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How and When to Reskill an Employee

February 25, 2021 Learning and Development
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Throughout their careers, employees are likely to go through several different roles. Traditionally, this was a natural progression to a management or senior position achieved through experience earned on the job.

In today's constantly changing work environment, that's not exclusively the case. Now, employees are learning new skills and pivoting into entirely different roles. 

For business leaders, this means that reskilling employees is becoming more critical. According to TalentLMS' State of Employee Upskilling and Reskilling Survey, 59% of companies have provided upskilling or reskilling training for their employees, with four out of five employees indicating that training boosted their confidence.  

To understand how companies should go about reskilling their employees, we spoke to senior leaders for some tips on the process. 

Where to Start Reskilling Efforts

Reskilling refers to any training conducted to move an employee to a new position or provide an existing employee with new skills that are more relevant to the modern business environment. In some cases, an employee's existing skills may be losing their relevance, for example, when specific jobs are being augmented or replaced by AI. In other cases, reskilling may be necessary to prepare an employee for a new role, such as when employees need to improve their digital skills to shift to remote work.

The primary purpose of undertaking any reskilling effort is to prepare both employees and organizations for the future. According to Todd Moran, chief learning strategist at San Francisco-based e-learning company NovoEd, weighing the benefits to both sides is essential to getting employee reskilling right.

"This systematic approach to organization-wide reskilling – which focuses on business results and learner needs and is specific to enterprises' own culture, mission and values – builds the capabilities that are essential to ensuring success in this new age of work," Moran said.  

Knowing where to start reskilling depends a lot on the skills employees would like to learn and the skills needed to help the company grow. In some cases, employees may not want to leave behind their previous roles so a way to blend old and new roles may be required. 

Sometimes, an employee may prefer a fresh start. Understanding that preference can determine if that particular employee is the right fit for reskilling or if another alternative needs to be found. 

Related Article: Upskill and Reskill for a Better Employee Experience

The Power of Building From Within

Often, a choice needs to be made between choosing to reskill an existing employee or hire a new person. In fact, choosing to reskill employees rather than simply replace them can be more beneficial to an organization, said Ryan Wong, CEO of Vancouver-based workforce analytics company Visier.

"All the research to date indicates that organizations are much more successful when they focus on building the skills and capabilities they need for the future from within," he said. "The costs associated with trying to hire your way to a new organization are substantial and the failure rates are high."

Explaining to employees the reskilling process and outlining the roles they could potentially take is a worthwhile investment of time and effort. "While skill-building focuses on developing specific knowledge sets individually, capability building adds learning to the organization, and perhaps most importantly, anchors that development in actual performance," Moran said. 

Related Article: Learning and Development Is Key to Employee Experience in Remote Work

Tips for Reskilling Employees

Assuming organizations understand the value and purpose, how can they go about reskilling employees? According to Erdin Beshimov, founder of MIT Bootcamps and senior director at Cambridge, Mass.-based MIT Open Learning, there are two key steps to reskilling:

Understanding Adjacent Skills

"New skills are easier to learn if they build on an existing foundation," Beshimov said. "Time should be taken during the initial hiring process, particularly in the design of job descriptions, to assess the adjacent skillsets that a given professional could efficiently acquire going forward."

Visier's Wong pointed out that there should be alignment between an employee's current role and any new roles. If there is a good alignment of core skills, it may merely be a case of needing to build process or product knowledge. 

Integrating Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is necessary to ensure that reskilling is as efficient as possible. "Skills cannot be developed just by hearing about them," Beshimov said. 

In situations where reskilling requires more than new product knowledge and practice, it may require more effort from both the company and the employee. With a more extensive training program stretched over a few months, both the employee and business can reap the benefits.


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