Upskilling Employees In The World Of Digital Transformation: How To Retain And Engage Your Workforce

Upskilling Employees In The World Of Digital Transformation: How To Retain And Engage Your Workforce
Goran Bogicevic/
Summary: In the backdrop of digital transformation, providing the right skilling opportunities to your workforce at the right time holds the key to the success of an organization. Companies must ensure that they help employees grow professionally and personally in order to retain and engage them.

Upskilling Employees In The Digital Era

In an increasingly digital world, the "right" skills are the key to an individual's and an organization's innovation, productivity, and growth. They lend an edge to the employees while improving their overall value to the organization. On the other hand, a lack of skills may gravely impact employee engagement and, hence, retention. Before we dissect this adverse effect, let's understand 'skilling' and why we need it today.

The Need For Skilling

Companies are well aware of the need for skilling. A survey conducted by CareerBuilder last year showed that "more than two-thirds of employers (67%) are worried over growing skills gaps. Over half (55%) of those surveyed have seen a negative impact on their company because of extended job vacancies, which lead to productivity issues, higher voluntary turnover and revenue loss". This goes to show that upskilling employees by encouraging them to seek new skill sets is the mantra for retaining employees, helping them grow, and ensuring a better future for the company in turn.

But more importantly, at a time when everything in the corporate world is digital, organizations have to keep in mind the digital aspect when it comes to skilling employees. According to a joint report by the World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group, "managing skills in the digital age requires organizations to harness technology that enables them to leverage a data-driven approach to lifelong learning and smart upskilling".

As businesses are getting digitized at a faster rate, upskilling employees regularly is now more important than ever to avoid a gap between the skills and the needs of the organization. Some studies point to the short shelf life of skills and go on to reiterate the importance of upskilling at regular intervals to stay relevant. For instance, a report by the World Economic Forum, titled The future of jobs’, says that "on an average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today".

The Effect Of The 'Skill Gap'

A 2017 report by Capgemini and LinkedIn states that "over half (54%) of the organizations surveyed said that the digital talent gap is hampering their digital transformation programs and that their organization has lost competitive advantage because of a shortage of digital talent. Many employees are concerned that their skills are either already outmoded or will soon become so. Further, around 29% employees surveyed believed their skill set is redundant now or will be in the next one to two years, while more than a third (38%) consider their skill set will be redundant in the next 4 to 5 years".

The immediate effect of skill redundancy and lack of upskilling initiatives is often attrition. The report adds that "more than half of digitally talented employees (55%) say they are willing to move to another organization if they feel their digital skills are stagnating at their current employer, while close to half of employees (47%) are likely to gravitate towards organizations that offer better digital skill development".

Employee concern towards lack of upskilling must raise an alarm among companies because, after all, they are the ones who bear the brunt. As Claudia Crummenerl, Head of Executive Leadership and Change at Capgemini puts it, "Organizations face a mammoth task in terms of digital upskilling. Given that skill redundancy is a key concern among our employee respondents, ensuring a clear development path is essential to address this. In the future, the digital talent gap will continue to widen and no company can sit back and be comfortable. Organizations need to be consistently innovating and planning their workforce evolution."

3 Benefits Of Upskilling

It’s not tough to understand the benefits of upskilling employees in the digital world, because the paybacks are immense. Those are:

1. Enhanced Productivity

Digital upskilling is of utmost importance because if employees are not on the same page as the organization when it comes to technology, their productivity is bound to go down.

2. Employee Retention

"Around 60% of companies cannot find qualified candidates to fill open positions. In order to fill this gap and reach their full innovation capacity, organizations should instead focus on upskilling and re-training current workers." Companies that invest in upskilling initiatives for their employees are more likely to attract employee allegiance and have them stick back for longer.

3. Employee Engagement

Upskilling is also a great way to engage employees and ensure that they are more motivated to give their best at work. Companies like IBM believe that businesses should maximize their human capital by providing "the right skills at the right time for the right people". In its report, titled The Value of Training, IBM found that 84% of employees in the best performing organizations are receiving the training they need, compared with 16% in the worst performing companies.

Upskilling For Engagement And Retention

According to a McKinsey report, the demand for technological skills will be gathering pace in the 2016 to 2030 period. Of course, most companies and talent developers are well aware of this and are putting employee development needs on top of their agenda. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, leaders ranked preventing internal skill gaps as the #2 priority for L&D initiatives in 2018 and talent developers placed it as #6 on their list.

The onus of upskilling employees falls largely on a company’s L&D. Here are a few steps that L&D can take to effectively upskill employees and encourage retention:

1. Creating Personalized Learning Paths

The key to a good upskilling strategy is to create a customized Learning and Development plan depending upon each employee’s individual learning needs. This can be done by using the competency management feature in an LMS to find the skill gaps and by addressing them accordingly with appropriate training. Imparting skills that are relevant as per employee role and providing comprehensive learning material is the path to workforce development. Further, L&D must seek out opportunities to deploy a blended learning approach to deliver training in a holistic manner—in a variety of formats, and by using different approaches.

2. Making Learning Truly Anywhere, Anytime, And On Any Device!

With the coming in of mobile learning or mLearning, learners now have the choice of learning on any device at any time as per their convenience. A mobile LMS app also empowers learners to access learning content on the go and seek performance support at the exact time of need. Similarly, an offline LMS app also goes a long way in providing uninterrupted, seamless training even when there is limited or no internet connectivity.

3. Motivating And Engaging Through Gamification

While interactive online training is a great way to engage employees, approaches like gamification go a long way in motivating learners in a healthy and competitive way, and encouraging them to put their newly acquired skill sets into practice.

4. Applying Social Learning And Knowledge Collaboration Approaches To L&D

Learning doesn't need to be related only to the formal learning course material. Peer-to-peer learning is another aspect that is possible through an LMS. Here, learners with common backgrounds gain knowledge by sharing similar experiences with each other, in turn increasing the comfort level in learning. Likewise, informal learning also holds a lot of importance with research showing that 80% of the way people learn their jobs is informal. An LMS helps deliver informal learning in structured ways while retaining its casual, social manner. Providing additional learning opportunities (not necessarily in a formal setting) through discussion forums, communities, chat, micro-blogging, etc. are other great ways to help learners adopt a continuous learning strategy and advance their careers through self-learning.

5. Making 'Learning' A Continuous Process

Organizations today need to encourage a culture of continuous learning to help employees remain competitive with peers, develop more refined skills, and meet everyday tasks in a better manner. It is up to the company to encourage a continuous learning culture in the workplace by providing various learning opportunities via collaborative workshops, articles, short videos, seminars, microlearning content etc. An LMS can also support such a culture through in-house training content, as well as by integrating with online course marketplaces and various off-the-shelf courses which are readily available in the market.

With so much digital disruption in a dynamic corporate landscape, upskilling is more important than ever now for the success of organizations. Skilling initiatives are a great way to fulfill skill gaps, drive the performance of employees, and encourage them to stick back for longer. It’s time to rev up your skilling activities today!