Workplaces worldwide are going through an upskilling and reskilling revolution driven by digitalization, and a persistent shortage of qualified IT professionals is spurring new initiatives in these areas.
According to LinkedIn's Workplace Learning Report, 72% of learning and development (L&D) professionals are focused on upskilling in 2022.
Because of the dearth of IT talent, upskilling is the key to closing the cloud skills gap, according to a recent Pluralsight global survey of 1,000 technologists and tech leaders.
With demand for tech skills growing, it's important for organizations looking to upskilling and reskilling to have a clearly thought-out approach and plan for how they will provide current employees with the training they need.
There are many advantages to upskilling and reskilling:
- It's cheaper to skill internally than hire externally.
- You'll see an improvement in talent retention.
- You'll see improved employee engagement.
- There will be lower times to productivity.
Therefore, it's an important part of a larger talent strategy.
However, it's not simply a question of taking a digital marketing manager and making him or her into a data engineer.
To maximize the potential for success, human resources (HR) departments, IT leaders, and the C-suite all need to work together to assess where specialists are lacking, compile an index of what skills current employees have, and map out a path to success in the new field.
Upskilling and Reskilling: Setting Expectations
There's a critical difference between upskilling, where employees are trained further in an area where they already have some expertise, and reskilling, which is a more complicated and time-consuming process, according to Jakub Kubrynski, CEO and founder of DevSkiller.
"This is why it's so important to have the right people implementing the reskilling and upskilling strategy," he said. "The most important stakeholder are the people who know the areas where the skills are required and can move the right people into those positions in a pragmatic way."
Key to this strategy is creating an index through which the overall skill sets companywide can be charted, which can verify what the overlap is between the people you have and the job positions you are trying to fulfill.
"We also know from discussions with our customers that often there is a situation where a company wants to enter Google Cloud, so we say, 'We'll do a training of the Kubernetes technology for you,' and they send a list of 20 people," Kubrynski said.
However, upon starting the training, it becomes apparent that these 20 people are likely not able to follow the training because they are missing a substantial number of other prerequisites.
"They would need to like take 10 additional trainings just to be ready for this training they are taking right now," he said. "If you're going to have effective reskilling and upskilling, you must know where you are and know where you want to be."
"However, it is important to recognize that in order for learners to be successful, they must have access to affordable and reliable technology, including laptops and WiFi, and time to learn and study, which employers can support via stipends built into their upskilling and reskilling initiatives," she added.
That means standardizing equitable access to technology for ongoing learning must be a priority for employers seeking to differentiate themselves as a talent developer.
Talent Crunch Puts Focus on Maximizing Human Capital
Kelli Jordan, director of IBM Career, Skills & Performance, agrees that upskilling has become important because of the current talent market.
"For a company to search for and recruit talent can be very expensive, and, in many cases, there can be talent shortages," she explained. "Upskilling internally helps in many ways — it's a retention mechanism because you're giving employees a career path, it is cost-effective because you are training talent that already exists in your organization, and the time to productivity is lower."
She added that companies that invest in their employees see the payoff in engagement and retention.
Upskilling and reskilling strategies are deeply rooted in and aligned to business strategy, according to Jordan.
"It's a collaboration between HR and the business," she said. "HR supports the business in achieving its goals around talent strategy, which includes the mechanisms for reskilling and upskilling, and helping to support mobility and growth across a company."
Curated learning paths, diversity of learning methodologies, bite-size learning (knowledge acquisition), plus opportunities to apply skills are key.
This application occurs in classrooms, often virtually these days, through authentic practice situations and case studies with guidance from subject matter experts (SMEs) or master facilitators, Jordan said.
"Outside of the virtual classroom, application happens through real projects, shadowing, and on-the-job application — often with coaching from first-line managers," she added. "Technology that assesses pre- and post-skill levels is also hugely beneficial."
Making a Commitment to Upskilling and Reskilling
IT work sits at a delicate intersection of high impact but low visibility, Connor Diemand-Yauman, co-CEO of Merit America, pointed out.
"Since any company that uses technology requires IT support, IT support skills are in demand across industries, and ensuring retention of this employee group is essential for long-term success," he said.
He added that commitment to employee success and growth should not stop at upskilling.
"Employer leadership should ensure that upskilled or reskilled employees — especially those with nontraditional backgrounds — are continually given the support, tools, and resources they need to be successful and satisfied at work," Diemand-Yauman noted.
There are two parts to the successful development of an upskilling/retraining initiative: the overall strategy and program support and the actual learning, Jordan said.
Having a plan for executing the strategy is key because it will allow an organization to launch a reskilling initiative more quickly, but the need will dictate the learning content.
"It's easier to plug-and-play if you have the infrastructure around it," she said. "If you wait until a critical need arises, it's too late and puts your organization behind."
From Kubrynski's perspective, it will be impossible to close the tech skills gap without having an effective reskilling and upskilling approach.
There also needs to be a more effective process of teaching these new skills and reskilling people into new job positions from the positions that are no longer needed, he said.
"We are just at the start of the digital transformation, which will go farther and faster every year," he said. "Without having a good reskilling and upskilling strategy, it's basically impossible to close the skill gap that will develop in your company."
About the authorNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.