Upskilling is a win-win for employers and employees

Employees are keen to learn new skills. That is a positive for business leaders

Alistair CoxThe importance of employee upskilling has been heightened since the pandemic. The world of work has changed faster and in more fundamental ways than any of us have experienced before. However, the speed at which digital transformation has taken place has not been matched by the supply of talent available for these roles.

This is a problem affecting business leaders in all sectors and industries. As automation takes over the delivery of repetitive tasks, employers, rather than constantly seeking new talent, ideally want their existing workforce to upskill their capabilities to ensure they can contribute to more specialized roles.

In addition, employees are just as keen to make sure their careers continue to grow by actively seeking ways to develop their own skills. Getting this right means that employers get to retain their existing talent, and employee engagement and satisfaction with their employers increase.

Meanwhile, sustainability continues to be a priority for all of us. At my company, Hays, we have found that growing awareness in the finance sector is driving a significant increase in the number of roles focusing on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), while the need for skills around data management is increasingly important in the Green Economy. If candidates with the relevant knowledge are in short supply, upskilling the current workforce is an obvious and essential solution.

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With all of this in mind, Hays and e-learning supplier Go1 conducted a global survey to understand the learning mindset of both employers and employees. We asked both groups questions about their Attitude, Aptitude and Availability to learning new skills, to see if they were on the same page or if there was a disconnect on this all-important issue.

Despite the benefits of upskilling the current workforce, our study found that there was indeed a disconnect between the views of workers and their employers. Here are three areas of the report that really stood out to me.

  1. Employers were not always aware of their employees’ willingness to upskill. We found that 83 per cent of workers said they were “very much” open to learning and upskilling, while only 48 per cent of employers answered the same for their workforce. Are employers underestimating their employees, or are workers failing to communicate their wishes effectively?

Chris Eigeland, Go1 co-founder, said: “Our research clearly illustrates that people are eager to learn new skills. They recognize that upskilling, reskilling, and continual growth are the keys to job promotion, greater job satisfaction, and more career options.

“And we know that companies (which) are not doing enough to nurture their people are experiencing high levels of employee turnover and burnout, while also struggling to attract future talent.”

  1. Employers rated their employee training and learning resources far greater than the workers. A little over half of employees confirmed they had adequate access to learning materials from their companies, compared to 78 per cent of the employers. In fact, 25 per cent of workers said they were not satisfied with the upskilling offer from their company.

Eigeland: “Online learning has utterly transformed the way we upskill, providing people with the training they need to succeed within a workplace culture of learning. Employers can now adapt their training programs to fit their employees’ needs.

“Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, HR professionals and (learning and development) managers should look into personalizing training so it’s tailored to each employee’s personal needs and goals.”

  1. When we asked whether organizations had offered more learning resources because of the pandemic, there was a clear disconnect between the groups, with employers twice as likely as employees to say they had.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of organizations claimed to have offered more learning resources since the pandemic, but only 23 per cent of employees agreed. While trends such as digital transformation and skills shortages were visible before 2020, there can be no denying the pandemic’s role in accelerating these trends. Upskilling the workforce is a solution, but it would seem employers and employees disagree about the impact of the pandemic on their learning strategies.

So what can business leaders do to rectify the situation?

  1. Embed learning into your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

The appetite to upskill is clearly there.

Business leaders should work with their HR teams to embed learning into their Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Doing so will ensure you benefit from a satisfied workforce with the right skills.

As my colleague, Sandra Henke, wrote: “According to research conducted by education service provider Lorman, “59 per cent of millennials claim development opportunities are extremely important when deciding whether to apply for a position”, while “76 per cent of millennials believe professional development opportunities are one of the most important aspects of company culture”.

Failing to include learning in your EVP can result in you struggling to retain and attract talent.

  1. Build a mentorship scheme

Our report found that mentorship schemes were largely underutilized but, when implemented, proved to be popular. Only 21 per cent of employees and 39 per cent of employers said there was a mentorship programme at their organisations; however, 66 per cent of workers and 76 per cent of employers who said they did have a scheme in place were satisfied with it.

On top of this, the pandemic did not negatively impact mentorships. In fact, half of employers said the pandemic had a positive impact on the scheme. This compares to just 18 per cent of employees and 20 per cent of organizations who said the pandemic had a negative impact on their mentorship programme.

Mentoring is particularly useful for junior employees, and the benefits are mutual! Shane Little, Managing Director, Enterprise Solutions, said: “Setting up mentoring, or more informally, buddy systems within an organization isn’t a one-way stream of information. By encouraging executive levels of the business to create frameworks around intersecting with junior employees, leaders can also gain valuable insights into how the next generation is thinking and feeling about their work.

“In essence, knowledge sharing across all levels benefits junior employees by empowering them with greater levels of context; executives by giving them insights into how their next customers are thinking; and businesses as a whole by ensuring invaluable (intellectual property) is spread across the entire workforce.”

  1. Set learning-based development plans

Our report found that 65 per cent of employers stated they encouraged their workforce to improve their skills regularly during office hours. On top of this, 81 per cent of employers surveyed said they would hire someone with the intention of upskilling them on the job. However, only 27 per cent of employees said they had clear development plans set by their employer that included upskilling.

Creating clear development plans with your employees could help with some of the disconnect we have seen in our study. Open communication to determine your employees’ preferred learning methods will also ensure you are providing the best possible solutions.

The fact that employees are keen to learn new skills and place such importance on continuous learning is a positive that business leaders must tap into. Digital transformation is not slowing down, while skills shortages are still prevalent. If we can get our upskilling strategies right, the benefit will be there for both employers and employees.

Alistair Cox is Chief Executive of Hays plc

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