The Right Stuff

How to upskill and reskill employees to rocket them into the new world of work.

You may have employees who have been with your organization for decades. They have a record of accomplishment, are well liked, and a great value to the company. The problem is your workforce needs are shifting. To stay employed by your company, these valued employees will need to learn a skill set for a new job, or they will have to boost their capabilities to stay in the job they already have. In other words, they will have to be “reskilled” to do a different job or “upskilled” to do their current job in a different way.

Reskilling and upskilling employees is widely recognized as one of the great challenges facing companies today, particularly in this Digital Age. “As jobs are transformed by the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to reskill more than 1 billion people by 2030,” a recent World Economic Forum report proclaims. “In the next two years—by 2022—42 percent of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change.” Specialized skill sets are increasingly important, the report notes. “There’s a common misconception that we’ll all need to develop highly technological or scientific skills to succeed. Yet while it will be necessary for people to work with technology, we’re also seeing a growing need for people to develop specialized skills for how they interact with each other. These include creativity, collaboration, and interpersonal dynamics, as well as skills related to specialized sales, Human Resources, care and education roles.”

What’s the best way to approach reskilling and upskilling a workforce? Several Training Top 125 winners and other companies, plus a few experts, offer their insights and best practices.

Personalized Learning Paths

At Training Top 125er Applied Materials, Inc., employees help managers determine the best ways for them to stay valuable to the company while fulfilling their own career goals. “Companywide initiative Appliedx PATHWAY allows our employees to plot personalized learning plans that link learning initiatives for each business group. The program provides specialized skills training based on job role and career categories,” says Director of Performance Improvement & Training Chuck Tully. “Those who enroll can select either their current job role (to increase in-role skills) or other job roles (to increase skills in preparation of a job-role transfer). Such courses include technical engineering, tool and service development, professional skills, as well as basic, intermediary, and advanced managerial development.”

Experts at Applied Materials develop the curriculum, and employees extend their training based on job-role recommendations. Employees determine the developmental path with their manager, providing opportunities to learn skills for their role and for career advancement. In addition to the internally developed curriculum, courses from Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, Get Abstract, Skillsoft, and more are available to further round out employees’ capabilities and spark new learning directions, Tully explains.

Once a development pathway is chosen, 20 to 30-plus hours of “expert-defined” coursework is assigned according to the employee’s job role. The employee selects additional enrichment training to bring the pathway to at least 40 hours for the year.

Tully says the personalized learning paths emphasize a culture of continuous growth. “With our employee-centric approach, we are generating a culture of lifelong learning. Our employee growth sustains our position as the global leader in materials engineering solutions, allowing our customers to transform their possibilities into reality.”

Job-Specific Competency Models

Training Top 125er ArcBest has carefully mapped out competencies for each job, according to Director of Learning Development David Kessler. “In the last two years, we have implemented job-specific competency models for every role in our organization,” Kessler says. “We partnered with IBM Watson Talent Frameworks to map our jobs to their job library, then worked with employees from each team to organize each job into an ArcBest job family and customize each job. Through this process, we have defined the critical skills for every role in our organization.”

The clearly defined requirements of each job allow managers to more effectively coach employees to attain the skills needed to achieve their career goals. “All of the competencies are defined, by proficiency level, into behavior statements. The proficiency levels help to define the career path within a job family and beyond,” Kessler explains. “The detailed behavior statements provide leaders with robust language for articulating skill gaps and development tips for those skills. These development tips, and associated training recommendations, can be easily added to each employee’s individual development plan.”

Job Shadowing for New Roles

At Training Top 125er AAA Northeast, job shadowing provides a way for employees to preview new career opportunities, and possibly move into those new roles, says Director of Employee Learning and Development, Human Resources, Keri Borba. “We have a job-shadow program whereby employees interested in different roles can shadow an experienced incumbent and learn more about the skills and abilities needed,” she relates. “The shadow program includes conversation with the seeker’s current manager, the HR business partner, and a hiring manager from the role the seeker is interested in. We also offer Career Exploration Workshops, which include discussion about skills and knowledge areas needed, and provide a look at ‘a day in the life.’”

Employees who are not interested in reskilling for a new job can easily tap resources to upskill in their current role. “We have a wide breadth of personal and professional development courses that are open to all employees to help them build skills to be even more effective in their current role. The classes offered range from technical training in Office 365 to courses focused on decision-making and breakthrough thinking,” Borba says. “Every course offered has a self-assessment or reflective exercise to encourage participants to think about their current day-to-day actions and responsibilities and consider how the skills or knowledge they just explored will help them to be more successful in their current role.”

Technology Skills Upgrade

The greatest impetus for employees to enhance skills or learn new ones often is technology. With the rapid pace of technological advancement in recent years, some employees and companies are turning to outside training providers for help. One such provider is Zip Code Wilmington, a nonprofit coding school in Wilmington, DE, that matches companies with trained, qualified, and diverse talent. These services are designed to enable corporate partners to remain competitive employers within the technology sector. “In recent years, Zip Code Wilmington has experienced a rise in the number of corporate partners who want to upskill their technology workforce,” says Executive Director Desa Burton. “These individuals go through the same application and interview process as other candidates to ensure they are the right fit for our immersive 12-week cohort experience. We’re seeing more and more companies that want to recruit, upskill, or reskill tech talent through Zip Code Wilmington. These are companies in the Delaware tech community, which comprises several large companies, including M&T Bank, CSC, and Marlette Funding, among others.”

Burton says it is worth it for a company to reskill or upskill an existing employee rather than look for a new one. “Current employees already know the corporate culture and values, procedures, goals, and strategy, so they are better able to quickly adapt and add value in a new tech role much faster, and to a greater extent, than a new employee,” she says. “Also, the cost associated with upskilling or reskilling an employee is many factors less than what it would take to bring on a new employee, which typically requires extensive onboarding costs, as well as months to a year of time on the job to adjust to the new environment.”

CSC, a leading provider of business, legal, tax, and digital brand services to companies around the globe, is one of the many companies that has worked with Zip Code Wilmington to update and enhance its employees’ skill sets. “One program we’re particularly excited about is our Pathways program,” says CSC Global Talent Management Leader Laura Gleason. “This program provides training opportunities for upskilling or reskilling employees to meet specific business needs. These programs, like Zip Code Wilmington, are a win-win. CSC retains critical business know-how and talented employees, while providing employees the opportunity to develop their career.”

CSC recently launched a Pathways program in partnership with Zip Code Wilmington, which offers a 12-week, full-time, intensive coding boot camp designed to teach participants about Java software development and better prepare them for a career in technology. “At the successful conclusion of the program, the employees will be placed in new technology roles at CSC,” Gleason says. “This Pathways program has opened the door to a new career path for our employees, and secured the needed technology talent to drive our business forward.”

Upskilling to Attain Better People Skills

It is common to think of reskilling or upskilling only as it pertains to technology, but some companies are finding the need for employees at all levels who are better equipped for frequent human interaction. “The need for these kinds of people skills exists at all levels, including individual contributor roles such as sales, customer service, nurses, insurance adjustors, and even on the factory floor,” says Bill Benjamin, partner, The Institute for Health and Human Potential (IHHP). “We’ve seen an increase in the number of hospitals and medical practices upskilling their physicians with people skills,” he says. “There are very few roles in organizations that don’t require the need to collaborate, innovate, and interact with others in order to be successful. In fact, with advances in technology, those are the roles that are left for humans.”

That is exactly what Katie McAllister, AVP, Talent and Leadership Development at CNA Insurance, an IHHP client, is finding. “In our current climate of rapid change and disruption, there is a lot of emphasis on upskilling and reskilling around technical skills. At CNA, we’re also thinking about how the role of a people leader is evolving as a result of digitization and changing employee needs and expectations. We’re working to upskill our people leaders to help them evolve at the right pace.”

To download the Training Top 10 Hall of Fame white paper on this topic, “Skill Building: Training the Workforce of Tomorrow,” visit:


  • Allow your employees to plot personalized learning plans that link learning initiatives for each business group at your company.
  • Implement job-specific competency models for every role in your organization. Doing this will help you define the critical skills for every job role.
  • Use job shadowing to provide a way for employees to preview new career opportunities, and possibly move into those new roles.
  • Provide outside training to help employees keep pace with the technological advancements of recent years. You can help them stay relevant to their current job roles, or move up to new positions
  • Offer programs that provide training opportunities for upskilling or reskilling to meet specific business needs, so employees know exactly what jobs will be available to them if they enhance their skills.
  • Use reskilling or upskilling to develop employees at all levels who are better equipped for frequent human interaction. Enhanced collaboration skills might take them even further than enhanced technological capabilities.


A Focus on What Customers Care About Paves the Way to Reskilling Workers
By Camille Flaherty, Global Talent Development Manager, Moog Inc.

Moog Inc. is a worldwide designer, manufacturer, and integrator of precision control components and systems. Simply put, we make technologies like valves and actuators that move everything from theme park rides to flight simulators and automotive test systems.

Technical training resides inside our business lines. When we talk about reskilling, we think of it as an approach to cross-train people. For several years now, we’ve been on a mission of continuous improvement inspired by the Toyota Motor lean manufacturing concept. For Moog, the goal with lean initiatives is improving on-time delivery of technology for customers, boosting quality, and improving profitability

As we’ve undertaken lean initiatives at our industrial facilities around the world, we’ve looked for bottlenecks— practices or processes that-would stop the how of machining or assembling our solutions. We knew that some of our machining and assembly operations happened in series, meaning one worker would undertake, say, steps 1 through 5 and then pass the work-piece on to another worker who handled steps 6 through 10. By cross-training workers to handle many steps in the machining or assembly process, we’re able to improve productivity and broaden a worker’s skill set.

The lesson for Learning and Development professionals is that cross-training, or reskilling, requires a shift in culture, too. Our cross-training program was part of adopting the continuous improvement mindset, so it’s important for managers to put change into the context of some greater good for the worker and the company. Change is more challenging for some people. But when people understand why they’re being asked to change how they’ve always done something, then the overall effort stands a much better chance of succeeding.

One way to put that into context for the worker you’re trying to cross-train, and gain buy-in from, is to start by framing the discussion with the customer’s needs. In other words, ask, “What do customers care about?” In Moog’s case, we have industrial customers who care about short delivery times, so we want to help them by removing bottlenecks in our process.

Theoretically, that change management approach should work for any employer, whether it is a manufacturer, financial services firm, or any other type of company.


Filling the Future Skills Pipeline
By Ashish Rangnekar, CEO, BenchPrep

Upskilling and reskilling are top-level executive issues as employees are starting to identify training and development as the top job benefit, even ahead of flexible work hours and cash bonuses. Companies must ensure the workforce is not only qualified and prepared to fill the jobs that are currently available, but those that will be created in the future. Here are some tips to help organizations prepare

1. Adopt digital tools to increase the effectiveness of learning programs. Many digital learning platforms in the market today can help companies provide employees with access to omnichannel learning programs. Some platforms are able to provide insights for each employee so you can track their learning and development (L&D) progress as they move through courses. Easily accessible learning programs also encourage ongoing learning that naturally leads to higher knowledge retention.

2. Think about what new generations demand in L&D. Millennials make up 35 percent of the workforce and are demanding an experience that aligns with their day-to-day lives. They want immediate feedback, so they know instantly what areas they have mastered, what they need to revisit, their progress to the finish line, and how much time they have until the next assessment to stay on track.

3. Train in bite-sized learning segments. Rather than studying in silos, today’s learners want to leverage the power of their peers, using online discussion groups that offer the collaboration of a classroom course, along with gamification that provides friendly competition and motivation. We also are seeing learners wanting to learn more exclusively in bite-sized learning segments, so learning on-the-go and studying productively in short bursts of time is feasible whenever they find 15 minutes during the day to study.

4. Offer professional development stipends from outside sources. This can come from external sources that allow for employee upskilling in areas the organization doesn’t have the resources to offer training. Employees can stay well-informed about new developments within their respective fields from third parties and bring skills back to the organization that yield immediate ROI through knowledge sharing with peers and instant application.


Reskilling/Upskilling Temperature Check

TalentLMS, Training Journal, and Workable surveyed 282 training and hiring managers, C-level executives, and decision-makers in various companies to see why they decided to reskill or upskill their workforce and how beneficial it’s been to business. Then they reached out to 400 full-time employees in the U.S. between the ages of18 and 54-plus to ask them about their employers’ upskilling and reskilling training initiatives.

Highlights include:

  • 43 percent of companies stepped up their upskilling and reskilling efforts after the Coronavirus outbreak.
  • Employers cited communication/collaboration (57 percent), leadership (54 percent), proactive thinking (50 percent), and agility/adaptability/ability to pivot (45 percent) as the most important soft skills lacking in their employees.
  • Some 66 percent of employees think hard skills training would help them advance more than softskills training.
  • 74 percent of employees believe their managers need upskilling or reskilling.
  • 91 percentofcompaniesand81 percentof-employees say upskilling and reskilling training has boosted productivity at work.
  • 68 percent of companies invest in upskilling and reskilling training to handle changes within the organization and 65 percent to train employees on new technologies.
  • 20 percent of employees received their training solely online compared with 11 percent doing it entirely offline. Some 69.5 percent of employees received a combination of online and offline training.
  • Although reskilling and upskilling training is considered important, only 35 percent of employers have an official upskilling/reskilling program in place, with the majority (65 percent) delivering it on a case-by-case basis.

It appears satisfaction, interest, and investment from companies in employee upskilling/reskilling training might depend on the employee’s age and career stage in life. According to the survey findings:

  • Upskilling and reskilling are highest among younger age groups and lower among older groups—which might mean that when it comes to this type of training, companies might be willing to invest in younger generations.
  • More young people (ages 18to 44) have pursued training in addition to what their employers have offered since the Coronavirus outbreak.
  • Employees between the ages of 18 and 24 are leastsat- isfied with the amount ofupskilling and reskilling training their employers offer.
  • There is also a difference between the types of skills employees are looking to acquire. More specifically, those ages 25 to 44 say they prefer to spend time on hard skills, while all other age groups prefer to spend more timeon soft skills development.

Employee vs. Employer Perceptions

With skills gaps threatening the business world, upskilling/ reskilling training has become an essential stage in the employee training cycle. Today, in the middle of this once- in-a-lifetime crisis, both employers and employees have stepped up their efforts since the lockdown left employees with much more time on their hands.

However, while employers are looking to address missing skills to increase performance, employees are trying to use upskilling and reskilling training to grow within their companyand achieve greater compensation. However, while productivity and performance have increased due to reskilling/upskilling training, companies note that employee advancement rarely results.

Last but not least, apart from the existing skills gaps, a gap between what employers and employees think is also prominent. Managers believe employees lack skills that employees think they excel in, while 74 percent of employees say their managers need upskilling/reskilling training. This finding suggests that it’s high time companies measured skills gaps, so they can have a complete overview of what skills they need to target.

To view the full survey results, visit:

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.