Upskilling your employees: a step-by-step guide

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​Upskilling the people who work for you is a win-win situation for everyone. The better someone is at the job, the more rewarding they’ll find their role – and the more valuable their contribution to your business is. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about upskilling your team and provide an action plan for providing the perfect learning and development program.

Why should you upskill your employees?

When times are tough, it’s natural to look for ways to save your company money. Often, upskilling and learning and development opportunities are high on the list when it comes to cost-cutting. Despite this, there are many reasons why upskilling your employees can save your company money in the future.

When employees are motivated and satisfied at work, they’re likely to want to stay with your company. Reducing employee turnover rates saves you money when it comes to the recruitment process. Providing employees with the skills they need both for their current and future roles also means that you’re able to hire and promote internally, thus saving you even more money. Additionally, providing employees with soft skill training (productivity, teamwork, and communication, for example) can improve your company culture. Employees who are taught how to communicate effectively are better able to articulate problems when they arise and will feel more confident reaching out to their manager to ask for help.

Similarly, teams that know how to work together and play to each other’s strengths will be happier and more productive – and more likely to get the job done well. The numbers back this up: according to Workable, 91% of companies say upskilling has boosted productivity at work. Forbes agrees, noting that Amazon has invested $700 million in upskilling during the global pandemic. Even if you don’t have that budget (!), there are still plenty of ways to provide your employees with beneficial upskilling opportunities.

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​What kind of training can you offer your teams?

So what types of training exist out there to support your employees in making the most of their talent, while also maximising their contribution to your business? The choice is extensive, and can sometimes seem overwhelming. The best place to start is by examining the options available in the context of what would work best within your company, what your employees are interested in, and the balance of skills you need. These broadly fall into three categories: soft skills, hard skills, and leadership and managerial training.

Soft skills

Soft skills can often be the unsung heroes in the work environment, yet are nevertheless usually vital to the success of pretty much any business. Strong people skills and written and verbal communication skills, for example, bind teams and organisations together and earn the loyalty of clients. It might sound like these traits are expected of every new hire anyway – but it’s always a good idea to help employees enhance their soft skills, both for internal and external communication. Training that focuses on soft skills like productivity and time management helps employees become better at their jobs, which ultimately has a positive impact on the company as well. You’re also providing employees with key skills that will benefit them throughout their careers.

Hard skills

When it comes to hard skills, these inevitably differ from company to company and sector to sector. They can include anything from specific technical skills needed for a particular role in your organisation to a wide range of computer skills such as training in Microsoft Office. More broadly, they also cover other essential expertise, such as analytical skills, marketing skills, presentation skills, management skills and project management skills. Hard skills training ensures all employees have similar levels of the required knowledge, no matter their career path before joining your company. It also reduces time spent explaining technical skills to new employees, for example, enhancing productivity within teamwork.

Leadership and managerial training

Good leadership is an art, not just a question of natural ability. Tailored leadership and management training programmes can be highly effective in ensuring that your senior staff will inspire everyone else – a key factor in running a successful business. Company culture works, after all, from the top down. If your managers and team leaders are performing at their very best, that boosts the success of the business as a whole – and leading by example will help other employees jump at the chance of continuous learning through in-house upskilling. Key elements of leadership and management training include decision-making ability, balancing a diverse and complex set of responsibilities, creating and enacting a corporate vision, and behaving with integrity.

How to provide the perfect upskilling?

Now you’re aware of the options when it comes to upskilling your employees, let’s consider what you’ll need to do to bring the program to life.

1. Conduct an initial assessment

The first step in providing the perfect upskilling is to assess where your employees are at. Conduct a survey and/or interviews with employees to find out what their current skills and areas of weaknesses are, as well as what they’d like to learn. It’s important to have an overview of the skills employees feel would benefit them in their specific role, as well as the skills they would need to progress up the career ladder. A broad survey is a good place to start, and you could also consider adding questions about upskilling to monthly or quarterly employee interviews.

2. Consider learning style and motivation style

It’s not just about the content of the training: it’s also about how it’s taught. Understanding your employees’ learning styles and motivation styles is key to providing training that’s well received. Some staff members will consider themselves visual learners, while others will prefer to learn by doing, or through audio. No one wants to spend a considerable amount of budget on training that employees don’t end up completing. This situation is avoidable by doing sufficient research and surveying beforehand.

3. Involve management

Upskilling is supposed to benefit the company as well as the employee. If you have a limited budget to devote to learning and development activities, make sure to check in with team managers to get their perspective on useful areas of upskilling. This can be done on a general level (per team, for example), and also on an individual level per employee.

4. Keep track of your upskilling strategy

Finally, make sure you have a strategy in place for keeping track of your upskilling activities. Some companies use a spreadsheet that notes down employees’ upskilling requests, as well as who has taken which course. This is particularly useful if you are planning group training for your team – you can avoid repetition while ensuring you’re providing training that’s useful for everybody. To take it a step further, you can also note down employees’ preferred learning styles to work out the training type that would lead to the most engagement.

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Choosing the right training

In order to keep employees engaged with the training, it’s important to pick the right training. Identifying your employees’ strengths and weaknesses is a good start, as is talking to them about the topics they’re most passionate about. Once you’ve worked out the type of training you should offer, consider the format that would work best:

  • Self-paced courses
  • Group training for multiple employees
  • Individual training
  • Internal training
  • Peer-to-peer training

There are plenty of in-person and online courses out there, and it can be overwhelming to ascertain where you should be spending your budget. Consider looking for accredited courses such as those given by top universities, and those which provide a certificate of completion. If the course is given by an external organisation without accreditation, consider speaking to other companies who’ve used the organisation for training, and do due diligence through research and reading reviews.

A few examples of trainings we were satisfied with include:

Using the upskilling tracker

To get you started on the process of upskilling your employees, Adams has created a template to help HR departments in SMEs to keep track. The template is intended to provide an overview of each employee’s learning and development activities, along with the dates they completed these activities, so HR can better identify gaps and track progress.

It’s important to note that there’s a variety of training types based on the employee. Some training like Cultural Awareness, Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness, for example, can be offered to the whole company (and you might also choose to make these mandatory). Others are more team-specific. You might want to provide specialised training on negotiation or cold calling for your sales team, or provide a certain training to employees from different teams, but who require similar skills.

Self-paced courses should still be recorded, along with the start and end date, to have a full overview of employees’ knowledge. If your company has the sufficient budget and deems it necessary, training can also be offered to freelancers you work with on a regular basis. On the other hand, if you’re working with a tight budget, there are several steps you can take to get the most out of your training. Start by identifying potential group training topics, instead of individual training. Group courses are usually much cheaper than individual training, and you’ll often find that employees could benefit from the same training. Another option for training is to ask senior staff to prepare a workshop for more junior staff members.

Upskilling is an ongoing process, so be sure to check in regularly with employees to get feedback on what you’re offering. After all, the more satisfied they are with the training, the more likely they are to retain and use the information in their roles.

 

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