We hear a lot about reskilling and upskilling these days, but what’s the difference? We addressed the topic recently in a webinar, hosted by Talent Management, with perspectives shared by Bob Tweedie, VP of Leadership and Learning at Revantage and Stephanie Webb, VP of Customer and Talent Enablement at DISCO.

Here we look at the differences between the two, how corporations are addressing both, what they’ve learned during the pandemic and a hybrid work environment, and best practice insights for addressing critical needs for both upskilling and reskilling for employees at all levels.

Employees Want to Be Reskilled and Upskilled

It’s interesting to note that employees are as concerned about boosting their skills as their employers are. Visier recently released a report based on a survey of 1000 U.S.-based full-time employees to identify drivers of what has been referred to as “the great resignation.” They found that the top two drivers employees gave for leaving their jobs within the past year were for better compensation (43%) and to improve their work-life balance (42%).

A desire to learn new skills (32%) followed closely behind. In addition, 73% of workers said they would leave their current job for another that paid the same but offered better or more skills training opportunities. Employers can capitalize on these sentiments by offering opportunities for employees to reskill and upskill.

The need for reskilling and upskilling has become even more predominant in the hybrid workforce that many companies now find themselves in.

Definitions of Reskilling and Upskilling

Put simply, upskilling refers to employees learning new skills required to do their current jobs. Reskilling refers to learning new skills that would be required in a new job. Certainly, there are crossovers between the two, especially as changes—e.g., technological advancements—might impact employees both in their current jobs as well as future opportunities.

Progressive organizations—like Revantage and DISCO—are finding ways to do this and drawing on the experiences they’ve had during the pandemic with hybrid and virtual learning.

Now, though, as organizations accept that hybrid work is here to stay, Learning and Development (L&D) pros are moving to a deeper analysis and consideration of how learning will be delivered moving forward—what works, and what doesn’t.

While by and large, they were forced into doing something different, many have gleaned critical best practice insights from these experiences. Technology is here to stay and it’s providing the framework for incorporating reskilling and upskilling as part of an ongoing focus on ensuring employees have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

All Managers as Coaches

The pandemic experience has also shed light on the critical roles of managers and supervisors in all work settings. As the world moved largely to remote and hybrid work, it became apparent that many of those responsible for supervising or managing others lacked the skills needed to do so effectively in a virtual environment. Suddenly, they were placed in an entirely new situation, facing new and often unfamiliar challenges in terms of interacting with, monitoring, and managing employees.

Companies need to be “in the business of turning all managers into coaches, helping employees extract the learning from whatever they’re doing so that the next time they can do it more effectively,” Webb says. Managers, she says, “are the linchpin between strategy and execution,” noting that this has become “literally” true during the pandemic, as they are the ones charged with looking after employees personally and professionally and spending time with them. But they must be equipped with the information, tools, and resources they need to effectively upskill their team members.


A Changing Landscape Requires New L&D Approaches

What worked prior to a mass exodus to virtual and hybrid work from a training and development standpoint, may not work today. L&D professionals have been engaged in evaluating their training materials and resources and considering how they need to be adapted to serve virtual learning needs.

The content may be the same, but the format and tools need to be considered differently to ensure they effectively engage participants wherever they may be and however they may be accessing the information.

L&D pros and employees have learned that, moving forward, a combination of in-person and online learning will remain in play. This allows them, and the organizations they work for, to have the best of both worlds, in essence.

In-person learning offers the opportunity for important interactions. But, spending time in person going over information employees may already feel they know, or that they don’t need, can be frustrating to them. On the other hand, online learning, particularly in asynchronous settings, allows employees to maximize their time and improve efficiency—yet it lacks critical opportunities for interaction.

Hybrid learning opportunities leverage both environments to provide more choices, options, and flexibility for employees. In addition, L&D pros have learned that it’s not just formal training that drives upskilling and reskilling—employees also benefit from self-directed learning, peer learning, coaching, stretch assignments, and more. They also benefit from always on, on-demand tools and resources needed to do their jobs.

The result: a better learning experience and better outcomes.

Best Practices

L&D professionals need to think about training differently—and they need to start talking about it differently.

A multi-faceted and multi-modal approach to upskilling and reskilling requires new terminology to fully and accurately convey the experiences employees can leverage, and to avoid any “baggage” that may be related to past experiences, Tweedie says.

L&D pros, he says, need to move away from talking about “training,” which may be too reflective of past experiences with passive participants forced to spend time in synchronous settings that they may not have valued, to talking about the kind of opportunities and outcomes that employees are likely to value. For instance, “an opportunity to hear from some top experts in…,” “a chance to learn best practices for…,” etc.

Conversations are increasingly critical here.

It’s important, Webb says, to have career conversations with staff two or three times a year to discern their career aspirations. “Are they looking to go up, down, or sideways? Then we know is it a matter of upskilling—is it a matter of putting them on a cross-functional project? Or are they really looking for reskilling—to move to a different part of the organization. Or, maybe even for you to have an opportunity to be an exporter of talent and help them find a place in another organization?”

In addition, ongoing conversations between L&D pros, managers, and others can help ensure that L&D efforts are aligned with organizational needs and desired outcomes.

The ultimate goal: How to help people get unstuck, uncover their strengths and interests, and then match them to a role that may be within—or even outside of – your organization. When employees see that the organization is interested in their professional development and committed to helping them access the reskilling and upskilling resources they need, they’re likely to be more engaged—and less likely to become part of the “great resignation.”

Interested in hearing more about the insights and best practice perspectives shared in our recent webinar? Watch the recording of Reskilling and Upskilling in a Hybrid World.

eric hansen
Eric Hansen

Eric Hansen works as an Account Executive for Class. He is passionate about education technology and helping others learn. When not working, he loves spending time in the Utah mountains, mountain biking, fly fishing and camping with his family.

eric hansen
Eric Hansen

Eric Hansen works as an Account Executive for Class. He is passionate about education technology and helping others learn. When not working, he loves spending time in the Utah mountains, mountain biking, fly fishing and camping with his family.

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