The world’s workforce needs to undergo a reskilling revolution, the World Economic Forum declared last year, noting that 42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change by 2022 and that more than 1 billion workers need reskilling by 2030. The front lines in this “reskilling emergency” include businesses that have a clear incentive to prevent their talent pools from stagnating. So what’s holding them back from upskilling their workers?
For some businesses, upskilling an employee might feel like too big a resource commitment, because it does require an investment of time and money. From my experience, the most effective method of upskilling is to transition the employee out of their current role and immerse them in the training experience, so they can dedicate themselves fully to education. For organizations, that means either replacing that employee while they train or discovering ways to reallocate or automate their tasks.
The upshot is, not every employee can expect the latest training in the most in-demand skill areas just because businesses need new skills. Employees often need to make a strong case for themselves and prove their viability in order to gain access to training. In my experience leading an upskilling organization, I’ve seen motivated employees succeed in obtaining new training opportunities by taking these steps:
Demonstrate a continuous-learning mindset
Employees ripe for upskilling are not just dedicated workers but also passionate about continuous learning. If you can show you’re learning new skills within the flow of your existing work, you’ll be identified as a motivated and adept learner who’s a great upskilling candidate.
To show you’re primed to evolve, stay on top of industry and technology trends by inviting useful resources into your email inbox. Subscribe to industry-specific newsletters, follow industry leaders on LinkedIn or Twitter, watch tutorial or training videos, and share with your teammates the helpful content you’ve found. Look for relevant online certifications and webinars to help you develop professionally, and offer to share summaries of your takeaways with teammates. Share with your manager about the times you’ve stretched to learn new skills in order to complete projects, and brainstorm about how you could apply that same mindset to your current responsibilities. Think of this as building a résumé of your credentials as a continuous learner.
Secure a mentor or sponsor
First, identify your mentorship needs. Particularly if you’re in an underrepresented group in your organization or industry, you might seek an identity-based mentor to help you navigate your particular challenges. If you need extra support in advocating for your upskilling, you might seek a sponsor (a boss, support person, or coworker to advocate for you) within your organization. Look to people either inside or outside your company who have the skills or roles you covet. Learn more about them to uncover how well these skills would benefit your current role and your longer-term dreams, and chart how an investment in obtaining those skills can generate return on investment for the company and for yourself.
When looking for a mentor to guide you toward an upskilling opportunity, ask yourself: Whose job would I most want? What skills and knowledge would I need in order to obtain it? Then, set yourself SMART goals for your short- and long-term upskilling needs. In the longer term, you might want to earn an advanced degree in order to move into an adjacent field. But in the short term, you might want to take a coding class over the next six weeks. Setting specific goals will focus your search for a mentor, will help you pitch yourself as a worthwhile mentee, and will cue your mentor in giving guidance.
Create an open dialogue
A barrier often exists between employees and managers out of an employee’s general fear of losing the job. Research has found that only 16% of employees have ongoing conversations with their bosses about their career trajectories, even though lack of career progress and challenge in their jobs are the two top-cited reasons for employees to seek new work.
Talk to your manager about your career vision and how you, your manager, and your company can support it. Before you open the dialogue, quickly check in with yourself and your boss about how you’re doing and where your current skill level lies. The goal is to make sure you’re doing well enough in your existing role to discuss expanding your career path. When advocating for yourself to enter an upskilling opportunity, tie the justification to how it benefits both you and the company.
Recently at my company, LaunchCode, a member of our custom training team wanted to take an agile/technical product owner class we held to help another company train new talent. She wanted to understand the roles better to aid her role as a recruiter for the training. The result was that she gained skills to benefit the company now and her professional growth long term. Not all training opportunities will come with such clear-cut mutual benefits, but remind your manager that it always costs the company less to upskill an existing employee than to make a fresh hire.
Employee upskilling is an increasing necessity for the future of work, but persuading employers to invest can take some doing. Dedicate yourself to a learning mindset, identify goals and mentorship opportunities, and start talking to your organization about where your interests and its own align.
Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals.