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Corporate Strategies

What is upskilling and what are the benefits?

General Assembly
August 1, 2022

Digital transformation has created opportunities and challenges for corporate leaders. Ways of doing business have changed dramatically. Today, consumers want to engage and transact with brands digitally, which has led to massive investment in technology. Yet the workforce’s skills have not kept up at the same pace, leaving businesses playing catch up as they race to hire the right talent to meet consumers’ demand for modern experiences.

According to Statista, global investment in digital transformation is expected to nearly double from $1.8 trillion in 2022 to $2.8 trillion in 2025, which will only serve to widen this skills gap. As companies continue to struggle to find the right technical talent from external sources, they are increasingly turning to upskilling their existing workforces to fill needed roles.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is when an employee learns new skills that enable them to advance in their career. For example, an individual contributor might learn data skills so they can be promoted into a management role. Upskilling shouldn’t be confused with reskilling, in which an employee learns new skills that enable them to transition into an entirely different role.

When it comes to digital transformation, upskilling is a powerful tool that will help your business realize the full potential of its technology investments. According to the World Economic Forum, 54% of all employees require significant upskilling. However, for many businesses, upskilling strategies are missing the mark. Often, this is because they make the mistake of rolling out large libraries of asynchronous learning without a road map or context, putting the onus on their employees to figure it out on their own.

Like all investments, upskilling must be thoughtful and strategic. Business leaders should strive to tie upskilling initiatives to the company’s strategic objectives and goals. For example, if your organization is making a major push to become more data-driven, upskilling can help employees gain the data skills they need to advance this goal. If your company is looking to increase diversity in management, upskilling programs can help foster talent from different backgrounds. Tying upskilling to specific tools your business intends to leverage can be another way to ensure learning efforts support broader organizational goals.

What are the benefits of upskilling?

1. Upskilling helps you access key skills from your existing employees.

Skills gaps pose a direct threat to companies’ ability to innovate and remain competitive. According to one survey from PwC, 55% of CEOs concerned about skills gaps identified being unable to innovate effectively as a potential impact. Other potential impacts included negative effects on quality standards and customer experience, the inability to pursue market opportunities and canceled or delayed key strategic initiatives.

For example, BNP Paribas has an overall goal of being a tech-driven company, and they began working with General Assembly in 2018 to create their upskilling program. According to Chief Digital & Acceleration Officer Nathalie Doré, people are the company’s most important assets. So, as the leader in creditor insurance, BNP Paribas knew building a culture of continuous learning for its 8,000 global employees would be key to retaining its competitive edge. The company has already trained more than 900 unique participants from all over the world and throughout the business, from operations to finance, accounting, and marketing and communications.

Upskilling is more than a learning and development benefit for employees—it’s an essential tactic that will support your business’s long-term strategy and future ability to grow and remain competitive.

2. It improves employee satisfaction and retention.

As The Great Resignation continues, employee engagement and retention have become major focuses for corporate leadership. With Gen Z and Millennial employees more likely to rank “lack of career progress” among their top reasons for leaving a job, upskilling is one way to demonstrate to your employees that you are invested in them and their career growth. As Doré from BNP Paribas put it, “knowing they can learn new skills without having to leave their job encourages people to think differently about what they can do in the company and what their career path could be.”

While some leaders may fear that training workers in more advanced skills could lead them to seek employment elsewhere, the data shows the opposite to be true. Companies who invest in developing in-house talent see an incredible boost in employee engagement and loyalty. For example, Booz Allen Hamilton invested in reskilling and upskilling 5,000 workers across more than 80 locations, which drove 11% growth in employee job satisfaction and retention. Similarly, a LinkedIn study found that employees at organizations with internal mobility programs that upskill, reskill and invest in existing employee bases stay at their companies nearly 2x longer.

3. It helps attract new, diverse talent.

Not only will upskilling improve retention of your current workforce, but it will also help you attract new talent. Today’s candidates are spoiled for choice when it comes to companies hiring, and for many, picking an employer that will offer opportunities for continued learning and growth is paramount. According to one study, 83% of office workers wish their employer would provide more upskilling opportunities.

As more candidates value diversity and companies who put action behind diversity pledges, upskilling is also a way to demonstrate measurable investment in bringing diverse talent into more technical and leadership positions.

Additionally, when you have a robust upskilling strategy in place, you can stop competing for the most expensive candidates and instead hire for potential. If less qualified candidates have the foundational skills and motivation to learn, they’ll thrive at an organization that has the infrastructure in place to evolve their skills.

Close your skills gap with General Assembly

Upskilling is key to unlocking your employees’ potential, but not all upskilling programs are created equal. It’s tempting to roll out a large library of content for employees to start learning at their own pace, but without tying learning to business goals or being clear about objectives, it’s rarely effective.

We’ve worked with some of today’s top enterprises, like Macy’s and Sage AI, to successfully upskill their employees and we’d love to help you, too.

If you’re interested in working with us on
your upskilling strategy, get in touch.

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