Why You Should Upskill Your Workforce


If you’re struggling to find talent, you aren’t alone. A top internal concern of CEOs around the world is finding talent who can bring the right skills into play at work. With the half-life of skills dwindling, hiring for skills is no longer the most viable solution. Going into 2020, the half-life of learned skills is only five years, and technical skills have an even shorter life expectancy.

While this seems bleak, there is a silver lining: With learned skills bringing less to the table, you can focus on finding talent with a knack for learning.

Doing so brings out another responsibility. Unskilled labor offers huge potential, but you have to build skills training into your organization’s culture. As a startup, you have an advantage in being able to build a learning infrastructure from the ground up.

If you want to have a competitive edge, upskilling your workforce has to be a priority. Here’s how you can support a culture of learning at your startup.

Dedicate Resources to Learning

It can be difficult for a startup or small business to dedicate resources to an HR team, but it is an important priority. A dedicated HR professional can identify potential problems in the workforce before they occur. For example, the first step in upskilling is running a needs assessment to determine what skills you need to prioritize, says Katy Caselli, founder and president of Building Giants LLC.

“Understanding how to do a good evaluation is really critical in any organization,” she says. “Consider assigning someone to learning about needs assessments, training and development.” Some ways to train the trainer include sending a dedicated individual to accrue knowledge through conferences or other professional development channels. Knowing how to identify learning opportunities and how to increase training effectiveness is critical to establishing a successful upskilling program.

Put Training Processes in Place

Training at many organizations often consists of unstructured shadowing. But just because this method has been in use for a long time doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Taking a more structured approach to training can minimize the likelihood of errors and increase effectiveness, Caselli says.

A dedicated trainer, besides knowing what skills your workforce needs, can also structure a training program tailored to your organization’s specific culture. “With a small company there’s not a lot of room for error,” Caselli says. Customizing upskilling instead of taking a broad-strokes approach can minimize errors. But when errors in training do arise, a structured program offers processes for overcoming them. A structured upskilling approach allows you to offer on-the-job skills training that actually works.

Encourage a Culture of Shared Knowledge

The key to organic upskilling is to create a culture that spreads knowledge. As a startup, look at your organizational goals and values. How is learning incorporated? Is it a priority? “As a startup, it’s really important that people know how to operate within the culture and understand the learning goals,” Caselli says. Adding a simple reflection on what employees have learned throughout the day can help a startup achieve a culture that thinks more deeply about learning.

One of the hallmarks of a learning culture is flexibility, and this comes from knowledge sharing. When employees feel empowered to share what they’ve learned, the entire organization benefits. This even extends to your upskilling framework itself. “Give your trainers guidelines,” Caselli says, “but let them be free to innovate and make those changes.” When learning is presented as a core value, significant changes can happen.

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