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Employee Upskilling: Frequently Asked Questions.

November 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Money/Business, Weekly Columns

(Akiit.comOn the surface, the idea of upskilling employees is a rather strange one.

After all, you hire employees that you believe are capable of performing the role you are trying to fill – that’s why you go through a long process of ensuring you find the right candidates, those who can perform well from the moment they arrive in your business.

Upskilling, however, goes against this decades-old tradition of hiring employees for a specific role – which is rather jarring for entrepreneurs. If you have always been curious about upskilling, and have wondered if it might be beneficial for your business, you’ll want to read on – as we provide the answers for the most common questions business owners have about the practice…

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of providing further training to employees; further training that expands their abilities and thus increases their capability to assist your company.

Isn’t that just an apprenticeship?

There are similarities, but no. In the vast majority of cases, upskilling involves taking an employee who is already well-qualified and capable in one area, and adding another string to their bow. Take, for example, a retail store: they could hire an employee to work the register, and then upskill them in customer service.

This means that employees who upskill have a relationship with the company before commencing additional training and will – in the vast majority of cases – continue to work for the same company in future. Apprentices, on the other hand, receive on-the-job training and experience but have no formal relationship with the company before beginning their training. They may receive a full-time job offer when their apprenticeship is complete, but this is not guaranteed.

Why has upskilling become popular?

  • Upskilling has become particularly popular due to the digital revolution. Older employees, for example, may have little direct experience of technology in their career, but they can be upskilled in areas such as SEO, marketing, and IT.
  • If an employee has demonstrated an excellent work ethic and a dedication to the company, a business owner may want to upskill them in order for that individual to provide even more value to the business.
  • Upskilling is incredibly useful for meeting the demands placed upon a company by a skills shortage without the need for a laborious recruitment process. Instead of hiring new staff – or when hiring new staff proves to be difficult – a company can utilize their existing staff base to fill the skills gap they are experiencing.
  • It’s not just employers who benefit from upskilling; employees are also fond of the practice. This is particularly true of younger employees; a Gallup study found that scope for development was the single most important factor in retention of staff in the millennial cohort.

What are the downsides of upskilling?

  • Upskilling can only work for a company if the employees actually want to be upskilled. While most will, it’s not a guarantee, so employers have to ensure that those undergoing upskilling are genuinely enthusiastic about the prospect.
  • As discussed above, upskilling is often used to provide cover for a skills gap and reduce the need for recruitment. However, there is a downside to this; if a company upskills a member of staff, that employee may then vacate their existing role, which still means that recruitment is necessary. This potential disadvantage is usually offset by the fact it’s simpler to hire entry-level workers than it is specialists, but is still a factor worthy of consideration nonetheless.

What skills are suitable for upskilling?

Many businesses have found that upskilling for digital skills is particularly useful, and this is usually the most common use of the practice. In addition, companies may also find that training employees to improve core skills such as customer service or project management can also be beneficial.

It is important to note, however, that there is no limit to upskilling, nor is there a “right” or a “wrong” way to do it. Theoretically, any employee in any role could be upskilled to work in another position in your business. If you feel that an employee has an ability and wish to nurture this, then the sky really is the limit.

How do employers provide upskilling?

There are a variety of different ways of upskilling employees, with the most commonly used being at-work training, often via videos and e-learning. This step involves allowing employees to step aside from their regular duties for a portion of their working day and instead focus on acquiring new skills.

Alternatively, upskilling can also mean sponsoring additional education outside of the workplace – for example, paying the fees for an employee to gain a professional accreditation, or even a degree.

Again, there is no particular “right” or “wrong” when it comes to upskilling employees – you can very much do what suits you and your business.

What happens if employees are upskilled and then decide to leave?

This fear often tends to be particularly troublesome for employers but, unfortunately, there is no easy way of providing reassurance. If an employee decides to go through upskilling and then decides to take their new skills to another company, then there is very little you can do to prevent them from doing so – you could add a clause to their contract, but this can be incredibly complex and expensive.

Ultimately, most upskilling is provided on trust, which makes it all the more important to only upskill an employee who you truly believe in. For most business owners, this means only offering upskilling opportunities to employees who have worked for them for some years; if they have previously demonstrated loyalty, then there is a good chance they will continue to do so.

In addition, it’s also worth considering options that allow multiple employees to be upskilled at the same time, using the same training materials. If five employees go through the training process and two leave, upskilling still leaves you with three employees who are now able to offer more to your business – a return that many business owners believe to be justifiable.

In conclusion

Hopefully, the above has helped answer all your upskilling questions, and you now have a better idea as to whether this practice might be suitable for your business.

Staff Writer; Lisa Ford

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