•   Article   •   5 mins

3 Common Upskilling Fails and How to Avoid Them

Perhaps you’re on a mission to boost employee engagement. Maybe you’re trying to supercharge your company culture. Maybe you’re embracing new technologies, evolving your business strategy with new product innovations, or reacting to the unprecedented HR challenges brought on by COVID-19.

For these reasons and more, you’re looking to put an upskilling structure into place at your organization. Like so many other business leaders and talent professionals, you realize that the people at your organization need to build new skills to prepare for the future to stay competitive.

That’s a good first step. Now take a deep breath. Okay, maybe you should sit down. Whatever you do, don’t stop reading, because we’re going to share some guidance here that could save you a lot of time, prevent you from wasting money and resources, and ward off some serious headaches.

Let’s talk about the ways your upskilling initiative can go awry. There are three key reasons, and each of them are avoidable.

Here's why upskilling efforts fail

Fail No. 1: Misunderstanding What You’ve Got

In her new guide 7 Steps for Upskilling Your Workforce, Degreed CLO Kelly Palmer calls upskilling the greatest talent challenge of our time.

“To meet this challenge, companies need to continually upskill their people,” Palmer says. “That means investing in all types of learning, identifying and filling skill gaps, and keeping people employable.”

To do these things, you need to establish a firm baseline of your organization’s current capabilities in the critical skills you want to build. Establishing a skills baseline is a big step described early in Palmer’s framework. 

“It’s a common mistake to skip this step,” Palmer notes and rightly so. Because failing to get it right can pretty much unravel your entire upskilling program.

Without a good baseline, you’ll never fully understand or quantify your organization’s existing skill gaps. You’ll also lack the appropriate metrics to help you measure progress in meaningful ways. By establishing a baseline, you’ll have a better understanding of your starting point to accurately share your successes with employees, peers, and executives at your company.

There are a number of ways you can gather data on your people’s skills and abilities, varying by the tools you may have access to or the size of your company. For more on this step, download the full guide

Fail No. 2: Boring Learning 

In another key step, Palmer describes how to “map learning to skills.” It’s the process of creating learning experiences that bring your upskilling strategy to life.

“You’ve set your upskilling goals,” Palmer says. “Now it’s time to figure out the best ways to achieve them.”

For many talent leaders, this step is all about the uplifting stuff that drew them into learning and development in the first place — things like curating content, creating training, furthering company goals, and inspiring people to grow and advance their careers.

But without proper data and opportunities, that learning can fall flat. And that can cause your upskilling initiative to come crashing down.

You can sidestep this learning program pitfall by ensuring that the instructional opportunities you offer employees are personalized and engaging. 

Advanced upskilling strategies include engaging learning experiences that help people build skills through practice, feedback, and reflection. The most successful companies realize that learning should be blended, more personalized, and that they should invest in employees regardless of how long those workers plan to stay with the organization — whether that’s one year, five years, or ten. In exchange, they get employees who are excited to learn new skills, grow their careers inside the company, and give 110%.

Fail No. 3: Weak Career Opportunities

You can nail your baseline and create the most dynamic learning experiences ever. But if employees don’t have a chance to apply their new skills to a real project, many are going to wind up feeling stuck in their old roles and lose motivation. Others will be headed for the door, ready to use their newfound capabilities elsewhere. Either way, you won’t be helping your company further its goals. 

Offer your people real opportunities by matching them with stretch assignments or internal projects that help advance their careers.

“This is about creating a dynamic career marketplace that connects employees with new projects, stretch assignments, or even jobs and helps increase internal mobility,” Palmer says. “Let’s say an employee who’s learning data science skills sees an internal project posted that lists data science as a critical skill that’s needed. The employee can inquire or apply and then use his or her new skills to grow even further. At the same time, the manager or team lead gets a motivated, internal candidate.”

For the Win: Dedication, Passion, Momentum

The big takeaway here is that your upskilling program deserves your full attention, every step of the way.

Acknowledge the details that will help make your upskilling initiative extraordinary. Begin with a thorough assessment of existing capabilities at your organization so you can move forward with the full benefit of a sound skills baseline.

Embrace blended learning methodologies with passion and enthusiasm that make learning contagious. 

And don’t stop there. Once your people have new skills, keep that positive momentum going and give them ways to use what they’ve learned. You and your organization will be rewarded with their hard work and dedication.

“We can’t predict the future or every impending challenge,” Palmer says. “And while it’s too big of a stretch to identify or begin building all the skills we’ll need in the next decade, we can prepare for the next one to three years — by meeting the next big business need or industry disruption head-on with a thoughtful upskilling strategy. Upskilling doesn’t have to be overly complicated. . . Take it step by step.”

Upskilling advice by Kelly Palmer

Taking It Step by Step

In the full Upskilling Guide, you’ll learn how to execute each of these seven steps:

  1. Identify future skills. These are the critical capabilities your workers will need in the next one to three years.
  2. Assess skills. Find a baseline you can use to set upskilling goals and measure progress in meaningful ways.
  3. Set upskilling goals. Fill skill gaps within your organization.
  4. Map learning to skills. Figure out the best learning methods for your organization — online, team-based, peer-to-peer, or on-the-job.
  5. Measure skills progress. Create an effective dashboard to continually track progress.
  6. Match skills to opportunities. Connect employees with new projects, stretch assignments, or even jobs through a dynamic career marketplace.
  7. Communicate metrics of success. These are the positive results that are particularly relevant to your business priorities and important to senior leaders.

In addition, you’ll see how Degreed is using this same framework to implement an upskilling strategy for our own employees.

As always, we’re here to help you with your upskilling journey. If you have any questions that aren’t answered by our new guide or want to discuss upskilling in more detail, reach out to a Degreed representative today.

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