So we’ve talked about the value of upskilling to enhance a career and the challenges that workers face as they juggle jobs, life, and learning new skills.  But how do employers perceive the potential value of upskilling for their workforces?  And how are they developing systems and programs to encourage their workforce to upskill and embed upskilling opportunities within their organization?

A recent McKinsey survey  found 87% of executives said their organizations are currently experiencing skill gaps or expect them to emerge within a few years.  However, almost 40% of businesses have not created a plan to address the issue.  Overall, most employers surveyed reported that upskilling has resulted in moderate ROI gains for their companies and agree that upskilling is necessary to maintain a competitive edge.  So what factors contribute to this current disconnect between what employers are saying about the value of upskilling and the support they are able to provide to workers eager to engage in job training initiatives? 

Who Is Encouraged & Invited To Upskill?

The Randstad Risesmart 2020 global survey found that across every industry represented in the survey, employers provided upskilling opportunities to a small number of managers and team leaders, with fewer options for individual employees and top leaders.  Taylor Blake, co-founder of Learn In, recently gave an example of a company with 100,000 employees.  The upskilling strategy was to select the top 30 high potential employees for a development program; no other programs were made available to the rest of the workforce.  He stated, “It’s common for a company to be focused on developing a small percentage of high-potentials, and the rest of the organization is simply a ‘check-the-box’ exercise.”

This lack of inclusivity hurts workers and employers, according to Blake. A recent 2020 HRE article reports that “one in four women is currently considering leaving the workplace or downshifting their careers, while people of color are 2.2 times more likely than white colleagues to cite concerns over upskilling.”  And while some companies have tried to find a middle ground with microlearning opportunities for larger numbers of employees, those experiences are not enough to help workers build deeper level skills and knowledge needed for success. 

What Types Of Upskilling Is Offered?

According to the survey, the majority of upskilling offered or encouraged was around relational soft skills like adaptability and collaboration. Twenty percent fewer employers reported encouraging their employees to upskill in tech-related skills. However, employees stated they valued soft skill training to an equal degree and that their investment into upskilling was useful to them, and that they wanted more options for growth and learning within their job.  These findings also align with the research data of  Dr. Tony Wagner’s extensive interviews with hundreds of business leaders regarding the seven skills employees needed to be successful.  

Creating flexible, responsive company-level systems that can track company needs, employee needs, and connect workers to relevant upskilling opportunities will be the key to ensuring that our future workforce is prepared to excel.

What Is The Most Effective Company-Level Approach For Encouraging & Providing Upskilling Opportunities?

The good news:  there are successful company-wide upskilling stories and new approaches for job-centric upskilling happening across a diverse set of companies and industries.  Even better news:  A study by The Chief Learning Officer found that over half of their respondents expected their L&D budget to remain stable or grow in the coming year and 73% expected their company to create custom upskilling content for their workforce. 

There are many methods that could support better programming at the company level.  They include approaches like embedding upskilling into the workday with employer support/tracking, partnering with outside providers to impact more workers, and creating employee outreach materials that makes explicit connections between the upskilling activities/training and pathways within the company for advancement/promotion because of that newly acquired skill. 

As you continue to follow the Ahura team, we will share novel approaches we are building, as we seek to reimagine upskilling and make it an achievable goal. We seek to expand this beyond the top 1% of managers to the entire workforce. We welcome you to follow our journey, comment, and share this piece with your network so we change this status quo together. In the next article on this series, we will dive deeper into the realities of upskilling today, the great resignation, and begin exploring ways your company can avoid significant losses in the unfolding work-world.