Sharpening one’s skills is key to growing one’s career path, maintaining an edge over the competition, and bringing added value to the business. This is why many organizations implement regular upskilling cycles, to keep employees at the top of their game. It’s especially important in today’s technology-focused, modernized workforce–regardless of the industry. The challenge becomes, how do companies deliver targeted upskilling programs regardless of organizational scale?

What Is Upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of increasing existing skills to an optimal level. 

The word “optimal” is a difficult benchmark to measure. That’s because the rate of change in important workplace skills is more rapid today than ever before. According to Accenture, the disruption of workplace skills reached a whopping 183% over the past four years. 

The result is that organizations need to completely revamp employee skillsets almost twice since 2019 because so many new abilities are required. Certainly, this effort would not have been necessary if companies had known in advance what training was needed – but they didn’t, and still don’t really know. In other words, making skills optimal means constantly keeping track of what skills are essential right now. 

There is also a growing understanding of the need for upskilling programs that are personalized and focus on soft skills. A “one size fits all” upskilling strategy generally fails to improve an individual worker’s abilities because, within each type of skill, there are certain areas where an employee is already proficient and others where they are not. 

For example, an employee who needs to improve their teamwork skills might be fantastic at critical thinking but not so good at problem-solving. Sending them to teamwork training programs that cover both skills is a waste of resources, while customized courses optimize the abilities that each employee needs. 

Why Is Upskilling Important?

One way of looking at the benefits of upskilling is to contemplate what happens to an organization that ignores it. When reading authoritative sources like the World Economic Forum, and their heavy emphasis on training entire societies for the future, such an attitude is basically unthinkable. Any company that wishes merely to survive must have a strategy for upskilling employees. So, as long as you need to upskill anyway, your company might as well do a good job of it and enjoy more of the resulting advantages. 

Better Competitiveness

Many organizations have come to realize the link between upskilling and survival. This is one of the reasons why expenditure on workplace learning and development programs continues to rise, and exceeded USD 100 billion in the US for the first time in 2022. Companies that implemented upskilling strategies early, and which have made them a part of organizational culture, stand a higher chance of obtaining better levels of competitiveness than late entrants.  

Increased Productivity 

The value of L&D programs, including efforts to upskill employees, should be justified by measurable benefits. According to HR Digest, organizations that invest in professional development can experience a 24% increase in productivity. 

Comprehensive Reinforcement

By maintaining a broad spectrum of upskilling initiatives, businesses can generate a comprehensive reinforcement of skill levels. However, whereas hard skills are a traditional focus of upskilling, there is growing recognition of the importance of soft skills to the general health of the organization. Given that the demand for specific soft skills is constantly changing, initiating an upskilling cycle for soft skills is just as essential as that for hard skills. 

Improved Adaptability

The rapid rate of change in employee skills is part of even larger trends. Gartner predicts that major workplace trends in 2024 will include return-to-office (RTO), the increased usage of artificial intelligence, and new forms of relationships between managers and employees. Each of these movements will demand certain skills from the workforce. Looking at the above trends, RTO depends on good time management; AI applications require programming skills; and good employee-manager connections benefit from emotional intelligence and communication abilities. In sum, these changes mean that both leaders and employees must build adaptive skills, while HR teams will need to move towards a continuous learning routine in order to deal with these profound developments.   

Employee Retention 

One of the results of upskilling should be internal mobility (it’s interesting to note that rates of internal mobility have increased in the past few years as companies realize its benefits for skill retention and engagement). Obviously, when employees have access to professional growth initiatives like upskilling programs, they are more prepared to move into senior roles. But there are many more perks beyond succession planning. Companies that reward efforts to upskill employees enjoy better retention than those that do not. With greater retention, organizations enjoy numerous advantages, including higher loyalty, lower hiring costs, and an improved organizational culture. Conversely, when employees leave, an organization will suffer from an immediate skill gap related to the cumulative experience of the former worker.  

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a complex subject because “engagement” is an attitude towards work that is difficult to measure. Still, upskilling, and L&D in general, involves numerous facets that promote engagement:

  • When an organization invests in career development (instead of external recruiting), it demonstrates to employees that the company is serious about increasing employees’ abilities and moving them into new roles.
  • Employees who have an optimal level of skill feel more confident in their professional growth and abilities and are more engaged than workers who are not competent and therefore frustrated. 
  • For the right candidates, upskilling programs provide an opportunity to try something new, leading to more interesting tasks, a professional challenge, and a move away from routine.

For reasons such as these, 92% of employees state that well-planned upskilling and other employee training programs boost their engagement level.  

A Note on Reskilling

Some organizations consider upskilling and reskilling to be synonymous, but this is not quite right. Whereas upskilling adds to existing skills, reskilling trains employees in new skills that are applied to new areas, for example, when an employee moves to a different department. 

Getting Started on Upskilling

The recommended process for implementing an upskilling program is to begin with a skills gap analysis. If your company is under pressure to improve skills rapidly, chances are that you know the areas of weakness. But for companies that have time to plan, a skills gap analysis is the best way to comprehensively understand what needs improvement. Some organizations find this process so crucial that they conduct an analysis on a quarterly basis–but the usual minimum is once a year. 

The three phases of a skills gap analysis are positions, processes, and programs. 


The goal of this step is to form a map or organizational chart of all of the employee positions in the company, and then add new roles that need to be filled until the start of the next analysis cycle. Connecting this process to organizational strategy and the needs of managers will ensure that you have consulted important stakeholders and accounted for projected human resource requirements. 


Imagine the “positions” phase as giving you a list of roles; the “processes” step involves filling in the skills related to those roles. You can collect a “skills inventory” by looking at job descriptions, reviewing employee evaluations, and speaking with managers to get feedback about the skills of specific workers. Once this phase is done, you will have a list of skills according to those that meet requirements; are totally missing; need urgent development; and need eventual development.


To fill in the gaps represented by these last three cases, HR can hire externally, promote internally, or arrange for upskilling programs. 

Methods of Upskilling

At times, upskilling needs to be accomplished in a hurry. If your organization has a glaring skill gap in a critical area, then the most efficient training method should be applied. However, “efficient” does not need to mean boring. L&D professionals are constantly discovering new methods of upskilling that maximize knowledge retention, require minimal resources, and can even be enjoyable. Any given upskilling strategy might involve a mixture of different settings. 

Nowhere is this truer than with regard to younger generations. They are far more accustomed to mobile devices, active learning, and “microlearning”, which involves very short sessions of instruction and testing. Expressed in general terms, you should look into upskilling programs that involve a combination of:

Instructional Courses

It can be a good idea to start an upskilling course with the basics, delivered in text and/or multimedia form. In many instances, this material can be found pre-packaged and online through organizations such as AIHR, Udacity, and Udemy. Leading universities also provide upskilling courses. For instance, Harvard University offers online courses in leadership skills for free.  

Hands-On Learning

Once an employee has a theoretical basis for upskilling, the next step is often application. It’s simple to evaluate hard skills through a test or practical work exercise, but this becomes more of a challenge for soft skills. In such cases, however, there are numerous options for giving the employee some experience in using a new skill while assessing their performance at the same time, for instance:

Coaching and Mentoring

Particularly for complex soft skills such as leadership and communication, coaches and mentors are often the best way to go. A quality workplace coach will be experienced in recognizing specific challenges faced by employees. Similarly, they are usually proficient at enhancing worker performance, often by becoming an unbiased sounding board and by acting as an accountability partner. Mentors can add to this training by having specific knowledge of what is expected by the employees within their organization.   

The Challenges of Upskilling 

Upskilling is a daunting task for L&D departments. They need to decide what kinds of skills need upgrading, find experts to teach those skills, and assess the results of their efforts. This task becomes all the more complex as the size of the organization increases. A major factor in this difficulty is the common inability of L&D departments to recognize the exact areas of skill development for each employee. In addition, due to rapidly changing demands for professional skills, L&D departments are not always up to date on which skills are priorities for upskilling courses. 

Growthspace and Upskilling Initiatives 

Growthspace is the solution that world-class companies are turning to for their upskilling needs. Due to its technology-based platform, Growthspace allows L&D practitioners to precisely define upskilling requirements on an individual level. Then, Growthspace’s global database of top coaches, mentors, and trainers allows companies to deliver the most timely and relevant upskilling initiatives. Finally, with its proprietary and intuitive assessment methods, Growthspace allows HR to grade the effect and quality of the upskilling program. 

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