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What is reskilling?

By Casey Pechan
November 10, 2021
4 minute read

Even before COVID-19, digital transformation was shrinking the half-life of skills and shifting emphasis from specific technical skills to soft skills like adaptability and agility. 

The pandemic accelerated that transformation, prompting businesses to rethink when, where and how we work and causing the gap between the skills we have and the skills we need to grow.

There is a genuine urgency to turn strategy into reality and close the skills gaps. This is no small task. A 2019 report from IBM predicted that, by 2022, over 120 million workers will need reskilling to keep up with the pace of change. 

So what is reskilling and how can you implement it within your team?

Reskilling vs. upskilling: First, it’s important to distinguish between upskilling and reskilling. Upskilling programs level up existing skills or teach new ones along a set career path. A middle manager, for example, might level up their leadership skills to move into upper management. 

Reskilling, on the other hand, takes shifting job roles into account. Blue-collar roles in mining, for example, are being replaced by automation. To maintain the workforce and institutional knowledge, those employees need to be reskilled to fill new roles overseeing automation and AI.

Is reskilling necessary for your employees?

Your company’s need for reskilling depends heavily on your sector. Blue-collar roles are most likely to be affected by automation and digital transformation. Industries like mining, manufacturing, energy, and even retail are rapidly evolving as new technological advances are being made.

Knowledge workers are less susceptible to losing jobs to automation, although AI and machine learning are transforming that landscape, too. Progressive, agile companies across sectors are laying the groundwork now for comprehensive reskilling and development programs to keep their best talent engaged and up-to-date.

What is the best way to determine if employees need to be retrained?

First, look externally at larger industry trends. How do you anticipate skills and jobs evolving in your sector? Stay in the loop to see how your competitors are changing roles to meet evolving customer needs.

Look internally at your existing job architecture as well. Develop a reskilling definition specific to your workforce. What roles are most likely to be eliminated or drastically changed by digital transformation? These employees are priority candidates for reskilling.

Why is reskilling important?

Without reskilling, your roles — and employees’ skills — will remain stagnant, and that takes a significant toll on your bottom line. Investing in reskilling and training programs will better equip you to handle waves of change as they happen.

Without reskilling, you’ll have to find the talent with the skills you need externally. Even in a thriving labor market, this is challenging and costly. 

Developing a culture of learning and reskilling also supports organizational agility. If you can evaluate the state of change to predict its impact on roles at your company and begin designing programs to reskill employees, you’ll be able to flex with change instead of bending and breaking.

5 Benefits of Reskilling Employees

Reskilling leads to numerous benefits for both employees and the organization.

Reduce Training and Hiring Costs

Cultivating the skills you need internally saves time and money. It preserves valuable institutional knowledge as well. Effective talent management today depends on continuous skills development. Achieving a culture of learning supports that goal.

Helps You Keep Your Top Employees

Reskilling improves employee retention by preventing your employees’ learning experiences from growing stale. Reskilling keeps valuable talent engaged and invested.

Keep Stable Employment

Building a reskilling framework forces you to be intentional about your job pathways and how roles will evolve. Being able to see those pathways minimizes the fear employees have of being replaced by automation.

Helps You Discover New Talents

Reskilling pathways aren’t necessarily linear or vertical. Employees can make lateral moves to find where they can reach their full potential. Giving employees the opportunity to learn new skills in different parts of the business helps employers gain a better sense of existing talent.

Helps You Build More Versatile Employees

When employees get the opportunity for internal mobility and reskilling, they amass additional skill sets. These include essential “soft” skills, such as emotional intelligence or agility. This supports a more resilient workforce where employees are cross-trained and can work across silos.

Establishing Reskilling Programs

How do you organize and create a reskilling program? Begin by identifying the talent you need in both the short and long terms. What changes do you expect the future of work to bring to your sector and company?

Pinpointing the talent you need depends on your business goals. Start with the overall business strategy and decide where you want to go. Then look at the roles and job pathways you need to modify or create to reach your business goals. What skills will those roles require? Work with operational leaders to identify current skills gaps and future needs.

Set clear goals for the program, develop metrics for measuring its success, and identify candidates for a pilot program. Work with your learning and development team to design reskilling programming for your pilot program. 

Don’t be afraid to fail, particularly if it happens quickly; as long as you learn from your early attempts, failure is nearly as valuable as success. Iterate and refine your reskilling program until you reach your goals in the pilot, and then roll the program out on a larger scale.

How long does reskilling take?

The time required to reskill an employee depends heavily on the scope of the role’s transformation, as well as the individual employee’s personal agility and adaptability.  Reskilling results in a move into a new or evolved role, so expect reskilling to take a similar length of time to new hire training for employees.

Since one of the principles of reskilling is life-long learning, the program never really ends. By cultivating a culture where employees are always seeking to learn and grow, you can prolong their productivity, increase their engagement and achieve strategic business priorities.

Reskilling is an integral part of a future-oriented human capital strategy. To implement reskilling in your company, you need the support of effective performance management software. All enterprise performance management tools aren’t created equal. You need performance management software that makes reskilling pathways visible and tracks employee progress.

With the right infrastructure in place, your company can stay ahead of the reskilling revolution.