Why businesses should commit to upskilling to retain and attract talent

"Upskilling” has long been a buzzword in the world of work

Motivated employees enjoy seeking out opportunities to broaden their skillset, and employers want their staff to be best equipped to meet ever-evolving challenges, so there’s no doubt that upskilling has a clear role to play.

Even before COVID-19 struck, the rise of automation and new technologies were transforming the world of work, resulting in an urgent need for large-scale upskilling and reskilling across multiple industries in the UK. The pandemic has taken this even further, as businesses face an ever-growing struggle to retain and attract the right talent in a highly competitive job market.

Recent research we conducted at Michael Page shows that a considerable 31% of UK workers are put off applying for roles due to the belief that “their current skill set is not right for the job”. This clearly shows that employers should not overlook the importance of Learning and Development (L&D) programmes and training in keeping a workforce happy and motivated. Alongside your current workforce, upskilling and training programmes can also be a really attractive offering to potential new recruits.

With many workers revaluating what they want from employment post-COVID, businesses could find that a great way to engage those seeking a new challenge is by implementing upskilling programmes in-house. In turn, this shows a valuable commitment to professional development and positions such companies as aspirational, forward-thinking organisations, meaning employees may be less likely to look elsewhere.

PwC recently found that 77% of workers are keen to learn new skills or completely retrain, so bosses have a clear call to action – and an immediately obvious benefit to businesses. With firms struggling to attract the right talent and vacancies at an all-time high, offering robust L&D programmes can help to create a competitive advantage when vying for top talent.

While upskilling programmes make up just one part of a company’s offering, they should be considered a priority in today’s competitive landscape. Such programmes make a business a more attractive proposition for prospective candidates, keep employees motivated and create a positive culture of learning.

For businesses looking to improve their upskilling offerings for employees and prospective hires, here are a few key considerations for business leaders and HR professionals:

Identify the skills gaps

The first step employers need to take when looking to upskill their staff is to identify the problem areas: where are the gaps, and what skills employees have mentioned they would like to develop?

We reported last year that over half (56%) of UK employers believe the pandemic has uncovered significant skills gaps within their workforce. We found that the newest in-demand skills were: communication, adaptability, resilience, and collaboration.

However, there is no one size fits all approach, and business leaders should not be seeking a quick fix. The necessary skills to develop will depend on individual staff requirements and the industry the business operates in – so the focus, level and type of training programmes will need to be tailored accordingly.

Implement employee training programmes

Having identified the gaps, businesses should look to enrol employees in structured programmes with clear objectives. These can be built for individual staff, aligned to their roles, or conducted more broadly across the business. To fully demonstrate a commitment to learning and development, it may make sense for businesses to allocate specific training days for their staff, ensuring that the training is given due focus from employees. This could be communicated as a ‘collective upskilling programme.’

Lunch and learns, workshops conducted by third parties, and offsite programmes are great ways to collectively boost company morale and upskill staff. To save costs and increase the breadth of training offered and its relevance, employers should also look to lean in on expertise found within the business.

Measure effectiveness to identify future opportunities

Establishing clear objectives for individual employees before training programmes will help businesses keep track of progress and programme effectiveness. To really move the needle, leaders might decide to tie upskilling to employee career progression; to achieve annual goals or earn promotions and pay rises, it could be a requirement for staff to show the development of certain disciplines.

Ultimately, offering robust L&D programmes is a crucial component of a business’ offering – employees and candidates do not want to feel stunted in their development, particularly as the world of work is in a state of flux post-pandemic. L&D training requires investment from a company in both time and resources. Still, in the long term, it can help to keep staff motivated, boost employee retention and attract the right talent – an important return on investment.

By Sheri Hughes, UK DE&I Director, PageGroup

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