How to Build an Effective Upskilling Program

According to a global McKinsey survey, nearly nine in ten executives and managers say their organizations either face skill gaps already or expect gaps to develop within the next five years. The situation is reflected across various industries, mainly driven by technological advances such as AI, machine learning, and automation. As a result, organizations don’t or soon won’t have the relevant skills for the business to remain competitive.

The situation is compounded by the Great Resignation, with workers leaving at an unprecedented rate. So, what do organizations do in this instance? Well, they can choose to plug the skill gaps by hiring, automating or upskilling existing employees. Hiring costs thousands of dollars and is not sustainable. Automation may not be implemented in all facets of the business, meaning training existing employees is the most viable option.

To find out how you can meet these challenges with the right employee upskilling program, read on.

How to Build an Effective Upskilling Program

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is raising the skills and knowledge of your current employees through training. In contrast, reskilling impart new skills to a worker, enabling them to do an entirely new job. The result of an effective upskilling program is improved employee performance and achieving set business goals.

But to ensure success, you need a clear roadmap and strategy. L&D leaders need to identify the skills gap to know how best to move forward. The following steps will help you develop a training program that equips employees with the necessary tools and knowledge to thrive in a modern-day work environment:

  1. Start with a business problem
  2. Get buy-in from senior management
  3. Conduct a training needs analysis
  4. Choose the right delivery method

1. Start by defining and measuring a real business problem

The first step to building an effective upskilling program is to ask business partners what’s keeping them up at night and where they are struggling to make a positive business impact. For example, the most common problematic areas in today’s business are employee retention and revenue which could be caused by skill gaps. By focusing on the problems at hand, L&D leaders can learn which skills are most in-demand to prioritize them in developing an upskilling program.

Supposing you want to increase your revenue by 20%, but your sales department is underperforming. Your workforce needs an upgrade in modern sales tactics. When training is centered around the issue, you can easily determine the program’s success through the sales department’s performance.

Speaking to the department heads in an organization will shed light on the problems hindering the business’s success. Once you identify all the problems, you can prioritize the most urgent and implement them first. The most important metric you should be focusing on is performance. Others like engagement should only be indicators of whether the content you produce is right.

Next up? Getting buy-in from senior management.

2. Get buy-in from senior management

One of the keys to a successful upskilling program is getting leadership buy-in at the very beginning. Having the full support of the leadership team will help drive the importance of the program. It will also go a long way to help with accountability and set the right expectations among employees and stakeholders. Without the leadership buy-in, the L&D team is unlikely to make any progress.

You need to help your leadership teams understand the critical role L&D plays in helping a business achieve its goals and overcome problems. Leaders must be in sync with the needs and expectations of their employees. When employees need further training, it should be easy for the leadership to recognize and facilitate their needs.

For many L&D leaders, getting leadership buy-in to an upskilling program can be difficult. C-level executives in most American companies rarely ever prioritize training. They typically lament budget constraints or lack an understanding of the benefits of the programs and how they impact the company’s bottom line.

A great way to convince leadership to buy-in is to help them understand how your program will solve business problems. It may take collaborating with team members, strategizing on the timing, and doing your homework about the leader to link their values with theirs. Leadership often responds better to numbers and data, so when you decide to approach, be sure to have the figures that explain why upskilling can be a workable solution to a problem they face.

The next step in building an effective upskilling program? Conducting bottom-up training needs analysis.

3. Conduct a bottom-up training needs analysis

An effective training program is critical to success for employees and organizations alike. Learners will be motivated to participate and implement what they learn in the program when they know it will positively impact the way they do their job now and in the future. A bottom-up approach to training needs analysis ensures you consider employees’ learning needs—needs that they have declared themselves. In addition, instead of hiring external experts to create the content, you can have the entire course developed and delivered by in-house experts.

Define your goals

As we already mentioned, evaluating your organization’s problems and goals should be the first step in your analysis. Evaluation will help you formulate training geared toward equipping employees to meet this target or solve a problem. Also, having a clear view of where you are going enables you to prioritize what is important and urgent.

Review the skills that are relevant for each role

Next, you need to review the roles and skills necessary. To get a broad sense of the prospective training areas, zoom out and review the job requirements of each team member. An overview of company roles and the knowledge, attitude, and skills each employee needs will go a long way to help narrow down on the right training.

You can do this by doing an in-depth internal study which focuses on speaking to team members and managers to see where they think the skill gaps are. You can also do an external study on Google, LinkedIn or industry research to benchmark roles and skills. Job descriptions on job boards are another way of identifying the skills necessary for each role. A faster way of accomplishing this is using AI tools to help you do it faster and more accurately.

Conduct a skills gap analysis

Once you have all the skills for each role, evaluate your team’s skills to identify the gaps you are currently facing. You can approach this problem in several ways. You can look at performance reports after employee evaluation by the managers and supervisors, or provide the workers with surveys to self-evaluate. Or better still, conduct one on one interviews or on-the-job observations.

Self-evaluation is a great way to get results. Be sure to invest in a learning needs tool to get feedback from employees about their learning needs and use upvote features to help you prioritize learning needs worth pursuing.

Prioritize training gaps

It may be impossible to address all the skills gaps at once, so you must prioritize which ones come first. The program’s cost can be prohibitive, especially if taught by an external instructor. You can lower this by leveraging in-house matter experts for your programs.
The next factor is time. Employees prefer short, efficient programs as they do not have the extra time to attend prolonged training.

Training required by law should be moved to the top of the list, while you should also consider the return on investment. Some will have an immediate impact, and you can only realize others in the long term.

Once the right upskilling training is decided upon, the next step is to create a roadmap based on the skill gaps identified. From here, the L&D team can build the course curriculum and content that include social learning features.

4. Choose the right delivery method

The final step in building an effective upskilling program is to choose the right way to deliver the learning content. Choosing the proper delivery method could make the difference between the success and failure of the program. It could even mean the difference between retaining workers who are now better skills or losing workers to the competition.

A learning management system (LMS) makes building and delivering courses easy while providing a seamless experience for learners. Choosing one among the countless options available can be difficult if you are unsure where to start. Consider the characteristics and features you’ll need to deliver your upskilling program:

Characteristics of the best LMS

  • A built-in course authoring tool allows anyone within the organization to create timely and relevant courses.
  • It should have a feedback mechanism to enable learners to give their views while pointing out errors.
  • It should have personalized learning paths for each employee
  • The interface should be easy to use at the front and back end. Creating courses and navigating the software should be easy for users.
  • It should support collaborative learning. Look for features like discussion boards and the ability to collaborate on course creation.
  • A cloud-based option enables users to access the content from anywhere, making it flexible. Also, team members should not be required to download special software.

Final thoughts

Organizations everywhere need to focus on improving their employee’s skills and working abilities through upskilling. At a time when the global economy is on a downtrend and businesses cannot afford the limited workforce they have, upskilling is the solution to the skills shortage. With these steps, you can build an effective upskilling program and fill the talent gap now and in the future.

Freddie is Content Lead for the UK market at 360Learning—a collaborative learning platform that enables companies to upskill from within by turning their experts into champions for employee, customer, and partner growth.