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Upskilling: How To Close the Skills Gap

8 minute read | January 2, 2024
Monica J. White

Written by:
Monica J. White

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Technology is progressing at an unprecedented pace, rapidly changing the skills workers need to succeed and creating critical skills gaps in most organizations. According to the World Economic Forum, employers estimate that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted by 2028. And a recent Springboard for Business survey revealed that more than 1 in 3 corporate leaders say that the current shelf life of hard skills is under two years. 

As skills go out of date at a faster rate than ever before, your workforce needs to upskill to stay on top and adapt. This creates a pressing need for virtually every organization to do its best to keep up with the constant need for continuous learning. Instead of recruiting new talent who possess the flavor-of-the-year skill set that your company might currently need, it’s smarter and more cost-efficient to invest in your existing employees and provide them with effective resources for upskilling. 

Strategic upskilling and reskilling ensure that your workforce is ready to succeed in an always-changing business environment. With the right talent development programs in place, you’ll resolve critical skills gaps to fuel organizational goals and KPIs, and see a boost to employee retention and happiness. The ROI on upskilling programs is almost immediate. 

Here’s how you can use upskilling to close the skills gap and take your business to the next level.

The tech skills gap is getting worse

The relentless pace of digital transformation is continually reshaping the workforce, rendering many skill sets obsolete. 

Harvard Business Review found that the average half-life of a skill has dropped to under 5 years, plunging even further in certain tech domains to a mere 2.5 years. That’s alarming for just about every business. 

With skills that now have a shelf life that’s comparable to some canned goods, businesses are facing talent shortages that impact their ability to meet goals. A recent Springboard for Business survey revealed that nearly 70% of corporate leaders say there’s a skills gap at their company that’s negatively impacting performance. If your workforce lacks key skills for fulfilling your mission, your company will run into trouble. 

Things like decreased revenue, productivity, innovation, and growth are a given, but increased spend for recruitment is also a less obvious issue – not to mention the opportunity cost of operating with crucial roles unfilled. As your HR department struggles to find skilled talent to fill the gaps, your business will see cascading impacts that ultimately damage the company’s reputation and competitiveness. 

Those who hope that the labor market will get better are in for disappointment. Deloitte finds that, despite record layoffs, tech talent is still hard to recruit. As the skills gap grows wider, this problem is slated to worsen. It’s important to stay ahead of the curve by upskilling and reskilling your employees rather than getting caught in an unpromising recruitment cycle. 

The difference between upskilling and reskilling

Now, more than ever, it’s important for companies to stay flexible and agile. The scope and key goals of your business as they are now may not remain the same for the next one, two, or five years. 

Embracing change is the most impactful choice a company can make in order to remain competitive. Upskilling and reskilling is the most cost-effective and efficient way to address this mandate and avoid a damaging skills gap that becomes a problem that’s too big to tackle.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling refers to helping your current employees learn new skills or sharpen existing abilities that they can apply to their current roles. This helps them keep up with the ever-changing nature of their roles and eventually use new skills to take on more senior roles within the company to increase their contributions.

Upskilling promotes a culture of constant learning, which, now more than ever, is crucial. Employees must adopt a mindset of adaptability and growth as the realities of work continue to shift with tech advancements. By cultivating a company-wide culture of learning, your people will embrace upskilling opportunities and adopt the flexibility necessary to evolve with the business.  

What is reskilling?

While upskilling means leveling up the skills your employees need to succeed in their current roles, reskilling means building entirely new skills that will then help them transition to a new role within the company. Depending on the role and the industry, reskilling might prove to be a better way to retain talent and solve a skills gap.

If a role evolves significantly or becomes obsolete, reskilling is often the way to go. The employee may learn new skills that are often only loosely related to their existing job, preparing them for a role in an entirely different part of the organization.

Additionally, reskilling is a great strategy to promote more junior employees from within. Companies like Amazon and Walmart are simultaneously empowering frontline workers and remedying skills gaps by offering all employees tailored reskilling programs in partnership with Springboard for Business for in-demand careers. 

First step for upskilling: conducting a skills gap analysis

By definition, a skills gap is the gap between the skills your employees already possess and the skills your company requires to achieve its goals. With the current AI boom that’s driving rapid AI adoption, the skills gap has become a pressing issue many companies are struggling with. AI has made this issue visible, but there are many more skills that companies are lacking today and will need in the near future.

In order to identify the pain points within your organization and find ways to tackle them, the first step should be to conduct a skills gap analysis. Doing this will give you deeper insight into the expertise of your workers, but also guide you in picking the right strategy for getting your workforce to where you want it in terms of skills and goals.

Here are some of the key steps to conducting a successful analysis of skills gaps in your business:

  1. Start by setting out the business goals you want to achieve, big and small, both long- and short-term.
  2. Evaluate the current skill set of your existing workforce, boiling it down to individual employees, teams, or departments.
  3. Next, map their skills to your business objectives and key results (OKRs). This will show you the skills that are currently missing.
  4. With that knowledge in hand, you can start planning out L&D plans for your staff, including upskilling and reskilling strategies.

When you set out to plan, be sure to think ahead. Depending on your industry, rely on data and expert predictions to try to pinpoint how the skills gap within your organization might change in the future. By staying on top of industry and technology trends, you’ll be able to safeguard your organization before a lack of skills grows out of proportion.

How to identify the right upskilling partner

Upskilling is an investment that pays off in more ways than one, but it’ll only work if you team up with the right partner. The best upskilling partners will be able to meet the unique needs of your business. Here are some things to look out for.

Look for partners that are training for in-demand skills

To make the most of your upskilling investment, partner with a company that has a specific focus on topics that are key to your business. Corporate learning providers may be able to provide your employees with robust libraries of generalized knowledge across hundreds of topics, but that approach is often ineffective. It just scratches the surface of upskilling, but doesn’t actually equip workers with applicable knowledge.

Look for a partner who can teach your employees the key skills that are needed today across all industries: AI, data literacy, and strategic/critical thinking. According to HBR, up to 90% of business leaders believe that data literacy is crucial for a business to achieve success in this day and age; unfortunately, only 25% of workers currently feel comfortable working with data. And when it comes to strategic thinking, the WEF reports that enduring cognitive skills like problem-solving and critical thinking are growing in importance most quickly – more than technical skills whose shelf life is shortening quickly.

Springboard for Business’s Data-Driven Strategic Thinking Course boosts your team’s data fluency and critical thinking skills in just eight weeks. The program is guided by a job-related project: employees solve a critical business problem, optimize a process, or launch a new initiative. This ensures that newly acquired skills are immediately put to use, reinforcing new capabilities while producing immediate business results.

Select upskilling partners that prioritize personalization

If you’re investing in an upskilling program, it’s crucial to choose one that actually delivers tangible improvements to your workforce. That’s why it’s often best to steer clear of one-size-fits-all training opportunities, such as large LMS or LXP providers. This general approach with content that often isn’t hyper-relevant may still bring some improvements, but not the same kind of gains as a personalized training program that’s tailored to individual needs.

Many studies have shown that a human-led approach is much more effective and engaging than simply giving your employees access to a vast amount of (often confusing) course material. With Springboard for Business, your employees will always be paired with an industry mentor and a coach to keep them engaged, motivated, and accountable. Mentors and coaches help employees navigate roadblocks and answer questions in real-time.

Another valuable key to Springboard programs lies in a cohort-based learning approach: employees complete upskilling courses together with colleagues. When employees upskill together, a sense of community is cultivated. This makes the learning experience more effective and makes it easier for employees to stay invested. In fact, Springboard for Business programs has a completion rate that is more than three times the industry average. 

The unity that employees build during cohort-based upskilling programs has carryover effects. After a course wraps, employees get to operate with deeper connections with their colleagues, making cross-functional collaboration easier in the long run.

Look for measurable impact

The right upskilling and reskilling programs will be able to not just talk the talk but also walk the walk. This means being able to present proof that the program had a real-world impact on the business’s bottom line.

Such programs go beyond general theory or even case studies to focus on real problems your employees are facing in their day-to-day. By working on a job-related project, employees get to learn while they work, and are able to see the tangible contributions they make to the overall business.

Many Springboard for Business programs, like Data-Driven Strategic Thinking, center around company-specific projects, delivering immediate ROI. Take Springboard’s three-year partnership with HP as an example. On average, HP employees participating in Springboard upskilling courses contribute a $187K gain to the business – a conservatively estimated 11x return on investment just from job-specific projects completed during the program. 

Bridging the skills gap through upskilling

The future of work is here, and it demands continuous learning. In the age of perpetual disruption, the only sustainable competitive advantage is an adaptable workforce brimming with the skills needed to succeed. 

To close the skills gap, you must invest in an upskilling strategy that will effectively transform your business. The right upskilling partner will equip your workforce with critical skills through a timely curriculum, personalization, and immediate application.

This post summarizes findings from Springboard for Business’s The State of the Workforce Skills Gap 2024.

Springboard surveyed over 1,000 corporate professionals working at companies with at least 5,000 employees to understand where their workforce transformation priorities lie, how skills gaps are thwarting progress, and what employees are most eager to learn.

To grab a free copy of the full report, click here.

Since you’re here…
Springboard for Business grows businesses by empowering leaders and their teams with the critical thinking, data, and technology skills central to the future of work. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, HP, JPMorgan Chase, and Visa have partnered with Springboard for Business to upskill and reskill employees around the world. Click here to learn more.

About Monica J. White

Monica is a journalist with a lifelong interest in technology, from PC hardware to software and programming. She first started writing over ten years ago and has made a career out of it. Now, her focus is centered around technology and explaining complex concepts to a broader audience.