A few months ago, my nonprofit organization began building an intensive 13-week tech reskilling program for an incredibly important client. But when it came time to determine who would run the class, we realized we didn’t have anyone with the right experience and expertise. Instead of hiring externally for the role, we decided to give reskilling a whirl. After all, if we could potentially get an internal employee into the position, why shouldn’t we try?
One teammate stood out instantly. He had a firm handle on website development and had already worked on the curriculum for our open-access programs. He was already in an important role, but we saw him as someone who could genuinely grasp the skills that we needed to become the program’s manager and instructor. And after reskilling, he did.
Reskilling is baked into our organization’s DNA. After all, it’s how we’re able to train job seekers and match them with apprenticeships and jobs in technology, and this is just one example of how we’ve used it internally to drive growth. But I believe reskilling can also solve many problems that plague the American workforce.
Truthfully, we can’t bridge a formidable talent gap through external hiring alone. Just looking at technology, computer science programs at universities don’t always prepare individuals to take on high-skills jobs, and automation continues to displace other workers at an alarming rate.
Reskilling doesn’t just arm individuals with the skills that companies actually need. It also helps managers keep up with constantly shifting hiring needs. Unfortunately, many companies don’t equip managers to identify great internal candidates to reskill. If you’re one of these managers and aren’t sure how to get started, use these strategies to guide your efforts.
1. Pluck out self-starters
Close your eyes and imagine your company lineup. Which teammates take the initiative on projects? Go out of the way to learn new skills? Set goals that propel the company forward? Those are the people you want to hold on to. They’ve already proven their desire to add more value—and it’s up to you to harness that motivation and help them grow.
Some time ago, I found out that a team member was volunteering as a middle school software development teacher in his spare time. He was already a contributor on our robust education team (which develops our entire software development curriculum). Yet, he chose to apply his unique skill set outside of the workplace in a way that benefited the community. I admired his initiative, so I suggested that we teach him additional skills and coding languages.
With reskilling, he went from only contributing to our education team to overseeing the employees who maintain and build our platform. Thanks to his willingness to put in the work and our willingness to provide the resources, he was able to move into a position where he could grow his skills and our organization.
2. Identify employees who manage time well
It’s also critical for students in reskilling programs to balance the demands of learning new skills with the day-to-day responsibilities of their jobs. After all, reskilling isn’t about abandoning current responsibilities in pursuit of a fancy promotion.
Of course, if you have the luxury of taking someone out of his or her full-time role to jump headfirst into reskilling, that’s great. However, that’s usually not the case. Instead, find people who have not only taken the initiative to learn but who have also demonstrated excellence in their current roles.
Time-management warriors aren’t the people who can juggle dozens of tasks at once (in truth, nobody can). They’re the individuals who reply to emails promptly, keep a clear list of action items, and understand how to delegate tasks to colleagues. We knew our volunteer teacher was a great candidate for reskilling because he was able to integrate this new learning opportunity into his existing schedule and maintain success in his role.
3. Don’t force employees to learn if they don’t want to
Having solid time-management skills is one thing, and actively wanting to learn new skills is another entirely. With that said, don’t force people into reskilling if they haven’t bought into it in the first place. Call on those who raise a hand and say, “I view this as a valuable part of my professional development.”
Within our organization, we ask employees to plot out their growth paths. They’re expected to come to regular performance reviews prepared to discuss their growth plans and what skills they want to add to their repertoire to keep going down that path. In your own meetings, ask explorative questions. Encourage employees to think carefully before they answer (rather than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind). For instance, you might ask, “What part of your current role energizes you the most?” or “What skills do you naturally possess that you don’t use at work?”
If getting that information is a painful process, that’s a pretty good sign that the employee probably isn’t all that interested in reskilling. But if that person reveals their desire to learn, that individual probably has the passion and interest you’re looking for.
Successful reskilling is a clear win for everyone, but reskilling itself isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. If you can’t identify and train the right people, those efforts will go to waste. So remember these tips, and you’ll be in a much better place to pick the right people and build a pipeline that works for your organization.