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What is upskilling and why is it important?

Want to improve your career prospects? Whether you’re an employee looking to future-proof your career, or an employer who wants to strengthen your workforce, here’s everything you need to know about upskilling.

Woman upskills at work

When preparing for a new job, we tend to spend time learning the skills that will help set us up for success. But what should you do once you start that job role? Well, the key to continued success is to continue learning. 

Upskilling gives you the powerful opportunity to learn new skills alongside employment. As well as improving job satisfaction, upskilling can lead to better career prospects and contribute to professional growth. 

So, what exactly is upskilling and how can you take advantage of it? From online short courses to microcredentials and degrees, this step-by-step guide will take you through a variety of ways you can successfully upskill – from both an employee and employer perspective. 

What is upskilling?

If you’re not familiar with this workplace term, you may be wondering what upskilling is exactly. To put it simply, upskilling is the process of developing new skills and knowledge specific to your role, enhancing your potential and addressing any skill gaps. This can be within your organisation, through training sessions, or independently with external resources like online short courses.

Unlike reskilling, whereby you build skills for a career change, upskilling is focused on boosting performance in your current role. Through effective upskilling, you can improve performance, successfully adapt to changes in your role, and develop in your career. 

The skills you develop can be specific to your field, or broader transferable skills that are relevant to your role, such as communication skills or general professional development.

Reskilling vs. upskilling – what’s the difference?

While reskilling and upskilling both involve learning new skills, there is a distinct difference between the two. If you’re deciding whether you should be reskilling or upskilling, consider whether you want to develop within your current career or change career paths entirely.  

As we’ve discussed, upskilling helps you progress in your current role, unlocking opportunities within your organisation and on your current career path.

On the other hand, reskilling means learning a completely new set of skills for an entirely different career. Reskilling can be more complex than upskilling as you may not have pre-existing skills to build on, and may include pursuing formal education to earn a qualification.

Why is upskilling important for employees? 

In today’s digital age, workplace environments are evolving faster than ever before. Because of this shift, upskilling is becoming increasingly important in understanding how your role might change or be improved. With industries continuously adopting new digital methods, this is particularly relevant when it comes to any new technology you’re working with.

With an increased understanding of your role, you may be more efficient, effective, and motivated in your job. Plus, upskilling can make you a valued asset within your company, potentially leading to a pay increase or other opportunities within your organisation.

In short, upskilling is an investment in your career. It has tangible benefits, as you learn skills that you can apply directly to your role, helping you take the next steps in your professional development.

Why is upskilling important for employers?

Upskilling can help organisations strengthen their existing workforce, filling new roles and fixing their internal skills gap. This can help you remain competitive in your industry, especially when upskilling involves leveraging new technology to improve processes and keep up with the pace of a changing landscape.

It can also reduce costs by retaining your most experienced employees. Because of this, you’ll decrease staff turnover and reduce the costly hiring, onboarding, and training process. 

It’s no secret that employees are eager for professional development opportunities. According to research from Gallup-Amazon, 65% of employees list employer-provided upskilling opportunities as ‘very important’ when assessing a potential new job.

With an upskilling plan in place, organisations can foster a continuous learning attitude to help with career progression and boost employee satisfaction. Not to mention the improved reputation of your workplace for any potential future applicants. 

Upskilling opportunities can also help employees feel valued and satisfied within their roles, as their career prospects improve and they can envision a future in the company. This satisfaction can often boost productivity, motivation, and quality of work – leading to a more effective organisation. 

How to upskill yourself

With so many different ways to upskill, you’re sure to find an option that suits you.

While your organisation may already have training opportunities in place, it’s important to be the driving force behind your upskilling journey – this is your career after all!

Start by identifying the skills gaps in your career and the direction you want your professional development to go in. You can also research the talent shortages within your company and the industry as a whole to discover which skills will give you a competitive advantage.

To help with your research, you could even ask managers or coworkers which skills they think would help you progress in your current role. Armed with your chosen skills, write down why they are important to you and your organisation. This will help you set measurable goals. 

Next, let’s look at how you’re going to upskill. It’s important to explore different options (not just traditional routes) to find the right one for you. 

One way to effectively upskill at your own pace is to utilise online courses. This could be in the form of short courses that offer digital certificates, more advanced options like microcredentials, or even an online degree. Alternatively, you could ask to shadow a colleague and learn new skills from them. 

With your what, when, and how established, you can then create an upskilling proposal to take to your manager. This should include whether you will need to take time out of your workday and whether you’ll need any financial support. Your proposal should also outline how upskilling will help you complete your job more effectively or fill a hiring gap.

Now, it’s time to start upskilling. As you do this, make sure you identify opportunities to demonstrate and hone your new skills in between learning. Using the measurable goals you set earlier, you can then track how your new skill has benefited your role or positively affected your organisation. 

How to upskill your employees

A successful upskilling strategy needs to work for the company as a whole, not just your employees. First, explore any incentives you may wish to include – they could be financial or benefit-driven, like allowing employees to take time during their workday to upskill.

Ideally, your strategy should identify any talent and skill shortages within your business and industry. With this information, you can address your workplace needs and upskill your employees in a way that will benefit them, the organisation, and the sector you work in. 

When looking at the industry as a whole, consider the trends that are most beneficial to your organisation’s long-term goals. It’s also wise to identify any trends that can help you leverage technology and maintain a competitive advantage.

As part of this strategy, it’s also important to consider how the training will be delivered. This could either be:

  • internally or externally
  • an online course or face-to-face
  • in a formal setting
  • one-to-one or including multiple employees
  • through shadowing/mentoring programmes

Shadowing provides employees with the brilliant opportunity to gain on-the-job experience as they learn from their more experienced colleagues. Plus, employees offering the training can also benefit from this as they’ll develop leadership experience.

Once you have a strong upskilling strategy in place, you then need to assess the individual needs of each employee. This includes their current role and skills, their upskilling goals, and how upskilling will help them improve in their role and contribute to the overall success of the business.

Upskill with FutureLearn

Upskilling works for both employees and employers, helping you reach your professional goals and gain the confidence to excel in your career.

At FutureLearn, we believe education is transformational. That’s why we offer a variety of ways to upskill – from online short courses where you can learn entirely at your own pace, to microcredentials for a professional certificate and university credits, and online degrees for more formal learning in an online setting. 

Ready to take the next steps in your professional development? Start upskilling today.   

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