Even before the pandemic, companies in Canada were already having difficulty finding the right talent across numerous industries. While there is some debate as to what exactly has contributed to this shortage, there is no doubt that it continues to be a persistent thorn in the side of many progressive businesses who feel hindered by the inability to hire enough people with the right skills. Thankfully there are several ways employers can deal with the labour shortage, but one of the most effective methods is investing in upskilling and reskilling new and existing employees. 

Upskilling is learning additional skills or enhancing existing abilities in existing or new employees. It means teaching employees to take on various skills to close talent gaps in critical areas of your business. But it also involves getting employees on board with agreeing to a particular career path. 

Reskilling pushes employees on a lateral path of continuous learning. It’s about learning an entirely different set of skills and knowledge sets to have employees perform in significantly different areas of your business than their traditional training and experience.

Benefits of Upskilling and Reskilling for Companies

Our expected outlook in Canadian markets is that the worker shortage will continue to persist for some time. That makes the process of upskilling and reskilling particularly important in the face of a tight labour market. Companies across various sectors should consider keeping people in place even if they don’t have the right skills right now. From the likes of Amazon to MasterCard and Scandinavian Airlines, progressive companies are taking advantage of aggressive training programs to stay competitive in their respective industries and using these programs to alleviate their own worker shortages. 

While there are numerous benefits of upskilling and reskilling your workforce, in this article, we’ll discuss them in the context of how they can help ameliorate some of the woes associated with the labour shortage. 

Increased Productivity

Upskilling enough employees across your organization will likely lead to enough productivity and efficiency gains that you may find yourself not needing to hire as many new employees. The upskilling process will give your existing workers the tools, training, knowledge, and methods to complete work faster and more accurately. Training them to provide a deeper understanding of the job, your company will also allow them to flourish and develop more creative problem-solving skills. 

Promotes Organizational Agility and Flexibility

Within today’s hyper-competitive world, it’s imperative for companies to have the ability to pivot and adapt to external pressures and changes. To achieve this level of situational adaptability, you must have a workforce that possesses a broader set of skills. The level of readiness and adaptability amongst your organization will benefit greatly from workers that are continuously gaining new skills and abilities. You can give them that broader range of competencies by investing heavily in educational and upskilling programs. 

Improved Retention

It costs far less to retain an employee than hire a new one, and in today’s environment, employers can hardly afford to have employees leave for greener pastures. Embarking on a process of upskilling and reskilling employees will help workers feel valued and supported, thus less likely to depart. Offering employees the opportunity for career advancement through reskilling or upskilling and setting them on their desired career path will likely result in an overall morale boost. Of course, this should be just a part of your overall retention and recruitment strategy. 

How to Upskill and Reskill Your Employees

A variety of research has shown that the most successful upskilling programs focus on data-driven decisions. But before you can gather the right data, your organization first has to answer some key questions: 

  • What positions are you struggling to hire for or retain?
  • What ways of doing business and other standard operating procedures could be systematized or automated to free up human capital?
  • What adjustments are required to your existing hiring practices and strategies to effectively launch an upskilling and reskilling program?
Gather Data

Before your company can plan and execute a successful strategy around upskilling, you’ll need to gather the right set of data about the people currently working for you. That involves a fairly comprehensive process of understanding each employee’s current skill set, learning style, career ambitions, and yet-to-be-discovered abilities. You should be able to quickly identify employees that are more willing and able to reskill and upskill than others. Once you have your data set, you can align it with your business goals and needs, thereby painting a clearer picture of where your upskilling and reskilling efforts should be focused. 

Invest in Technology and Automation

Another point of important corporate introspection will be the work required to identify whether your company is doing a variety of “busy work” in areas that are not moving the needle. It’s during this evaluation that you’ll likely uncover a variety of opportunities to replace various low-level, low-skill tasks with automated software, hardware, or a combination of both. This process should help free up some resources to give your employees the time and space to begin their upskilling and reskilling journeys. 

Create a Career Pathing Program

One of the best ways of introducing reskilling and upskilling programs into your organization is through the creation of a career pathing program. This program will allow eligible employees to visualize a longer-term path for their careers if they choose to chart a course for their professional development. These programs usually lay out specific timelines and required training for advancement within the company and explain how individuals can move through the ranks. 

However, part of developing a successful program involves having a dedicated learning and training budget. We’ll talk about where you may need to spend money to create a successful program a little later in this article. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that any investment you make in reskilling or upskilling your employees will have a substantial ROI in the form of retention and lowered overall hiring costs. 

Provide the Right Resources

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of running a successful skill-improvement program within your organization is offering your employees a copious set of resources. 

This includes: 

  • Researching, curating, and providing access to the right mix of free and paid professional training resources and knowledge acquisition channels.  
  • Developing an easy way for employees to join and participate in the program and access all associated resources. 
  • Setting up an internal mentorship scheme to facilitate the transfer of higher-level skills to the less-experienced workers. 
  • Slowly, and with specific intent, adding new tasks and responsibilities to existing roles to encourage staff to embark on journeys of learning and the development of new aptitudes. 
  • Giving employees the time and space required for learning. 
Adjust Hiring Strategies

While tailoring your reskilling and upskilling program towards your existing employees will likely take precedence, it’s important to think about it holistically. It’s also important to make some adjustments to your hiring strategies. To develop an environment of willing and continuous learning within your organization; your hiring strategies should involve hiring workers whose skill sets are broader than you’re accustomed to hiring. Additionally, a focus on bringing in new employees that demonstrate the ability and willingness to learn new skills will pay great dividends down the line. 

Look for External Opportunities

Finally, a good strategy for both recruitment and finding the right employees with the right skills in a challenging labour market is to develop those skills in potential employees before they ever step foot through your door. Many companies are taking aggressive steps to partner with local colleges and universities to offer co-op programs along with brand new reskill and upskill training to those just starting or changing careers.

Alita Fabiano

Author Alita Fabiano

Specializing in strategic communications, digital accessibility, as well as diversity and inclusion, Alita Fabiano has a passion for championing a stronger workforce through inclusion. Alita’s insights have also been published in the Ottawa Business Journal and Canadian SME Magazine, as well as she has been invited to speak to several organizations about inclusivity and accessibility.

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