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3 May 2023 - 6 minutes

Upskilling vs. Reskilling

You’ve heard both terms, surely, but what are they? Which is best? Let’s find out.

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If you’re an experienced techie, you’re definitely in the know, but in case you are new to the sector: tech moves at a dizzying pace and employers are facing a nearly impossible situation of finding and retaining employees that are up-to-date with the newest technologies. Relying solely on the next generation of university graduates isn’t possible; they leave university well-versed on technology, but technologies of four years ago and by the time they enter the workforce, there’s a completely new group of skills needed. And while this is an issue facing lots of industries, not just tech, nothing advances faster than tech and the tech sector is one of the first to tackle this problem. 

Similarly, it’s impossible for employers to hire workers for every new skill; HR departments would be totally saturated with high turnover and lack of company loyalty. So, what is the solution? Bootcamps are growing in popularity, thanks to their ability to produce workforce-ready employees in a matter of months instead of years; however, once bootcamp grads are part of a company, technology keeps changing and evolving, meaning that another solution is needed. 

One of tech’s most shining principles is that of continuous learning. In an industry that’s moving so fast, you’re never done learning. We know, sounds frustrating, right? You dedicate and invest time and money to your education, be it at a university or a bootcamp, and now hear that you’re expected to keep learning and improving. But that’s the beauty of tech: 

  • Changing technologies and skills means that there’s always a new thing to learn and master.

  • Companies actively seek out employees that are quick on their feet and ready to tackle the next challenge. 

  • It’s both more productive and cost-effective to hire employees and later retrain them on new skills than constantly hiring and firing employees based on their current skills.

And here’s where upskilling and reskilling come into play. As tech evolved rapidly, companies had to leave the idea of hiring employees for a specific skill behind and warm up to upskilling and reskilling. What are they? Let’s discuss: 

  • Upskilling: when your current skills are enhanced or further developed to take on new responsibilities within the same field.

  • Reskilling: when you are retrained on a new skill that may be separate from your original skillset. 

Both are gaining popularity in tech and there’s a reason for that: companies have a way to use the skills and company loyalty that their current employees possess instead of trying to find new employees constantly. After all: 

  • The longer an employee is with a company, the stronger their brand loyalty and their dedication to the company is.

  • HR costs skyrocket when new employees are constantly entering their company. 

  • The time dedicated to finding, interviewing, and negotiating with candidates can occupy lots of resources. 

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s dive deeper into the specificities of upskilling and reskilling, what they entail, and how they will help both companies and employees excel. 

Upskilling: What is it? 

Forbes called upskilling the most important word in the dictionary and we have to agree: upskilling is the future of tech. Digital transformation has led to an expansion of technologies practically constantly, and skilled tech workers are valuable, especially when they’ve already worked for and dedicated their time to a company. 

Upskilling is when you take a worker with specific skills and, for lack of a better word, upgrade their skills to be able to handle a new range of tasks. While it can be done both at work or individually, more and more companies are dedicating time and resources to in-house development programs that take the abilities their team already has and enhance them to meet market needs. 

Examples of upskilling 

Let’s explore some of the workforce’s most successful examples of upskilling and how it resulted in increased productivity for both the company and workers. 

  • AlphaSights provides knowledge on-demand to assess and consult with clients on a wide range of topics, but as technologies advanced rapidly, the Learning & Development team couldn’t keep up with creating up-to-date internal courses for their team. The courses provided to experts were behind the times, not tracked, and ultimately not useful. To combat this problem, AlphaSights turned to their own employees, asking experts in specific areas to create courses for their colleagues, harnessing their personal knowledge. 27% of their employees became course authors, sharing their knowledge with teams from other departments, helping create a more 360 degree vision. 

  • Mastercard: with a massive, 24,000 person-strong international workforce, Mastercard was well aware of the rapid changes in technology and looming need to shift their priorities at any moment. They created a global, easy-to-use platform that more than 75% of their company uses and the results speak for themselves: they saved more than $21 million through increased productivity and gained 100,000 hours of capacity. 

  • HSBC: for more than 157 years, HSBC has evolved to meet customer needs, always placing clients at the forefront of their development. With such a large and talented workforce, HSBC decided to focus on using their employees’ current skills to meet new needs; they used an workforce intelligence solution to define the skills of their workforce and use cross-functionality to work together, saving 60,000 hours of productivity. 

How to upskill your workforce

We know we’ve convinced you, so it’s time for the next step: how can you actually upskill your workforce?! It’s not as intimidating as it might sound, we promise! Here’s what to do: 

  1. Assess your workforce’s current capacities: people have a wide range of skills and you might be surprised by the skills they possess. Before you start trying to teach employees new skills, figure out what is already on the table and harness cross-functionality to make sure you’re not teaching an employee a skill that another one boasts. 

  2. Assess current market needs: before you try to decide what employees can learn, you need to figure out what the market needs and where you see gaps; check out new technologies and see where your company could improve. 

  3. Create plans: using the current skills of your company and market needs, create both individual learning plans for current employees and a way to track progress to ensure that upskilling is working for your organization. 

Reskilling: What is it? 

Reskilling takes the same idea of upskilling of using current workers to meet market needs, but instead of enhancing the current abilities of their employees, companies that reskill teach their workers a completely new skill that’s separate from their existing skill set. They could be somewhat related or connected, but generally require an entirely new approach. 

Although it may seem easier for companies to simply hire a new person that already has the in-demand skill set if they don’t have anyone in-house that meets market needs, the additional stress and pressure on HR to find someone quickly and introduce them to the company, complete the interview process, talk to references, and onboard the new employee uses up a lot of resources. When choosing to reskill a current employee, all those steps are skipped and you already know that the employee is loyal, works hard, and is an asset to the company. In addition to lessening the responsibilities of HR, it also provides a sort of security blanket in that you already know this employee and how they work. Although they will be taking on different responsibilities, their soft skills and general personality are already known and appreciated in the company. 

Examples of reskilling 

Put into practice, reskilling can be incredibly beneficial for companies. Let’s check out how: 

  • AT&T saw technology’s rapid advancements and realized that while half of their technology-focused workforce was prepared to keep up with the rush, the rest of their employees were falling behind; they also saw hiring new engineers and technology-centered workers was not a reality. They chose to reskill their existing workforce, providing them with the tools they needed to learn about technological advances. 

  • Accenture witnessed the increasing crossovers between fields and decided to create an open and free platform for their employees where they’re free to take courses on topics that are completely foreign to their current area and focus on obtaining a wide range of basic skills that cover multiple industries, not just their own. 

  • Verizon chose to focus on currently unemployed or underemployed individuals, especially those facing job displacement due to automation, giving them the chance to learn an industry skill that’s in-demand and increasing their chances of finding a job. 

How to reskill your workforce

If we’ve convinced you that reskilling is the right choice for your company, take a look at the next steps so you can actually benefit from it. 

  1. Research market needs: to know what new skills your employees need, you first need to know what skills are in demand! Check both with your team and external needs to decide where the skills gap is.

  2. Identify employees with capacity for reskilling: not all workers are good choices for reskilling tasks and some might be better suited for certain challenges than others; make sure you carefully choose the employee.

  3. Develop a reskilling process with your employees: work together with your team to create a reskilling plan that allows them to learn a new skill while still excelling in their original role, making sure they feel valued and appreciated. 

You get it, right? Upskilling and reskilling are the future of tech and the results are clear: finding new employees to meet rapidly advancing technologies is simply impossible and places undue stress on both recruiters and managers that are required to be constantly interviewing and training new workers. Choosing to capitalize on your already loyal and skilled employees is the best bet--and will help your company to continue growing and advancing. 

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