Canadian Underwriter

Three ways to upskill your workers 

January 19, 2022   by Jason Contant

Career development and growth concept

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Company leaders should constantly identify recurring themes in employee feedback and surveys, congregate that data, and then determine upskilling options for talent development, a recent blog from Harvard Business Review says.  

Upskilling is a longer-term investment in augmenting the knowledge, skills, and competencies that help employees advance their carriers, explains the blog, How to Build a Successful Upskilling Program.  

“When employees are offered and encouraged to take advantage of upskilling opportunities for their personal or professional growth, people metrics, such as employee engagement and retention, also go up,” the authors write. “The problem is that too often, even the employees who say they want more training and development struggle to identify what they’re looking for.” 

The question for organizational and HR leaders then becomes: What is the right way to identify and implement upskilling for your workforce? Susan R. Vroman, a lecturer of management at Bentley University (a private business university) and Tiffany Danko, adjunct associate professor at USC Bovard College, offer the following tips: 

Show Where Ideas Go 

“We often remind our clients that you cannot blame an employee for leaving if they told you what they wanted, and you didn’t respond,” write Vroman and Danko. “If you ask your employees for input on upskilling efforts, it’s important for them to see where their ideas go…and even more important that you use them.” 

One company identified gaps in formal upskilling programs and communicated this to HR business partners, who in turn raised trends and themes to HR and operations leadership.

“Decisions on what to pursue and add to company-wide upskilling offerings are made in concert, then communicated to the organization as new options,” the blog says. “Results from the company’s biannual survey show that employees are proud to work there, turnover remains low, and employee engagement scores are higher now than they had been in years.” 

Empower Your Employees to Own Their Career Development 

Employees often know they wish to grow within the company, they just need the tools to get there. 

The aforementioned company, Cengage, trains managers to hold meaningful one-on-one meetings with direct report every week. During this time, employees discuss professional interests and goals, and self-advocate to gain managerial support (e.g., introductions, projects to get involved with, etc.) as appropriate. If on-the-job opportunities are not available, employees may enroll in the many formal upskilling programs offered by HR. If a program is not currently offered, it is considered for future training development. 

Insurance company John Hancock offers an online self-service learning centre with a variety of courses for employees’ personal and professional development. “While managers may suggest their direct reports pursue topics based on organizational goals or anticipated activities, employees are empowered to select any class that interests them,” Vroman and Danko report. “There is no limit to how many classes one can take, and employees are given two afternoons of paid time each month to participate.”  

Provide a Road Map 

One important aspect of any upskilling program is to identify clear paths and milestones for performance measurement. This methodology gives employees insight into the process while also enabling them to play a role in advancing their progress.  

For example, Cengage employs role performance dimensions, which clearly articulate competencies desired at different job levels. Employees at medical equipment provider Medicus can evaluate their own performance against company measures using a red-yellow-green metric.  

“By knowing what’s expected for career progression and providing clear metrics for individual evaluation, employees have a framework within which to work,” the blog says. “Further, companies have a framework to use in evaluating the impact of upskilling programs, examining metrics for training and development, retention, advancement, and others as part of the organization’s long-term strategy. Investing in and engaging your employees now builds your future-ready workforce.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the future of work is now, and upskilling is an integral tool for retaining and developing employees. 

“As your organization considers opportunities to upskill your employees, empowerment, engagement, and planning are critical. Listening to your employees needs and wants, then acting on them, will position you for future success.”


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