Blog Post

Learning Science: The Reskilling Revolution

Dr. Michelle Ellis
August 17, 2023
illustration on picton colored background

A note from the editor: Over the last few years, organizations have gone through a number of shifts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting Great Resignation or Great Reshuffling. Add to that the increasing popularity of AI, and we are looking ahead at a totally new work landscape. Dr. Michelle Ellis dives into these changes and how HR and L&D teams can support skill development for existing employees—resulting in higher engagement, retention, and a future-proof workforce. 

For decades organizations have focused learning and development efforts on upskilling employees to meet the demands of the business. 

Areas of focus have been on filling the gap between what is taught in traditional academics, the half-life of learning4,5, and the demands of the ever-changing job market and technological advancements3. When graduates enter the workplace, organizations are faced with addressing the fact that most, if not half, of their acquired skills are mismatched to the job market demands.6 Additionally, the rapid pace of technological advancements has required employees to learn and gain new skills at even shorter intervals. Add to this that in the next five years up to 44% of all workers’ skills will be disrupted1—and it’s clear reskilling is a huge need in the modern workplace.

Source: World Economic Forum. (2023)1

For organizations to address the global skills crisis head-on, they need to approach it like a long-term investment, not just a short-term strategy. This is the opposite of what many organizations did during the pandemic7. Organizations are tackling the war for talent by shifting from a recruit-for-roles strategy to a skills-based operational model2 that puts skills mapping at the center of people strategy3

Considerations for Shifting to a Skills-Based Approach for Upskilling and Reskilling Your Talent

As organizations begin to strategize their skills-based approach, it’s essential first to understand the differences between upskilling and reskilling8 and then consider which best practices and tactics will fit the organization’s needs. 

Reskilling builds critical skills to support performing in a different or slightly evolving role.

Upskilling builds a higher level of competency that improves performance in a current role.

The following outlines a four-step approach9 and some best practices to help get started on shifting to a skills-based operating model for upskilling and reskilling talent.

1. Evaluate

Assess the skills of current employees, identify future skills that will align with the business strategy, and create a skills matrix to deploy, upskill, and reskill talent where needed.  

Source: ChartHop. (2023)3 

2. Plan

Consider the following strategies9 to help ensure a smooth transition where customers and employees embrace the changes. Don’t rush to solve the gaps identified and overlook this important step. 

Identify a deployment strategy

  • Consider when, where, and how to leverage internal employees in new or different roles
  • Determine what incentives might motivate and engage the workforce to move to another role for which they already have the required skills

Leverage the Skills Matrix to identify upskilling and reskilling journeys

  • Outline reskilling learning journeys that will build critical skills of the existing workforce to support performing in a different or slightly evolving role
  • Capture upskilling learning journeys that build a higher level of competency that improves performance in a current role

Create a change management plan

  • Establish and build a culture of learning and a lifelong learning mindset15 
  • Leverage other talent optimization tools16 to support the changes

Map out the communication plan

  • Establish the purpose and goals of the plan
  • Define the key audiences
  • Identify the overarching messages you want to convey
  • Create a tactical outreach plan that outlines all the touchpoints for your target audience.
  • Outline a timeline for implementing the plan

3. Act

With a plan in place, it's time to put it into action. Designing, developing, and implementing interventions that are just-in-time, bite-sized, multi-modal, personalized, formal, and self-directed will help employees build new skills and apply them in real-time. 

  • Consider apprenticeships and internships17
  • Identify opportunities for job sharing and job rotations
  • Deploy knowledge management system and peer-based teaching to inspire collaboration and social learning

4. Refresh

Take the time to evaluate the overall skills-based approach. This enables continuous improvement and refinement—your approach will grow and change over time. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Create an ongoing skills inventory
  • Leverage data to track the efficacy 
  • Review, revise, and refresh to ensure this talent approach meets the changing business needs 

Benefits of Investing in the Upskilling and Reskilling of Your Workforce

Aside from the approaches and best practices shared for how organizations can mitigate current and future talent shortages, there are additional benefits to investing in redeployment, reskilling, and upskilling. As a result of focusing on internal talent development organizations are seeing increases in business results, employee and customer satisfaction, employee retention, engagement, motivation, and productivity.2,18,19,20

Source: Beyond Hiring: How Companies are Reskilling to Address Talent Gaps (2020)19

Employees want to learn new skills that benefit them in their current job, help them grow beyond their roles, and align with their career aspirations. In fact, 74% of workers would be willing to learn a new skill or retrain a current skill to remain employable21. By investing in the internal workforce, employees see they are valued and vital to the organization’s mission. Learning new skills is a powerful source of motivation, inspiring commitment, and increasing productivity.9

Source: Deloitte. (2023)9

Putting it into action: 

Consider using skills mapping as a key part of your people strategy3. This enables you to assess your internal talent’s skills, identify future skills that align with your business objectives, and create skills matrices to deploy, upskill, and reskill talent where needed.  

Referenced articles for continued learning:

  1. World Economic Forum. (2023). The Future of Jobs Report.
  2. Cantrell, S., Griffiths, M., Jones, R., and Hilpakka, J., Deloitte Insights (2022). The Skills-based Organization: A New Operating Model for Work and the Workforce.
  3. LaPrade, A., Mertens, J., Moore, T., and Wright, A., IBM Institute for Business Value. (2019). The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap.
  4. Emeritus. (2021). The Half-Life of Skills.
  5. World Economic Forum. (2017). Skill, Re-Skill, and Re-Skill Again. How to Keep up With the Future of Work.
  6. Syed, N., Linkedin. (2022). Understanding the Challenge of Decreasing Skills Half-Life.
  7. McKinsey and Company. (2021). Building Workforce Skills at Scale to Thrive During and After the Covid-19 Crisis.
  8. Pechan, C., Betterworks. (2021). Upskilling Definitions and Examples.
  9. Fenton, M., Field, E., and Mugayar-Baldocchi, M., McKinsey(2021). Piecing together the talent puzzle: How to Bring a Redployment or Skilling Program to Life.
  10. Lorman. (2021). How to Perform a Skills Gap Analysis.
  11. Gupta, D., Whatfix. (2022). How to Conduct a Skill Gap Analysis in 2023.
  12. Karpenkova. A., Whatfix.(2022). What is a Skills Matrix? + Benefits, Examples, Free Template.
  13. Van Vulpen, E. AIHR.(2023). How to create a Skills Matrix for Success.
  14. ChartHop.(2023). Why Skills Mapping is a Must-Have in Uncertain Times.
  15. Brassey, J., Van Dam, N., Coates, K., McKinsey. (2019). Seven essential elements of a lifelong-learning mindset.
  16. Upskill Talent.(2023). 6 Career Development Tools That Help You Achieve Your Goals.
  17. Harvard Business Review. (2021). 4 Strategies for Upskilling and Reskilling Your Workforce.
  18. Rozentals, A., Forbes.(2023) Upskilling Your Workforce: Three Skills to Focus on Right Now.
  19. McKinsey and Company. (2020). Beyond Hiring: How Companies are Reskilling to Address Talent Gaps.
  20. Randstad. (2023). How Upskilling and Reskilling can Prepare Your Business for Future Success.
  21. Correlation one. (2023). How Reskilling is Reshaping the Future of the Workforce.

About the Author

Dr. Michelle Ellis Speaker Headshot
Dr. Michelle Ellis
Director of Learning & Development
Michelle Ellis has over 25 years of experience in instructional design, including nearly 20 years at Disney, and a PhD in Training and Performance Improvement.. Her experience ranges from teaching in the academic setting to designing, developing, and facilitating education to teach technical, soft, and leadership skills. Michelle came to Intellum as a practitioner to share her experiences with learning and how to build a learning strategy.