January 9, 2019

3 Tips for Upskilling Employees in Fast-Changing Fields


As companies strive to compete in today’s digital ecosystem, HR departments are facing two major hurdles in staffing workplaces.

First, the low unemployment rate has created a shallow candidate pool. Second, the skills employees currently hold are quickly becoming irrelevant as new technologies and processes are introduced, leading to widening talent gaps.

Skills shortages impact almost every industry, but they have proven especially problematic in fast-moving industries where new technologies, tools, and processes arise regularly. This leaves recruiters constantly searching for candidates who have the skills current employees lack.

With a limited pool of talent to choose from, HR departments need to find better solutions to closing the skills gap. One alternative to hiring new talent is upskilling current employees through regular training sessions. Upskilling employees not only helps companies fill hard-to-fill positions, but it is also an effective way to boost morale and ensure employees stay relevant in a constantly evolving industry.

Here are three things to keep in mind when developing a training program for your fast-moving industry:

1. Make It Relevant

Take a look at the roles and responsibilities document for each employee level and adjust it to better fit your business’s current requirements. This will give you a clear understanding of where the gaps in your workforce are. Using this information, you can create training initiatives that specifically target those gaps. Be sure to outline how each of the skills you’re targeting is applicable to the employee, and share examples of where they will use it in their jobs.

If you only offer training based on what the company needs and not what employees want, you could end up actually damaging employee engagement and morale. It is critical to ask employees about the professional development they desire and incorporate it into your program alongside trainings that cultivate the skills your company seeks.

2. Make It Important

Upskilling isn’t an overnight project. It is a long-term investment that requires foresight into what your organization will need down the road. To get a clear picture of your company’s future, you’ll need engagement from senior leadership. Participating in training programs must be a priority for the leadership team, and it should be communicated to employees as a priority as well. Training takes time, so employees must get started now in order to see results within a reasonable time frame.

3. Make It Personal

A successful training is one that relies on engaging lesson plans that align with the abilities and learning styles of all trainees. When designing lessons, consider incorporating the following to ensure your program has a wide, effective reach:

  1. Individualized Learning: Individualized learning can increase engagement and retention and open the door to continuous learning and growth. While this may sound cumbersome, it doesn’t need to be. Simply provide employees with a variety of ways to engage with and learn the material. For example, employees could choose between reading the lesson in a workbook or listening to a lecture. When employees have options, they can choose the methods that work best for them.
  2. Bite-Sized Learning: Full days of training can be hard manage on top of already demanding workloads. Breaking up lessons into one-hour sessions can make them easier to digest while granting employees ample time to handle their work tasks. Another strategy is to use microlearning: breaking lessons into 3-5 minute chunks of information, usually delivered online. Microlearning integrates easily into a normal workday and can incorporate elements such as gamification, apps, and whiteboard animations.
  3. Gamification: Gamification taps the human desire to achieve goals in order to motivate learning. Gamified training, which incorporates games and competitions into training materials, can be an effective way to capture attention and incentivize participation.

Investing in your employees is one of the smartest business decisions you can make, especially in a fast-moving industry where employees’ skill sets can easily grow obsolete. Upskilling programs show employees that you value them and support the longevity for their careers. Moreover, these programs also give your company access to hard-to-find skills without having to spend tons of time and money in a fiercely competitive talent market.

Kellie Teal-Guess is chief people officer at CyrusOne.

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Kellie Teal-Guess is an executive vice president and chief people office at CyrusOne. She brings many years of industry experience working in high-tech, fast-growing companies and has a strong background in HR, M&A integration, talent management, organizational design, change management, and HR automation. Kellie oversees all areas of human resources and is responsible for managing the company's most critical resources: our team. In addition, she is responsible for internal real estate for the company.