Employee Upskilling and Reskilling Training: Benefits, Challenges, and a Pandemic

According to recent employee upskilling and reskilling statistics, 92 percent of employers say they’ve offered reskilling or upskilling training. But there’s a big leap between delivering training and that training making an impact.

Read a job ad. Any job ad.

You most likely will notice something along the lines of “opportunities to grow” or “generous learning and development budget” under the benefits section.

But is this just another corporate overpromise to woo candidates or do companies actually invest in employee training? And should companies bother with employee upskilling and reskilling?

According to recent employee upskilling and reskilling statistics, 92 percent of employers say they’ve offered reskilling or upskilling training. But there’s a big leap between delivering training and that training making an impact. The real question is whether this training is valuable both to learners and employers and what kind of pitfalls they should be avoiding.

Why Invest in Employee Upskilling/Reskilling Training?

Beyond the obvious benefit of teaching employees something new (e.g., how to use a tool), the long-term benefits are also noticeable when reskilling or upskilling employees. These benefits apply to your learners and your company as a whole and include:

1. Boost Employee Productivity

Some 80 percent of employees say reskilling/upskilling training has improved their confidence. Confident employees are more likely to come up with fresh ideas, take initiative, and focus on solutions.

While those benefits are not always tangible or easily connected to training, 3 out of 4 companies agree that employee upskilling/reskilling has benefited their overall productivity.

2. Improve Retention

“But what if I train my employees only to see them hit the road in a month or two?” someone may wonder. Don’t be so quick to dismiss your training programs. Because what might seem like saving money now could cost you some of your best employees tomorrow.

Seventy-four percent of employees who’ve never received training from their employer would rather work for a company that offers upskilling/reskilling opportunities. And they most likely will find one in the near future since 9 out of 10 companies already provide such training. Don’t fall behind.

3. Attract New Talent

While you’re busy developing your existing employees’ skills, you may find more candidates knocking on your door.

Some 65 percent of employees who haven’t received any upskilling from their employer sought out training on their own. If you can give them the resources and time they need to grow their skills inside your company, you position yourself as an employer of choice.

4. Engage Employees

In addition to attracting new and retaining current employees, upskilling training helps you create an engaging team.

Employees seek career progression—particularly Millennials, the prevailing generation in the workplace. And they want to see actions, not just words. Make them feel more empowered and motivated by discussing their career goals and potential and, then, build a learning path tailored to their needs to help them reach their destination.

5. Adjust to New Business and Consumer Needs

Tech advancements, as well as changes in our lifestyles and the way we work, have made it almost mandatory for businesses to update their knowledge and systems. And they can only do that through employee reskilling. Take this opportunity to train employees on how to use “smarter” devices or how to analyze big data. Or you might need to develop your employees’ communication skills if they have switched to remote work, which sometimes makes collaboration more challenging.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Despite the benefits of reskilling and upskilling training, there are a few challenges you might need to tackle when delivering a training program at your company. These include:

1. Lack of Time and Resources

Training usually takes employees away from their regular tasks. And the same goes for trainers if training is not their main job. But that’s a necessary evil if you want to succeed in the long run. Think, for example, of all the time you’ll make up for in the future if you spend a few hours or days now to train your team on a new project management tool.

But time is also a barrier when developing training content. Companies rank this as their biggest challenge with employee upskilling/reskilling. You could, though, save time—and money—if you hire in-house training specialists or purchase bundles of ready-made courses that you can reuse on a case-by-case basis.

2. Disconnect from Career Progression

While employees value training as a way to advance their careers, more than half of them say it had no effect on their compensation, while another 44 percent say it hasn’t helped them grow within their company. This is common when training is just for the sake of training and employers have set no clear training objectives to build career paths for their team members.

For training to be truly beneficial, you need to link learning to desirable outcomes and design personalized training paths. You also could set up follow-up sessions to see if and how employees use their newly acquired knowledge on the job.

3. Resistance from Employees and Senior Management

So what happens when time and money are tight? And when there are no clear benefits to training? Employees and senior management are not sold on the idea of reskilling or upskilling training.

Employees might see training as something imposed on them that won’t offer any value. And senior managers might prefer to spend their money on something with tangible effects.

Make sure employees know how training will help them down the road. Also, try to add interactive courses and gamification elements (e.g., quizzes, internal competitions, etc.) to grab their attention. Knowledge sticks for longer when learners are engaged—and that will convince senior management to give their approval.

Learning in the Time of COVID-19

Some people have found themselves with unexpected free time lately if, for example, their industry has slowed down or they don’t have to commute anymore due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of them have used this time to expand their skill set or to develop their existing skills. What’s interesting is that the majority (58 percent) of employees who sought training on their own during this time chose to develop skills related to their current role or skills that would help them get promoted. This is a clear sign they think of reskilling/upskilling training as something that will add value to their professional life with some actual results.

Companies also have stepped up their game, with 43 percent of them assigning more courses to their teams during lockdown. Some of those courses are likely related to COVID-19 and safety training. But we can’t ignore the portion of employers training their teams on tools and skills that are much needed in this digital, remote-work era we’re in.

What remains to be seen is whether this necessity will become a habit—whether companies will reinforce a learning culture, and not view employee upskilling or reskilling as a reaction to external changes or a trending box to tick but rather as a way to create strong, engaged teams.

Christina Pavlou used to work in HR and currently writes about it. She enjoys researching and writing about learning and development, diversity in the workplace, and employee well-being. When not writing, she’s giving presentations on recruiting, offering career coaching tips, or crafting her homemade cosmetics.