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Improve Performance, Retention, and Morale with Upskilling

Engineering Management

“Upskilling, what the hell is that?!”

Anonymous

If you’re like our unidentified friend in the quote above, here’s the TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read if you don’t know what that is too) from the world’s most famous AI chatbot:

Upskilling refers to the process of learning new skills or enhancing existing ones. It’s a way for individuals to improve their employability and stay relevant in the ever-changing job market. 

Upskilling can involve formal education, training programs, online courses, workshops, or even self-directed learning.

Why is that important for you?

For businesses, upskilling often means providing training and development opportunities to their employees. This helps the workforce adapt to new roles or technologies, thus ensuring the company can meet evolving business challenges and opportunities. 

Upskilling is a proactive approach to career development and is considered crucial for both personal and organizational growth in a dynamic economic landscape.

My employer supported me in my Statistics Diploma, paying for 75% of it (UK government also paid, so it was about £1k a year for 4 years) and allowing me 1 day a month to study from home. It was 100% relevant to my job and definitely was an advantage for me & them. It was a 4 year part-time (evenings & weekends) course, but I could apply the knowledge immediately as I was learning it, so all in all, WIN-WIN.

Ida, Senior Data Analyst

In this in-depth guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about upskilling, from the dictionary definitions to the steps you can take to implement your own upskilling program, either for yourself or your entire company.

The why and who of upskilling

Any organization’s ability to maintain technical relevancy is directly related to the skill set of its software developers, data scientists, and other technical employees. 

I don’t need to tell you that technology moves fast—every day, a new JavaScript framework or Python library seems to be making its way into enterprise applications. So, if your company is going to outdo competitors and stay on the leading edge of product development, you need to ensure that your technical employees are regularly improving their development skill set.

For the company

Setting up an upskilling program for your company has numerous benefits, some obvious and some less so.

Stay ahead of technology changes

You will always have employees who love learning new tech. When you encourage them to learn it, you have a whole new set of resources at your disposal, allowing you to pivot product direction quickly and stay ahead of your competitors.

Better research and development results

Bringing new tech skills into your R&D will allow you to synthesize new ideas and technologies to create even more advanced products.

Improved ability to spin up new teams for projects

With more skillsets at the ready, your project managers and team leaders can more effectively create the teams they need to accomplish their goals.

Improve employee loyalty and morale

When employees see that you’re invested in their career growth, they’re more likely to stay with your company. Exposure to new challenges and new kinds of tech also makes many developers happy, so that you can expect improved morale.

For the employee

Most developers will naturally desire to upskill or, at the very least, understand its importance. 

For example, front-end and back-end developers often move to full-stack developer positions to improve their skill set. They may also see a shiny new framework and want to dive deeper into it to see how it can benefit their job.

You can discuss these points with tech employees who are still a bit reluctant to learn something new.

Job relevance

Employees who learn new skills will not leave a job anytime soon. Their enhanced skill set will make them more valuable to the company.

Assignment to special projects

New product or feature teams often require new technologies. The more of these technologies an employee knows, the more likely they will be assigned to exciting new projects.

Enhanced career growth

By advancing their knowledge of their existing skills and learning new skills, employees increase the number of career opportunities available to them. Just make sure you have a solid career path in place for them, lest you lose the employee to another company offering a better opportunity.

Implementing an upskilling strategy

Identifying the need for upskilling vs. recruitment

Generally there are three ways to bring needed skills into your organization: upskilling, hiring a new employee, and hiring a contractor or freelancer.

How do you determine when to hire versus when you should spend the resources on upskilling? You can ask yourself these questions:

How easy is it for someone to learn?

Can one of your employees pick this up quickly? Or does it take months or even years to master? 

The difficulty of learning the skill and the urgency with which you need it will determine whether you can spend the time to upskill or if you need to hire someone from outside the company.

How urgent do we need the skill?

Will not having this skill now cost us productivity, lost revenue, increased expenses, etc? Or can we afford to wait?

The less urgent this is, the more you should go with upskilling. If you need the skill in the near or intermediate term, and it’s challenging to learn, you may want to go with an external hire or contractor.

Do we have a long-term need for the skill?

Are you looking for a particular skill for a one-off project? Or will you need it for future projects? If it’s the latter, investing in upskilling will be cheaper and more beneficial in the long run.

What’s the premium to hire someone with the skill?

Hiring externally is resource-intensive. You have to think about the time and costs associated with:

  • Creating a talent pool
  • Assessing skills
  • Interviews (both cultural and technical)
  • Onboarding the new hire or freelancer

With upskilling, you’re really only looking at the costs of training the employee on the skill and any time away from their regular projects or teamwork.

Do we have current employees who want to learn it?

Do you have employees who want to be upskilled? Some technologies will be more popular than others, and you’ll have to be selective about who is upskilled. With others, you may have to add more incentives.

Creating an upskilling culture

Once you’ve determined that your company needs to upskill, you’ll want to create an environment that facilitates learning new skills. Here are some practical steps to foster such a culture.

1. Leadership endorsement

Model the behavior: Leaders should actively participate in learning initiatives, demonstrating their commitment to personal growth.

Communicate the value: Regularly discuss the importance of learning and development in meetings, newsletters, and other communications.

Every level of our management teams actively supports and encourages progression into more senior roles and appreciates the link between personal and organizational growth. Our apprenticeship program is the flagship for our employee upskilling and development. It offers a blend of practical experience and theoretical learning that works for various learning styles and approaches.

Wendy Makinson, HR manager at Joloda Hydraroll

2. Create personalized learning plans

Assess individual needs: Identify skill gaps and career aspirations for each employee. A great way to do this is via an engineering matrix. CoderPad offers a self-generating engineering matrix with its Map product.

Tailor learning paths: Develop personalized learning plans that align with career goals and organizational needs.

3. Provide access to learning resources

Invest in platforms: Subscribe to online learning platforms that offer a variety of courses and materials.

Offer time for learning: Allocate work hours specifically for professional development activities.

4. Encourage knowledge sharing

Organize learning sessions: Host regular seminars or workshops where employees can teach skills they’ve mastered.

Create internal knowledge repositories: Use intranets or shared drives to store and share learning materials and project insights.

5. Support and recognize progress

Celebrate achievements: Recognize and reward learning milestones, such as completing courses or earning certifications.

Provide constructive feedback: Offer regular, supportive feedback on learning progress and application of new skills.

6. Encourage experimentation

Encourage risk-taking: Promote an atmosphere where trying new things and sometimes failing is a part of the learning process.

Learn from mistakes: Conduct post-project reviews to extract lessons and apply them to future projects.

7. Integrate learning into career development

Link learning to advancement: Make skill acquisition and professional growth a significant part of performance evaluations and promotion criteria.

Develop mentorship programs: Pair less experienced employees with mentors to guide their learning and career path.

8. Facilitate external learning opportunities

Support conference attendance: Allow employees to attend industry conferences or workshops.

Reimburse education: Offer tuition reimbursement for relevant courses or professional certifications.

9. Establish learning communities

Create interest groups: Support the formation of book clubs, coding dojos, or special interest groups focused on particular technologies or methodologies.

Leverage social media: Use platforms like LinkedIn or internal social networks to share articles, videos, and discussions related to learning topics.

10. Regularly reassess and adapt

Solicit Feedback: Regularly ask employees for feedback on learning initiatives and what could be improved.

Reassess skills: Regularly evaluate skills to measure growth and identify further gaps and opportunities.

Stay agile: Be prepared to adapt learning strategies as technology evolves and business needs change.

Building excitement and maintaining momentum

Once you get your upskilling program in place, you can do a couple of things to ensure that your employees get the most out of it.

Making training engaging

Repeat after me: “PowerPoint is not an effective way to get employees to receive and retain information.”

You know this is true, too. There’s a reason “Death by PowerPoint” has become part of modern office lingo. And you’ve sat through your share of PowerPoint presentations where the “instructor” just reads the slides, and three hours later, you can’t remember what they talked about.

Training must be interactive for it to be effective. And that’s more than just getting people to raise their hands to answer softball questions.

Developers are doers. If you want to make training engaging for them, you need to give them hands-on coding tasks throughout so they can see how the technology they’re learning about actually works.

Another way to improve engagement is to make learning fun; gamification is an increasingly popular approach. Gamification is exactly what it sounds like—you turn learning into a game. This can be video-game-like challenges, trivia contests, escape-room-type puzzles, etc.

There are many tech learning platforms that implement gamified questions; you can learn more about them in the Tools and Resources section.

Another thing to consider is to gamify your regular skills assessments as well. This will help improve the percentage of employees completing these tests, giving you a more accurate measure of an employee’s skill set at any given time.

Application of skills

Anybody who spent their youth playing the clarinet only to give it up when it became “uncool” knows how quickly skills deteriorate when you’re not using them regularly. 

It’s great if your employees can use their new tech skills on side projects or home hobbies – but to really solidify the learning (and get your maximum return on investment), you’ll want to ensure they’re using them quickly after the course in which they learned them.

Make sure you have the processes in place to onboard them onto the projects or teams where their new skills are needed, or at the very least, set aside time for them to teach or regularly practice their skills to keep them sharp. 

Trying to deliver in-person training remotely just wasn’t practical, and coupled with a realization that staff were struggling to find the time to prioritize learning, we adapted our approach. We now hold bi-monthly Together Weeks, where we bring together the entire team from across the country to collaborate, catch up and socialize. A significant portion of these weeks is set aside for training and development, ensuring that every single member of staff has time to focus on upskilling in a supportive environment. Outside of these weeks, we’ve also implemented a buddy system that gives employees a specific person to turn to if they have questions or need any additional support with learning. It’s been a hugely successful approach with us seeing staff members continue to develop their skills and flourish in their careers with us, which is reflected in our high staff retention rates.

Tracey Beveridge, HR Director at Personnel Checks

Tools and resources

Skills assessment platforms

  • CoderPad Map: Effectively assess your developers’ skills in 70 languages and domains in engaging technical tests and upskill them to form your dream team.
  • Pluralsight Skills: Pluralsight Skills offers a technology skills platform that features skill assessments, learning paths, and courses designed to help companies identify and close the technology skills gaps among their current employees through targeted training.
  • Coursera for Business: Coursera for Business provides a comprehensive learning platform that allows companies to assess the skills of their workforce, identify gaps, and offer access to courses from top universities and companies to upskill employees in various domains, including business, technology, and data science.
  • Udemy for Business: Udemy for Business offers an extensive collection of courses and a learning platform that enables companies to assess employee skills, identify areas for improvement, and provide access to a wide range of courses for upskilling and reskilling across various functions and disciplines.

Gamified learning platforms

  • CodinGame: A platform that turns coding into a game, offering puzzles and challenges to improve programming skills in a fun and interactive way.
  • Brilliant: An interactive learning platform focusing on math, science, and data analysis through problem-solving and active learning.
  • EdApp: A mobile-first microlearning platform that incorporates gamification elements to engage learners and enhance retention.
  • Kahoot: A game-based learning platform used as for creating quizzes and interactive lessons.

Other learning platforms

  • Udemy: A vast marketplace for learning and teaching online where students can master new skills and achieve their goals with a wide range of courses.
  • Khan Academy: A nonprofit educational organization providing free video tutorials and interactive exercises for personalized education in various subjects.
  • Pluralsight: A technology workforce development company that offers a variety of video training courses for software developers, IT administrators, and creative professionals.
  • Coursera: An online learning platform that partners with universities and organizations worldwide to offer courses, specializations, certificates, and degree programs.
  • edX: A trusted platform for education and learning founded by Harvard and MIT, offering high-quality courses from the world’s best universities and institutions.
  • LinkedIn Learning: An online educational platform that helps individuals discover and develop business, technology-related, and creative skills through expert-led course videos.
  • Codecademy: An interactive learning platform offering free coding classes in 12 different programming languages, including Python, Java, Go, JavaScript, Ruby, SQL, C++, Swift, and Sass.
  • Skillshare: An online learning community with thousands of classes for creative and curious people on topics including illustration, design, photography, video, freelancing, and more.
  • Udacity: A digital learning platform that offers intense tech training through “Nanodegree” programs in fields like data science, artificial intelligence, digital marketing, and web development.

Knowledge sharing platforms

  • Confluence: A content collaboration tool that changes how modern teams work, allowing them to create, share, and collaborate on projects all in one place.
  • SharePoint: A web-based collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office, used primarily for document management and storage systems.
  • Yammer: A social networking service for private communication within organizations or between organizational members and pre-designated groups.
  • Jive: A comprehensive collaboration hub used for employee engagement and as a corporate communication platform.
  • Notion: An all-in-one workspace for note-taking, project management, and task organization that blends your everyday work apps into one.

Other helpful articles and resources

Conclusion

Fostering an upskilling culture within your organization is not just a beneficial strategy—it’s necessary in today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape. By investing in the continuous development of your employee’s skills, you prepare your workforce for the challenges of tomorrow but also position your company as a forward-thinking leader in innovation and employee satisfaction.

At BeamJobs, we’ve embraced continuous learning and development for our users and team. Implementing an upskilling program within our company was a strategic decision to ensure our team remains at the forefront of the rapidly evolving job market and resume-building technologies. This initiative has fostered a culture of growth, innovation, and adaptability.

The program we designed offers a blend of internal workshops, access to online courses, and a budget for attending conferences or pursuing certifications relevant to each team member’s role and career aspirations. Our product development and customer support teams have had the most significant impact. They’ve directly translated new learnings into improved user experiences and more effective problem-solving strategies.

One aspect of the program that has been particularly well-received is its flexibility. Team members can choose what skills they want to develop and how they want to learn, making it a highly personalized experience. This autonomy has boosted morale and encouraged a sense of ownership and responsibility for personal and professional growth.

However, we faced a challenge in ensuring that the time allocated for upskilling did not impact our operational efficiency. Balancing day-to-day responsibilities with learning opportunities required careful planning and scheduling. Despite this, the benefits have far outweighed the challenges. Our team has become more skilled, confident, and engaged, directly contributing to enhancing our services and the satisfaction of our users.

From this experience, my key takeaway is that investing in your team’s growth is investing in your company’s future. An upskilling program is about acquiring new skills and building a culture that values continuous improvement, adaptability, and innovation.

Stephen Greet, Co-Founder, BeamJobs

The journey towards creating a robust upskilling culture requires commitment, strategic planning, and the active involvement of all stakeholders. From leadership endorsement to personalized learning plans and from providing access to learning resources to encouraging knowledge sharing, each step is vital in cultivating an environment where learning is valued and progress is celebrated.

Moreover, as you embark on this upskilling journey, remember that the ultimate goal is not just to fill skill gaps but to inspire a mindset of continuous improvement and curiosity among your team members. By doing so, you ensure that your organization not only keeps pace with technological advancements but also fosters a workplace where employees are engaged, motivated, and loyal.

Some parts of this blog post were written with the assistance of ChatGPT.