currently has with the skills they need or want. This type of analysis is invaluable, especially for HR teams who can then take further action. 

3. Retention and attrition rates

Employee turnover is expensive. 

When organizations invest in their people, they are investing so much more than just their salaries. They are investing in their hiring, onboarding, and ongoing career development – which is why upskilling can be cost-effective. 

In a 2016 article by Huffington Post, they estimated the cost of losing one millennial would equate to $25,000. However, that is before you factor in the cost of interviewing, hiring and training their replacement. Over time, these costs add up – and it can affect a company’s bottom line.  

We bet and invested on digital 

The Director of Talent and Diversity of a French automation company, speaking to senior executives at a GDS Group roundtable on workplace management, admitted they struggle to retain workers beyond their first year of employment. 

“The challenge is to keep people for the long-term,” she said. 

But having identified skills gaps within the business and consulted staff on what it is they would like to learn; the company changed its approach. “We have transformed drastically from decentralized to a global process,” she explained. 

“We bet – and invested – on digital with a learning platform, a recognition platform. This has helped…It’s for our managers to meet with team members individually and put a development plan in place,” she shared. 

“If learning or training needs to be adapted, we promote mentoring, reverse-mentoring, job-swaps and different kinds of solutions.” 

Employee self-advocacy – giving staff an opportunity to take control of their careers – is critical. As is setting time aside for employees to learn. 

While staff may not know what to call a formal training program, they certainly know what it is they are interested in learning more about. Empowering those who are doing the work today enables their potential to lead it tomorrow. Upskilling programs lie at the core of this. 

4. Digital transformation success

Digital transformation is not a one-size-fits-all process. But it generally involves integrating technology into your operations and how you deliver products and services to your customers. 

However, investment in technology alone won’t be enough if your teams don’t have the skills they need to get the most value from your new digital tools. 

Renowned talent and people mogul Minh Hua, former Chief Talent Officer at Stanley Black & Decker, spoke about this at GDS Group’s CIO Summit in October.  

During his opening keynote, he told delegates: “If you want an IT project or a digital transformation to be successful, you need to ensure you have buy-in…You need that from leadership to the people who actually work it.” 

“Most digital transformations, in my view, are about business outcomes. But where there is some disagreement is whether those business outcomes are driven by software, or are they driven by a set of human behaviours?”
-Minh Hua, former Chief Talent Officer at Stanley Black & Decker

Minh advised CTOs, CIOs and CEOs to think about digital transformation as a set of behaviours. “What does that mean?” Minh asked.  

“Well, as an example, take your change management plans. There is an underlying assumption in nearly all change management plans that humans need to comply with an IT architecture. Now, in the world I live in, it’s easier to re-code something than get a bunch of people to act in a certain way,” he explained. 

“But if we flipped that paradigm and said, ‘when we’re picking an IT vendor or a hardware and we’re engineering a process, let’s understand the human behaviour’. Have a point of view on how much we can get it move, and then architect the IT around it so we can closer – and faster – to the business’ outcomes. The tell-tale signs of where a CIO or CTO’s plan hasn’t thought about human behaviour is in the detail of how they think about change management.” 

Digital transformation is a huge undertaking for any organization. But upskilling your employees is a great place to start. By investing in their development, you can set your teams up for success for years to come. 

5. Future evolution

If the past three years have taught us anything, it’s that the future of work is now. Upskilling can (and will) play an integral role in retaining and developing employees for organizational growth and strategic positioning. 

As we have highlighted here, there are several ways businesses can go about upskilling their employees. The most important thing is to identify the areas where your teams need improvement. From there, you can then look at training options and consider implementing an internal training program to get everyone up to speed. Then it’s about keeping employees motivated and engaged in the work they do, encouraging and empowering them as individuals to take ownership of their careers. 

By taking these steps, employees will not only become invested in their own work – they’ll become invested in your organization too.  

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