Technology is rapidly expanding the ways we interact and perform at work, and at its worst, leads to us losing our jobs when our old skills become obsolete. At times, no matter how quickly we respond and adapt, the challenge of keeping up with the pace of change can feel daunting.  If this sentiment feels familiar to you, you’re not alone. The need to upskill to address the rate of innovation is a major challenge facing employees and employers alike.  The industries impacted range from highly trained professionals such as doctors, engineers to frontline warehouse workers.  The need for workforce training is so critical that the World Economic Forum has stated that by 2022, at least 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling. If both employers and workers understand that enhancing worker skills is essential for future growth, what barriers are standing in the way of effective upskilling?   

It’s All About Time

Our workdays are busy with essential tasks, meetings, presentations, and both short and long-term project benchmarks.  Add to this the urgent need to learn new automated technologies in response to the increase in remote working teams, it is difficult to fit much else into the day.   And this is true for managers as well; planning and organizing effective upskilling programs takes careful research, thought, and collaboration; the time and teams for this multi-pronged strategy may not be in place to make those efforts meaningful and effective.  Even when an upskilling program is created, it requires ongoing support for workers to ensure success.  Some successful actions include helping workers to set realistic goals for completion, collecting and responding to feedback regarding offerings, and providing additional help for workers who may be feeling hesitant to engage due to time away from school, uncertainty about their own capabilities, or other concerns.  

It Takes Confidence, Persistence, & Resilience To Upskill

For many workers looking to upskill, a fear of inadequacy is a major block to engagement and advancement. Whether it be because the worker left college many years ago or never pursued a college degree, a lack of familiarity with learning life can make even a short course seem like a daunting task.  These are common stories. Roughly 35 million Americans over 25 have college credits without a degree. Moreover, the Strada Education Network reported that half the population struggle with self-doubt when considering post-secondary education. The primary doubts: failure and length of time since prior schooling. Without a strong growth mindset that embraces challenges as steps toward a goal, employees can struggle with the  confidence and resilience necessary to stay the course when faced with the setbacks that occur as we grow our skill set and try new pathways.

Education Can Be Expensive

Courses. Seminars. Online tutorials. All of these can come with a price tag not cheap for the majority. We all want education to be a lifelong endeavor – one that comes freely – but the reality is that upskilling comes with high costs. For any future frontline workers already struggling with student loan debt, additional fees can be a non starter.  And although some companies have programs available to their employees to encourage additional courses or upskilling activities, the cost can still be beyond reach or the programs are so limited in size that only a small number of employees will have the opportunity to take advantage of them.

According to Guild Education data, 70% of employees cite finances as a barrier to going back to school. Worse, workers at the greatest risk from automation – on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder – are the most likely to struggle to pay for upskilling and the least likely to benefit from company-led initiatives.  

It Can Be  Difficult To Match New Skills With Lucrative Opportunities 

You’re looking through job postings and see an entry-level position listing that includes two-three years of experience as a requirement.  For both recent college graduates and veteran employees in the process of upskilling into new career pathways, this experience can dampen motivation and progress both during and after the upskilling process.  The disconnect between the potential benefits of upskilling and real-time opportunities to use those skills can be an additional barrier to working adults considering picking up new skills, especially considering the financial investment that upskilling can potentially require.  

The Ahura team is dedicated to making upskilling an achievable goal for today’s workforce. A key part of this is co-designing a solution that attends to the needs of the worker so that they can successfully adapt to and thrive within our evolving global economy and workplaces. We welcome you to follow our journey, comment and share this piece with your network so we conquer these issues together. In the next article on this series, we will talk about the challenges companies face when they attempt to upskill their workforce.