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A Holistic Approach to Upskilling Employees

A culture of engaged employees that can learn from each other has the power to transform an organization. The demand for new skills is timeless, yet it seems even more relevant today with the constant uncertainty in the labor market. The effects of the pandemic, the rise of the remote workforce, increasing compensation plans, and the subsequent decline in company loyalty have surely complicated talent strategies.

Instead of seeking people who have already developed skills, boosting the talent of existing employees could be a smart answer. This is where a holistic approach to upskilling comes into play.

A Holistic Approach to Upskilling Employees

Why Upskilling Is On Everyone’s Mind

A culture of engaged employees that can learn from each other has the power to transform an organization. The demand for new skills is timeless, yet it seems even more relevant today with the constant uncertainty in the labor market. The effects of the pandemic, rise of the remote workforce, increasing compensation plans, and subsequent decline in company loyalty have surely complicated talent strategies. Instead of seeking people who have already developed skills, boosting the talent of existing employees could be a smart answer. This is where upskilling comes into play.

Why Upskilling Is On Everyone’s Mind

This focus on skills and upskilling existing employees, either collectively or selectively, is increasingly finding its way into strategy conversations in the c-suite. Upskilling is seen as a priority for 62% of CEOS, according to a 2021 study by LinkedIn. The World Economic Forum predicts that investing in upskilling and reskilling the global workforce will grow global GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030. Massive numbers like these require special care when determining a talent acquisition and organizational development strategy. Taking a holistic approach to upskilling plans may be a wise tactic to provide stability as the times continue to change.

  • Upskilling is seen as a priority for 62% of CEOs
  • Investing in upskilling and reskilling the global workforce will grow global GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030

The Thing About Skills-Based Learning Programs…

Driving success through internal professional development is an investment worth making, but it is an investment nonetheless. There are a few initial costs to keep in mind when developing an upskilling strategy:

  1. Cost of acquisition for any learning content necessary.
    • The financial cost.
    • The human capital required to create it.
  2. Loss of production due to employee time spent in training.

Some hidden or unexpected additional costs can also accompany a learning objective, especially ones that are more involved or drawn out. These subtle costs may include expectations around wages and/or benefits upgrades as a result of their efforts. Employees may feel a need to see a rise in their compensation based on the new value they can offer the organization due to their increased skills. This rise in expectations surrounding compensation can naturally present challenges due to limited resources, especially if this step was skipped in the budgeting/planning phase. Striving to meet these expectations is extremely influential to employee retention. If employees’ expectations aren’t met, and they’re not engaged, they may decide to take their revitalized skill set elsewhere.

The Thing About Skills-Based Learning Programs…

With a holistic approach to learning strategy, the upskilling portion would ideally have a companion piece focusing on learner engagement and driving loyalty to their cohort, team, and organization. Instilling a sense of community and teamwork can help. Use staff as subject matter experts, and encourage them to share their knowledge with others. That could mean with their local team members or throughout the organization using subgroups within the LMS. Keep employees engaged — otherwise, they may leave, taking that investment in new skills with them to benefit their new employer.

Why A Holistic Approach To Upskilling Is Necessary

A holistic approach might be necessary to protect from some of the inherent risks of training expenditures. As part of best practices, any learning objective should align with the broader business goals. But, beyond that, any training activities should include a clearly defined message of “what’s in it for me,” or WIIFM, to the learner. Asking them to commit to the process means knowing what they stand to gain for their efforts. The holistic approach to explaining the WIIFM should include not only the learner, but their team, department, and organization in general.

Why A Holistic Approach To Upskilling Is Necessary

Anticipating what learners will do a few moves ahead can help inform the current strategy. Rather than wait to see the learners’ behavior following an upskilling program, instituting a solid employee engagement companion piece might redirect some misaligned expectations. Shape the conversation around how learners can think about their new skills with a focus on “we” and not “me.” When an organization instills a learning culture, formalized upskilling programs can foster collaboration among team members, boosting overall employee engagement and benefiting the whole organization in the long run. A recent Gallup poll reported that employee engagement actually increases profitability by 21%. Taking a holistic approach to upskilling positively impacts both the individual and the entire organization.

Why Strategy Is So Important

We covered a few important points about this in a previous ebook, Building Your Employment Brand With Learning. Employee development opportunities are important as a part of the employee value proposition. In fact, it may be necessary in order to keep up with the competitive landscape. An insightful Gallup-Amazon study reported that 48% of workers in the United States would be willing to switch jobs if offered skills training opportunities.

Even more telling, 65% of employees believe employer-provided upskilling is “very important” when evaluating a potential new job.

In 2020, the Manufacturing Institute projected that manufacturers would spend $26.2B in training to help employees bridge the knowledge gap and maintain production. Wisely managing the learning budget can be a more favorable alternative to talent acquisition costs spinning out of control. Proving cost savings across the organization is a surefire way of ensuring the longevity and stability of learning programs. When organizations have ballooning costs, especially in talent acquisition, it sometimes causes “boom and bust” behavior, which could lead to layoffs. This can be seen in the widespread layoffs in the tech industry in 2022, which curbed internal learning.

Why Strategy Is So Important

Where Everyone Fits In

True innovators continually look for ways to improve by finding learning opportunities everywhere. However, 55% of employees still have a difficult time finding and sharing meaningful organizational knowledge, according to a report by HCM technology. This is why the role of a learning leader is so important. Providing a curated library of content to personalize the learning experience is central to the task. Here is where different roles fit into the process:

  • Top performers: Keeping these people in the fold can be difficult. Making them thought leaders in the organization can help. Because of their knowledge, seek their feedback to help shape learning programs and content suggestions.
  • Bottom performers: These learners need help to blossom, especially because they may be frustrated or resistant. Explaining the WIIFM helps, and perhaps drilling down on any sort of resistance to training might be enlightening. It could be an adjustment in learning preferences that’s holding them back from engaging.
  • The Vast Middle: Most employees reside here. This is where the heaviest lifting takes place to determine what training programs make sense to execute at scale. Help them develop their skills and stand out by creating curated content libraries across multiple topics that can serve the greater interest of the organization.

Team dynamics can change as people expand their skill sets and offer greater value. Help your team improve collaboration with events, exercises, and learning content that supports this potential change.

How Industries Are Leveraging Upskilling

Across the marketplace, a variety of industries are using upskilling to boost their productivity and resourcefulness. Regardless of the niche, upskilling can add immense value. Let’s take a look at some examples:


Advances in technology perpetually change how manufacturers operate, and upskilling helps companies adjust as the digital transformation, once again, changes their business. Leaders are leveraging learning technologies to respond quickly by training employees at scale. The LMS helps to maintain training standards by avoiding inconsistencies due to the global nature of modern manufacturing. It also contributes by incorporating in-person learning opportunities.


Customer support training is increasingly important as online retail booms. Training team members to a new level of support could include learning new software, communication, and problem-solving, but it could also support other necessary requirements in the growing industry

Nonprofit organizations

In the complicated world of nonprofits, every organization needs innovation and collaboration to progress. Cohort-based training and mentoring relationships are valuable and are quite common based on the likelihood that there will be limited resources for training. Nonprofit organizations can leverage the knowledge and experience of their people to upskill other members of their organization.

Financial services

In the financial industry, literacy training is an ongoing process that must be maintained. New rules and regulations are in constant flux. In this sphere, build out learning tracks to train employees on different products in the organization. Employees in the industry also place a high value on career mobility, and upskilling can assist in these goals.

Considerations For Finding Success In The Process

Upskilling programs can help your organization reach predetermined goals, but it takes the right strategy. Here are some considerations:

  • Start at the end. Define what needs to change and what the desired results look like. Sometimes working backward helps to keep the goals of the project in mind.
  • Make it personal. Where possible, assess the needs, skills, knowledge, and aptitudes of learners to customize their learning experiences. Identify any gaps and prescribe the appropriate training to fill them.
  • Use their time wisely. Manage course equivalencies to minimize any assignments that are too simple or repetitive. Meet the learner where they are.
  • Encourage their proficiencies. Suggest additional courses or activities for areas of accelerated interest or talent.
  • Set realistic expectations. Acknowledge the importance of productivity but find an agreeable pace for completion. Set a manageable pace so that the learner doesn’t lose momentum yet isn’t overwhelmed. Be conscious of any dropout rate for learning programs.
  • Recognition. Find a way to reward and promote achievements in developing new skills. It could be as simple as certificates and certifications or as bespoke as a formalized rewards and recognition program.

Additional Strategy Ideas

Creating a sustainable upskilling strategy requires creative thinking and adaptability. For example, think locally about how to leverage existing talent to share knowledge. Consider who it’s going to affect and how they can help build a more holistic strategy.

Try this by:

  • Highlighting internal subject matter experts.
  • Developing mentoring relationships.
  • Incorporating things like “lunch and learns” to share knowledge and promote collaboration, which can also serve as check-ins.

A holistic approach also means taking into account the global context. Think about how to use technology and relationships to find and learn from parallel situations outside of the organization. Look beyond industry verticals for use cases that resonate locally. And find ways to keep an open dialog among other teams in the organization to share innovative ideas and relevant learning content.


Creating an upskilling strategy is one of the most valuable ways to breathe new life into an organization. It can help foster innovation, create a competitive edge, and make a real difference in the future of the organization. But learning doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and keeping employees engaged and motivated is a part of a balanced strategy. It’s important to think holistically when determining a strategy for any learning and development program. Working with a robust learning management system can help carry out that vision to advance your greater organizational objectives through learning and development.

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