What Is Upskilling & How to Build an Upskilling Program | Toggl Hire
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What Is Upskilling & How to Build an Upskilling Program

Post Author - Mile Živković Mile Živković Last Updated:

The job market is anything but a turtle race. Technology is advancing faster than most can keep up with, and younger, hungrier generations are entering the game. You either get ahead or get left behind, and the most prepared individuals make sure they are hard to replace — by upskilling themselves.

According to research, 81% of managers in tech say that upskilling programs are highly effective in preparing their teams for new projects. Upskilling employees not only helps develop their career path but also futureproofs your business, makes your employees more productive, closes your skill gaps, and helps you retain the best talent.

Basically, if you’re not currently working to upskill or reskill employees…what are you waiting for? Oh — how to implement the right program? Keep scrolling to learn about that.

TL;DR — Key Takeaways

  • Upskilling is the process of acquiring relevant skills or improving existing skills to keep up with the changes in tech or requirements in a job role. It’s different from reskilling because reskilling usually means an adjacent job and skills.

  • Upskilling helps employees and companies close skills gaps and gives businesses a competitive advantage. For employees, it means more engagement and productivity and less turnover.

  • Employees can upskill themselves by attending courses, grabbing certifications, testing out their skills in practice, and finding a mentor.

  • To start an upskilling program, first do a skills gap analysis, get feedback from your employees, and then create a learning and development strategy. Then make the materials accessible, try out job rotation, and measure the results of your upskilling campaigns.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of acquiring relevant skills or improving existing skills to keep up with the changes in technology, requirements for a role, or industry trends. Upskilling and training programs allow employees to stay competitive and difficult to replace, as well as improve their existing skills.

For example, an SEO manager who wants to ensure future success in their role (and perhaps even an open path to new roles) can learn about PPC advertising to gain a broader understanding of marketing strategies with the hopes of becoming a Head of Marketing in the future.

Another example is a developer who is proficient in Java but wants to change their career path and learn a more desirable programming language. They pick up Python lessons and go through free and paid upskilling programs to learn how to write good code before making a career change.

What is upskilling?

Why is upskilling important?

From 2015 to 2024, skill sets for jobs have changed by 25%. Simply put, doing the same jobs as before now requires knowledge of different tools, processes, and systems. Businesses that don’t keep up with the changes in the workforce risk getting left behind and replaced by more forward-thinking brands.

Speaking of which, new tools are being developed at a rapid pace. With advancements such as AI and language learning models, industries such as marketing, development, and management are changing daily. This requires employees to constantly learn new skills, while businesses should ensure their people are up to date with the latest tech advancements.

Let’s take a look at the adoption of AI technology as an example. A recent IBM report revealed that the biggest barrier most businesses have to implementing AI tools and technologies is limited AI skills and expertise.

This means that even though AI can boost business performance by as much as 40%, companies can’t take advantage of that power because they can’t find employees with the right skillset. In this case, it makes a whole lot of sense to upskill those employees to fill skill gaps and gain a competitive edge.

If you have skilled employees, you can adapt more quickly and outperform your competitors without significant investments in new campaigns or tools. You’ll be ahead of the competitors struggling with a global skills shortage that is affecting all industries in 2024 and beyond.

What’s the difference between upskilling and reskilling?

The two terms are often lumped together, but there are distinct differences.

Upskilling: An employee improves their existing skills or picks up related skills within the scope of their role. For example, someone in sales learning how to use a new prospecting tool with an AI focus.

Reskilling: An employee learns new skills that are outside of their existing skill set. These skills can be for an adjacent or completely different role. For example, an accountant going through a training program on product management.

Upskilling vs. reskilling

Benefits of upskilling

Continuous learning is beneficial for any employee, whether they’re new talent or a manager looking to gain leadership skills, but let’s look at some specific benefits of adopting an upskilling strategy.

Improves employee engagement

When businesses create an effective upskilling strategy, employees are able to see they’re investing time and money in them. With these programs, you’re encouraging employees to pick up advanced skills and become more valuable in their current roles.

For example, all Toggl brands offer an annual €4.000 learning budget that employees can spend on training opportunities such as courses, workshops, books, and anything that helps with their professional growth.

With a professional development plan that includes training programs and upskilling opportunities, employees won’t be looking for career opportunities elsewhere as you’ll give them a reason to stay.

Decreases employee turnover

According to Gallup research, 48% of employees would consider switching a job to get more upskilling opportunities.

The same research states that 71% of employees believe having upskilling opportunities would improve their job satisfaction. 61% say that these are an important reason to stay on the job.

These numbers don’t lie. Having upskilling programs improves employee retention and makes sure the employees you invest in stay with you for the long haul.

Boosts employee productivity

When employees develop new skills, their efficiency and productivity increase drastically because…

  • They can do more tasks independently

  • They can handle more complex tasks

  • They can pick up leadership skills, allowing them to coach and train new hires

For example, a sales manager who learns how to use a VoIP phone with an autodialer can now make 20 calls per hour instead of 12, massively increasing their monthly quota.

Builds a dynamic team

Continuous learning programs help businesses build teams with wide skill sets. Your entire company becomes more flexible and dynamic as individual employees can cover more ground with the skills they have.

For example, you can build a multiskilled development team by training employees in this department about product management. This allows them to not only build features but also understand jobs to be done, product backlogs, and how to prioritize features on a product roadmap.

Helps businesses remain competitive

If you can’t beat your competitors based on features or pricing, you can beat them by having a better team of people.

Upskilling helps employees stay relevant and competitive, but it does the same for your business. When employees learn new skills, they can help refine your products and services to provide more value while reducing development or marketing costs, for example.

Benefits of upskilling

Upskilling techniques for employees

If you’re an employee or a manager in charge of other employees, here are some great ideas to find upskilling and development opportunities.

Sign up for a course

Coursera and Udemy are just two examples of platforms with online courses where you can equip yourself with new skills for free or for a fraction of the price of a university course.

Before you fit skill gaps with any learning management system, do your research to find lecturers who have the best and most recent knowledge on a topic. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) at how many “knowledgeable” people online selling courses know nothing about the topic at all.

Earn a certificate

Want to close some knowledge gaps and improve your career path? There are plenty of free and paid certificates you can grab to make yourself more valuable as an employee. For example, the Google Ads certification is run by Google, and it’s completely free of charge. The same goes for Toggl certificates!

Earn skills certificates

Find a mentor

Mentoring programs in a company are a win-win for you and your employer. The company can teach you new skills as an employee, and they have someone who can move into management positions later on.

Find someone in your team who can help you with career advancement and teach you something you’re missing in your skill set, such as digital skills or analytical skills. If your company doesn’t offer such a program, there are plenty of online platforms where you can find a qualified mentor.

Practice your new skills

Ask your manager for some development opportunities in the form of testing out your new skills. For example, if you just learned something new about Google Ads, ask for a small budget to test out how your ads convert.

Most managers love closing skill gaps, and they’ll happily provide you with a sandbox to play in.

New skills to include in an upskilling strategy

Now, if you’re a business creating an upskilling strategy…where do you start? According to Coursera, the most in-demand skills for 2024 are:

  • Learning skills

  • AI-related skills

  • Cybersecurity and information security skills

  • Understanding and properly communicating data

  • Other digital skills

To explore more in-depth research on the most in-demand skills for this year, this is a good starting point.

Most in demand skills of 2024

How to build upskilling programs

Before creating an upskilling program, you need to cover your bases to ensure you’re doing something that your current employees will enjoy and benefit from.

You don’t want to create a program that won’t result in any employee progress or that your workforce will hate and not use and perhaps even lead to a skills mismatch. So, here are a few tips to get started.

Perform a skills gap analysis

It’s hard to upskill skillsets you don’t even know exist, so before doing anything else, perform a skills gap analysis to determine what skills your employees currently have and what they’re lacking.

To conduct a skills gap analysis, try out the following methods:

  • Skills assessment software (such as Toggl Hire)

  • Employee surveys

  • Performance reviews

  • Collect feedback from peers and customers

  • Benchmark employee performance against industry standards

  • Make observations and do job shadowing

Sample skills assessment test

Listen to employees

Employee feedback is crucial if you want to truly enjoy the benefits of upskilling in your business. The goal is to create a program that benefits you, obviously, but mostly your employees. To do that, you first need to tap into their thoughts and find out what they want to learn and how.

Some examples include:

  • Anonymous surveys

  • One-on-one meetings with their peers and managers

  • Workshops

Basically, to ensure your upskilling efforts work out, talk to individual employees to learn about their goals, aspirations, and motivations.

Create a learning and development strategy

Now that you covered the foundations, you need to create an actual strategy. Here are some aspects it should include:

  • The role of the strategy in the upskilling process

  • The objectives of the strategy

  • The key metrics and outcomes

  • The stakeholders involved in the process

  • Potential roadblocks

  • Resources required to complete the process

Most importantly, though, ensure your upskilling and learning strategy aligns with your overall business goals.

Don’t forget to focus on soft skills

Soft skills are just as important as technical ones and, in some cases, even more important. Having the best CTO in the world won’t mean much if they’re not a great communicator or collaborator and have a complete lack of empathy.

Build soft skills into everything, from upskilling programs to your overall organizational culture. To integrate soft skills into your upskilling program:

  • Assess your existing needs for soft skills

  • Align the soft skills with your organizational goals

  • Customize the training content for the soft skills needs of your team

  • Use interactive learning methods to deliver soft skills training (e.g. workshops, group activities, role-playing, and others)

Why soft skills are so important in hiring

Make learning materials accessible

To ensure your upskilling program is successful, you need to provide access to the materials to your employees at all times. And with the shift to remote and hybrid workplaces, that means hosting it online.

Examples include online courses and training platforms, cloud-based training software, online certifications, and more. Also, offer flexible training hours, which enables employees to acquire new skills (or upgrade them) in or outside of their working hours.

Consider job rotation

Job rotation is an HR initiative where employees switch positions within a company to improve their skills, innovate existing processes, and help with retention and employee engagement.

Job rotation exposes your current employees to new roles, challenges, and skills they would otherwise have no opportunity to access. It also enhances your internal mobility strategy!

Measure and evaluate upskilling programs

Just like anything else in HR, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. To find out how effective your upskilling program is, determine the metrics that show you how you’re progressing.

For example:

  • Employee performance

  • Employee retention rates

  • Employee feedback

  • Employee satisfaction scores

  • New certifications and finished courses

Whichever metrics you choose, evaluate progress regularly. This isn’t just to ensure your current employees are serious about their career development but also that your employee upskilling programs are effective and meet the needs of both your employees and your business.

Measure employees’ skills with Toggl Hire

Upskilling in the modern workplace is no longer just “nice to have.” It’s a necessity, for employee retention, satisfaction, productivity, and performance, as well as staying ahead of your competition.

With Toggl Hire, you can measure your employees’ proficiency in certain skills and identify skill gaps when you use our skills assessments.

Browse our test library to find 250+ free tests you can use for skills assessments today!

Full skills test library
Mile Živković

Mile is a B2B content marketer specializing in HR, martech and data analytics. Ask him about thoughts on reducing hiring bias, the role of AI in modern recruitment, or how to immediately spot red flags in a job ad.

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