What is reskilling?
Reskilling is the process of teaching an employee new skills to improve proficiency in their current job or move into an advanced position. It should not be confused with retraining, the process of reintroducing a prior skill to an employee who lacks recent hands-on experience with or current knowledge of that skill.
Reskilling is important in the workplace with the constant change of ongoing technological advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI) and shifts in workplace arrangements to include widespread remote work.
Reskilling doesn't necessarily mean an employee transitions from one department to another. It often means supplementing an employee with new skills to improve performance in their current position. Reskilling also opens opportunities for promotion.
Why is reskilling important?
Reskilling is valuable because very few jobs, especially office and productivity jobs, remain static and avoid change. Few professionals use only the same initial skills -- without adding to them -- throughout their careers.
But there's more to it. There are multiple reasons why reskilling is important:
- The pace of technological change is accelerating, and automation threatens jobs. Workers must adapt and learn new skills to stay relevant in the workforce.
- It costs less to work with current employees than to hire new ones. Also, there's no guarantee new workers will prove better than old ones. On the contrary, existing employees and their work habits are familiar to their employers.
- As the workforce ages and retires, those employees take skills with them that younger employees do not have, such as legacy system skills. For example, many firms still use mainframes with applications written in decades-old COBOL. As programmers retire, the remaining staff will need to learn those skills.
- Reskilling also means cultural training. As the global economy becomes increasingly interconnected, workers must learn to embrace different cultures and working environments.
How long can reskilling take?
The time required depends on the skill in question and the employee's capability. For example, learning how to use ChatGPT is a lot easier than learning how to program it. In addition, the depth and quality of the training affect the timeframe, as do the available resources, which add complexity to the training. So, reskilling can take a few weeks or a few months, even years, to complete.
Another issue is the individual employee's learning style. Some people learn best by reading, others by hands-on practice. A good reskilling program adapts to each style of learning while supporting all styles of learning.
Finally, consider the availability of existing resources. Experts, especially in emerging technology like AI, are scarce since professionals in emerging fields are breaking ground as they go. Even a top-flight education provider may struggle to teach a popular and emerging skill in its initial classes, but the best educators make course corrections, adapt and remain a valuable source of knowledge.
Therefore, patience is required, especially in the early days of a reskilling process. Additionally, attentive employers recognize some of their workers face a period of adjustment as they return to school for the first time in many years.
Key benefits of reskilling for an organization
Reskilling improves a company for many reasons, and all these reasons involve employee development. After all, a successful business wants to keep its employees and make them even more productive.
Here are some of the key benefits of reskilling for an organization:
- Maintaining relevance in the marketplace. To attract and secure top-flight talent, a company must develop skilled employees, provide those employees with current technologies and nurture a forward-thinking work culture.
- Higher employee retention. This is twofold. First, employees regularly learning and training in new technologies are more likely to stay with their organization. Second, successful reskilling eliminates substandard employees and, therefore, the need to terminate those employees.
- Increased productivity. Employees with the proper skills are more productive, which improves the organization overall.
- Improved employee morale. Employees routinely given the opportunity to learn new skills are more likely to be enthusiastic and motivated in their work.
- Improved customer service. Skilled, confident employees typically provide positive customer experience. This especially benefits a consumer-facing company.
Key benefits of reskilling for an employee
Yes, the employer benefits from making reskilling available to employees. Yet the employee is the real beneficiary, since job retention is the primary benefit of reskilling. However, it isn't the only one.
Among the multiple benefits of reskilling to employees are the following:
- Employees retain relevance in the workforce by ensuring they have the needed skills to impress their current boss -- or any potential employer.
- Workers increase their earning potential because a skilled employee, especially one with a rare skill, has greater value in the marketplace generally and, presumably, with their current employer.
- It improves job security. Nothing is guaranteed, but in-demand skills offer far greater opportunity for regular employment.
- It means a competitive edge over other, less-skilled workers, improving the chances of landing a new job.
- It encourages career advancement. Whether in-house or elsewhere, employees with in-demand skills -- and the hard-earned experience of learning those skills -- often seek more fulfilling and challenging jobs.
- It boosts employee confidence. Well-trained, well-cared-for employees who are regularly challenged in their jobs gain confidence in their capabilities as they overcome daily obstacles.
Learn more about new skills in demand as generative AI reshapes tech roles.
What is the difference between upskilling and reskilling?
Reskilling should not be confused with upskilling, the process of regularly teaching or training an employee in an effort to shrink skills gaps and improve performance in their current role. While upskilling is akin to sharpening the tools in an existing tool belt, reskilling is more like adding tools to and, in the process, redefining the tool belt.
How to create a reskilling program
Reskilling is an important investment for anyone, employer or employee, who wants to remain relevant in their market. Following are some steps in creating a reskilling program, steps that often require employer and employee to journey side by side:
- Identify the skills gap. First, determine which skill sets need to be taught. When a new technology or technique is involved, in most circumstances the deficiency is obvious. Sometimes an employer speaks with an employee individually to determine their current professional abilities and necessary skills development.
- Set goals. After pinpointing the skills gap, establish program goals, including a step-by-step guide and recognition of student milestones by the instructor, as well as a plan should a student-employee stumble at any point. Keep goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.
- Choose a reskilling method. There are different ways to reskill employees, including on-the-job training, in-person and online courses, apprenticeship and mentoring programs and, in some cases, government-funded programs.
- Get employee buy-in. Remind employees of the value their reskilling brings to a company, as well as the benefit they receive from the experience. Invested workers enthusiastically approach learning opportunities.
- Ensure program flexibility and adaptability. In addition to making allowances for different learning styles, the program should not intrude on an employee's existing job, nor their off-hours.
- Track the program's progress in relation to its goals. Review the goals set at the start of the program, breaking up the program into smaller, easily digestible segments. Measure the progress repeatedly and adjust as needed to meet goals.