Last Updated on November 10, 2021

Upskilling is a term that often comes up in relation to workplace and employee training and in this post below, we explain exactly what upskilling is, why it is important, what skills you can learn and I give some examples. So let’s get started!

What is upskilling

What Is Upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of helping employees to further develop their existing skills and to learn new skills, to further extend their expertise, through training and development.

Upskilling involves making sure that the right people have the right skills in the workplace. You are providing training to fill in gaps in knowledge to have a more efficient workforce.

Dr Valeria Lo Iacono

An employee might, for example, have been promoted from within the company, starting as an office clerk and now becomes a department manager.

This employee might understand the company culture and work tasks but might lack management skills, having never managed before. In this case, upskilling can greatly help them if given management and leadership training.

Upskilling Examples

Let me give you some more examples of upskilling:

  • Karen is a software tester in the I.T. department but she wants to develop into a computer programmer as a part of her career development plan. So Karen signs up for programming for beginners lessons on the company’s Intranet site and upskills to develop the knowledge she needs.
  • A new employee Geoff joined your company a month ago and he is an extremely talented sales person. You would like him to also lead a team but he could benefit from being more assertive. In terms of upskilling, assertiveness training could be provided to Geoff.
  • Times are changing fast and much greater awareness now exists when it comes to understanding equality and inclusion in the workplace. Many employees (including many team-leaders and managers) are likely not to have previously been trained in this topic area.

Why Is Upskilling Important? The Benefits of Upskilling

Upskilling training

In effect, upskilling provides the following benefits:

  • It improves productivity – by helping to ensure that employees are better trained for their role.
  • Improves the workplace atmosphere – because better trained managers in areas such as ‘Emotional Intelligence’ and in ‘Inclusion in the Workplace’ make for better leaders.
  • Creates a better and more balanced workforce with more fully trained staff.
  • Helps with providing solid career paths for your employees which in turn helps to keep staff motivated and progressing within your business.
  • Helps you to be seen as a company who look after employees and provide good training.

Upskilling is something that is so often missed and it is arguably responsible for so many problems, issues, and conflicts that occur in the workplace.

The cost in terms of time and financial cost (such as to hire a corporate trainer) are often reasons why providing upskills training is ignored.

But you have to ask yourself – what are the costs of not providing adequate training to staff?

What will you lose in terms of productivity and a happier workplace, by not providing upskills-based training?

Upskilling, Reskilling, Cross-skilling & Cross-training

You might well hear the terms reskilling and cross-skilling, in conversations relating to upskill and upskilling.

So are these terms all the same or do they have different meanings?

1. Upskilling vs Reskilling

These terms are fairly similar in that they both refer to gaining skills.

The difference though is that upskilling tends to refer more so to skills that you gain in order to further build on existing skills you have.

Reskilling on the other hand generally tends to refer more so to skills that you gain in order to do a new or different job.

2. Upskilling vs Cross-skilling (and Cross training)

Cross skilling (also known sometimes as cross-training) refers to when someone is being trained in order to take on extra work duties, i.e. to help another person with their work.

Upskilling is different in that it is aimed at improving your skills for your own work tasks.

Upskilling for Employees: Training Course Materials

Upskills work training

There are different types of training that can be used for upskilling staff and these include teaching them:

  • Specific job skills (such as training on accounting software if they work or will work in the accounts department)
  • Management Skills – for existing and new managers (many people get promoted but lack management training)
  • Skills that an employee needs for their career development plan to aid their personal progression (these skills might combine with cross-skilling).

Upskills Training for Exisiting and New managers

One key area to consider when providing workplace training and when thinking about upskilling staff is to first think about the managers and management levels.

Managers set the tone for the teams including in terms of:

  • How effective the teams and individual employees are
  • The overall atmosphere and employee happiness
  • Levels of staff turnover

Case Study: Bob of ‘Coxen Marketing’ was a salesman for the company having originally joined them as a school-leaver. Bob wants a new challenge so has moved to the customer service team and will manage six people. He has little experience though of managing others. For Bob, upskills training related to being a first-time manager can really help him and he is provided training in Inclusive Leadership, Employee Engagement and Motivation training, and training in how to Manage Virtual Teams.

Other titles that could be especially useful for a first-time manager can also include:

These skills will help the manager’s existing skillset to help her/him develop into a better leader.

Ways to Provide Upskills for Employees

There are various methods you can use for delivering training to aid the upskills process within your business and the four main ways are as follows:

1. Online Learning (Inluding through Your Intranet)

If you are a company of more than just a few employees, then one suggestion is to use your intranet to provide in-house training.

Providing online training that each employee can do individually can be a cost and time-effective solution for providing upskills training in the workplace.

This is cost-effective when the same training can be used by large numbers of employees, i.e. if you have 100+ employees. For few employees, the cost of getting the training designed tends not to be cost-effective otherwise.

2. In-House Trainer

If you are a large company, then in-house training can be the way to go, with one person focusing on pedagogy and being an expert in training delivery.

This does mean the cost of a permanent employee/s but for a large company having an in-house trainer often makes sense.

3. Hire a Freelance Corporate Trainer

Another cost-effective method can be to hire a freelance corporate trainer.

Rather than the need to have a full-time employee acting as a trainer, hiring in a trainer specifically for the courses and topics needed, can often be a good way to provide training whilst still carefully managing costs.

4. Use External Training Providers

For upskills training that is quite specific to the employee, you might need to consider sending them on external training, i.e. on a course that another company offers.

External training can be particularly useful for helping employees with their own personal career development plan.

Consideration though is needed regards costs and how this training fits in with your company and how beneficial it is to provide this help for your staff.

Classroom lesson plans

Upskilling Best Practices

1. Find out What the Gaps in Knowledge Are

The key first stage is to evaluate what skills employees have and what skills they need.

The difference between the two is the ‘Skills Gap’.

You will then need to look at how you can fill that skills gap, whilst simultaneously factoring in budgets and time constraints.

2. Have a Professional & Career Development Plan for Each Employee

Many successful companies tend to treat their employees’ well-being and happiness as a key consideration towards their own success. Happy employees mean less staff turnover and hence reduced spending on re-training and re-hiring.

One key way to satisfy employees is to help them develop and move forward. To do this, ensuring they have a career development plan in place is essential.

With this career plan in place, if you are managing the employee, you can sometimes combine upskilling with also helping the employee with their career development.

3. Personalize Learning (Where Possible)

The skills an employee has and their career plan are always going to be individual, i.e. bespoke to their experience, knowledge, and needs.

Where possible (time and financial constraints considered), try and provide whatever upskills training where you can to directly aid each employee.

4. Re-Assess the Skills Gap Regularly and Re-assess

It is essential to re-visit and re-evaluate the skills gap in your workforce, regularly.

As employees upskill, you may over time need to re-focus and provide different training.

In the case of a new manager, this might, for example, be ‘Advanced Communication Skills’, rather than a course such as on basic ‘Communication Skills’ or on ‘Intercultural Communication Skills‘, that they might first learn.

Upskilling for the Future

I have already touched on this in part with mention of skills such as those based around inclusion, diversity, equality, and also skills that many first-time managers lack.

I also feel that in the future these types of skills below will continually be in demand in the future:

  • Technology-related training is a key area you will want to think about for future employee upskilling. Understanding data, for example, is going to become increasingly essential. Likewise, complex problem solving skills will be needed.
  • Resilience training
  • Emotional Intelligence – This is an area that has gained great prominence in the last few years and it will be important in the future. We are becoming much more aware of the need to consider not just the specific job skills employees have, but also their emotional intelligence, such as their ability to work with others. Emotional Intelligence training will be especially important for managers and team-leaders.
  • ‘Change Management’ will also be important – we live in a very liquid world, meaning that things change very fast and the neeed for adaptability as businesses is becoming increasingly important. Employees who specialize and who are skilled in Change Management will be needed.

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Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds

Valeria has been involved with education for over 16 years. She has taught in the UK at the University of Bath and Cardiff Metropolitan University (where she got her PhD), in addition to working as a researcher at Exeter University. Valeria additionally has several years of experience of also working with Ofsted and Cardiff University in management roles & is she is the founder of Symonds Training.