People, Planning, and Platforms: How to Build an Effective Upskilling Strategy in the New Normal

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Skills, knowledge, and expertise are essential elements of any organization’s success, and they require constant training, development, and refinement. That’s why so many organizations have been reviewing their internal skill availability amid the upheavals of the pandemic. With the economy on shaky ground, the firms that thrive most are those willing to embrace upskilling as a key business strategy.

And yet, an astonishing 74 percent of CEOs are concerned about a lack of key skills in their companies, according to PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey. 

Upskilling a workforce isn’t without its difficulties, but organizational leaders can and must craft strategies that help their companies reach this goal. Skill availability isn’t fixed. Rather, it is dynamic and depends on the kinds of opportunities managers create for their workers.

Companies can cultivate expertise and knowledge in their workplaces as long as they have the right policies, strategies, and technologies in place. Here’s how:

Build a Map to Skill Discovery

Training programs are often delivered to mixed results, especially in their first iterations. However, careful preplanning can bolster the likelihood of successful outcomes. The key is to ensure that your training program targets the right skills — and the right employees who should learn those skills.

Through competitor research and future forecasting, identify the kinds of expertise your company will need to thrive in the coming months and years. Ideally, the skills you identify should be connected to some sort of concrete business goals. For example: What skills will help drive profitability or improve customer care?

After you have identified the skills you want to cultivate, you need to build training sessions to deliver these key skills to key members of your workforce. You should prioritize upskilling efforts for those employees who already have valuable expertise and already hold vital roles. Also, consider which of your employees have room to grow in or beyond their existing roles; this will help ensure you cultivate the right skills at the right stages in your employees’ career paths.

It’s a good idea to involve your HR department in your preplanning, as they can help you refine your upskilling policies and identify opportunities for increased skill-sharing and training. HR can also help you build out a company compensation and benefits scheme that incentivizes upskilling and career development, which in turn makes your employees more likely to engage seriously with your training programs.

Reflect on Your Lessons

Effective upskilling doesn’t end when the training session is done. In fact, employees are more likely to retain their new knowledge  when they have opportunities to put their new skills to use in their everyday work.

Give your team members regular opportunities to apply their newly acquired skills, perhaps by assigning them to new projects or allowing them to shadow more senior team members who regularly use those skills. Not only will this encourage more knowledge retention, but it can also improve employee engagement. When employees feel like they can use their new skills to meaningfully contribute to the organization, they’ll feel more like an essential part of the team.

After every training session, give attendees a chance to reflect on their key takeaways and offer their feedback. This process does help employees further digest their new knowledge, but it also contributes to building a better learning culture overall. When employees share their thoughts on the highs and lows of a training program, managers can then use that feedback to strengthen future programs, thereby increasing the overall effectiveness of your upskilling strategy.

Embrace the Right Technology

The best tool for skill discovery is human engagement. That said, you can and should use the right technology to support your upskilling efforts. With the pandemic keeping us all apart, tech is especially important to effective upskilling right now.

Communication tools like Microsoft Teams help keep people connected, but they also facilitate opportunities for people to learn from one another through collaboration. Similarly, organizations can leverage the videoconferencing tools they’re already using to deliver mentoring, coaching, and seminar-style learning opportunities to employees. Consider recording training content so that employees can rewatch and revisit it on their own time.

Online learning platforms like MasterClass and LinkedIn Learning can also be helpful ways to deliver training content, especially for organizations that lack the resources to create their own programs from scratch. Additionally, these formalized online learning platforms also offer tools for employees to monitor their progress, which helps keep them focused on mastering new skills.

Finally, don’t forget about tools designed to help employees learn about specific technologies your company uses. For example, Salesforce offers an app  that helps users experiment with different capabilities of the Salesforce platform. See if any of your tech vendors offer similar tools or programs.

Steven Cox is chief evangelist at IRIS FMP.

By Steven Cox