•   Article   •   7 mins

Building Your Upskilling Strategy: Data vs. People

We’ve all learned lessons since COVID began impacting the way we live, work, and think about the future. If you hadn’t thought about it previously, an upskilling strategy probably arrived front and center as a critical business need. Because of all this change, you likely have a plan — perhaps sketched out, perhaps fully implemented — to identify and measure the skills you have in your organization. And you probably have teams that are focused on upskilling in areas where they have gaps.

That’s all good news. However, the pace at which we need to iterate is increasing at an alarming rate. A quick web search shows that many people and organizations are thinking about the skills they’ll need in the future. Clicking into search results reveals predictions of what some of these skills might be: 

  • Burning Glass Technologies lists 14 skills in three categories: digital building blocks, business enablers, and human skills.
  • Institute for the Future lists 10 skills and six drivers: extreme longevity, the computational world, super-structured organizations, the rise of smart machines and systems, a new media ecology, and the globally connected world.
  • World Economic Forum, based on the McKinsey Global Institute, looks at five categories of skills: physical and manual skills, basic cognitive skills, higher cognitive skills, social and emotional skills, and technological skills.

Each of those sources is reliable, and each undoubtedly followed a sound methodology to arrive at its conclusions. And yet, how do you choose a path for your company’s upskilling strategy when you’re being asked a key question from within your organization: How will we know and build the skills we need in the future?

There are two ways to answer this question. You can be: 

  • Data-driven: Creating or using models to identify a starting point, and then analyzing data to adjust your initiative as needed.
  • People-driven: Crowdsourcing the skills needed through conversations with those doing the work, and crowdsourcing the data that tells the story of what they’re actually doing.

Need a helping hand with building your company’s upskilling strategy? Take our new Upskilling Strategy Audit — completely free. Answer a few foundational questions and we will create a personalized assessment of where you are, uncover your weaknesses, and plan out your next actionable steps to get to where you want to go. Take the Upskilling Strategy Audit today!

Map Your Strategy: The Upskilling Adventure. Take the quiz.


This approach starts with your company’s business plan disaggregated into the top skills needed to support it, resulting in an organization-wide taxonomy for future skills. Several organizations have taken this approach.

Prudential began with survey data that showed that 30% of responding employees didn’t believe they have the skills to do their jobs today, and that grew to 50% when respondents looked forward a decade. Prudential embarked on a solution that involved technology and the translation of job descriptions to skills. Those skills were then matched to qualified workers, and a workforce mobility solution emerged.

Amazon is analyzing how various jobs are evolving. A peek at their data shows, maybe unsurprisingly, that the top jobs include data scientist, solutions architect, and network development engineer. What might be surprising is that Amazon is making the data available to employees as well as potential job candidates. Imagine the possibilities as candidates, internal and external, match themselves to the evolving skills most needed within Amazon. That seems so much better than answering (again) an interview question about your favorite job.

JP Morgan Chase is working with MIT to forecast a future in which skills and roles intersect, with a focus on technology roles. The result of this effort will be increased mobility as well as opportunities for upskilling and reskilling. The approach will be shared with employers in other industries. Specific areas of focus for the initiative are the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and related fields on the shift in job skills and the workforce. Past investments by JP Morgan Chase in its New Skills at Work initiative have resulted in strengthened partnerships with educational institutions and improved access to job and career opportunities, allowing for better labor market analytics and industry and employer collaboration.

A note of caution about a top-down, data-driven approach: The competency model can be a trap. While each learning program mentioned above was driven centrally from organizational leadership, each contained an agile, data-driven approach that let leadership review processes and adjust programs as needed on an ongoing basis.


This approach leverages the data and actions of your employees, resulting in a dynamic folksonomy of sorts that can be used for social learning as well as organizational curation. According to recent Degreed research, 90% of workers are confident that they know what skills they need to perform better in their current roles, and 82% are confident they know which skills they need to advance their careers.

Employees Are Ready To Learn

A wide range of organizations have taken the people-driven approach.

ATB Financial created a CEO-backed, crowdsourced project marketplace to drive an organization-wide technology change to Google G Suite. Out of 5,500 team members, several hundred auditioned for the role of G Evangelists, or champions of the change, and 50 were selected. ATB didn’t stop there though. It created an assessment for G Whizzes, who would provide tech support on launch day, and 249 were selected. Rounding out the strategy, 190 G Guides were tasked with providing local flavor to organization-provided resources.

Meriya Dyble, Managing Director, Connected Learning & Change, said that ATB couldn’t have created a business case for 400 people to join a learning team. But because it was crowdsourced, it worked. ATB flipped the switch on a Monday and received 300 calls on the first day. By Friday it was down to 10, with no customer complaints. It was a non-event. Within the first quarter, 2,000 processes were changed, and the organization calculated a savings of 24 full-time employees by reducing costs. 

ATB actively encourages employees to become teachers in the organization, Dyble said. “We create the ecosystem that removes friction for people.” Dyble  said she’s tried to become a connector vs. creator. ATB is leveraging people in the organization to do things that the L&D team would have had to do in the past. Individuals grab work they want to do in order to grow their skills, even those decoupled from roles. Teams also use tools, data, and technology that let the L&D team know when there are new opportunities. In one example, half of the company’s developers were teaching themselves a language they don’t use. That made L&D ask: What do we need to change if that many people think it’s important?

BMO Financial Group took what CLO Gina Jeneroux called “a chandelier approach” to identifying priorities. Most company strategies, she said, come from an angle of growth, and learning is a crucial part. Jeneroux encourages her team to connect every priority to department-level strategy and then to company-level strategy. 

“Everything we do needs to support those bigger things, or why are we doing it?” Jeneroux said.

To support these strategies, Jeneroux’s department needed to transform and gain new skills. It shifted from a mostly instructor-led training focus to one that’s personalized at scale. To deliver this transformation, Jeneroux identified new skills and roles to add to her team. These included things you might expect, like videography, animation, and social media experts. It also included novelists and musicians — to tell stories in new and refreshing ways.

Jeneroux also shared a strategy that BMO Financial Group called #HelpWanted, in which gigs for two hours, two days, or two weeks are posted. Employees can respond to the opportunities that fit the growth and timing they’re looking for. This strategy helps employees expand their networks and it gives them a job experience that expands their careers, all while they remain in their existing roles. It’s an internal gig economy that sets up the company for success.

AT&T launched an internal talent upskilling initiative in 2016, fully crowdsourced from its people. Managers documented profiles for themselves and their teams, with a view toward the future. As part of the initiative, every manager was assigned a new role and was expected to upskill for it. The initiative had radical results, consolidating roles from 250 down to 80 while increasing flexibility and internal mobility. Individuals were given the opportunity to move within the organization, even as it faced eventual downsizing. This choose-your-own-adventure approach led to many employees staying and growing within the company instead of leaving to develop elsewhere.

Choosing Your Strategy

Deciding on your approach is the first step to building an upskilling strategy at your organization. But it’s certainly not the last. And no matter what approach you choose, agility is truly your key to success. Consistent among all of the stories shared here is the element of analyzing your programs and adjusting to skills and roles that emerge from your efforts.

As you choose an approach, ask yourself: 

  • What role does my executive team play in driving a skills-based vision for the future?
  • What partnerships do I have to help me drive an organization-wide skills strategy and taxonomy?
  • Do I have the technology, processes, and permission-based culture that support a people-driven, crowdsourced strategy?
  • Do I have the tools and team to aggregate, analyze, and make decisions on the various data points that could come out of an evolving, crowdsourced strategy?

Customers of our new Degreed Career Mobility product also leverage the power of AI, which identifies the top 10 skills in demand by internal opportunities viewable by their employees — including full-time or temporary roles, projects, stretch assignments, tasks, or mentorships. Because these opportunities are posted and viewed in real-time, they’re a window into the skills needed by an organization now and in the future. With Degreed Career Mobility, our customers can drill down into the skill needs of a specific business unit, location, or key role.

And what happens after our customers have collected their top 10 skills data? Degreed helps them easily curate upskilling Pathways and Plans, so employees can start learning the new skills they need right away. As new data emerges, it’s easy to adjust skills and plans as needed.

Want to Learn More?

Take our new Upskilling Strategy Audit or contact a Degreed representative today.

More Articles in Skills

Let’s keep in touch.

Sign me up for the monthly newsletter with exclusive insights, upcoming events, and updates on Degreed solutions.

Your privacy is important to us. You can change your email preferences or unsubscribe at any time. We will only use the information you have provided to send you Degreed communications according to your preferences. View the Degreed Privacy Statement for more details.