The Learning Tech

Key Considerations for Upskilling Your Employees

October 17 2019 | (1) Comment

upskilling your employeesWe’ve entered into an era whereby digital technology threatens to disrupt the way in which our organizations traditionally have conducted business. What once offered us a sigh of relief for making our jobs easier now threatens the existence of many of our employees’ positions. However; oddly enough, we’re also experiencing a growing shortage of workers with the skills needed to maintain and grow these new digital innovations. With each innovation, our ability to stay ahead of and plan for the future becomes more challenging. Never has the need for upskilling our workforce been as critical as it is today.

What does it mean to upskill your workforce?

Upskilling is the process of teaching your employees new skills. As digital technology affords new opportunities there will be growth in new positions that will require specialized digital business skillsets, like artificial intelligence, automation, and similar technologies to name but a few. By upskilling your employees, your organization fills employment vacancies from their current workforce rather than having to recruit new talent.

The true cost of upskilling your workforce vs. the alternatives

When deciding whether or not to upskill your current workforce it’s important to understand and consider the true costs of such an initiative. The cost of training is most often considered the largest expense for most companies. For example, Amazon plans to invest $700 million to retrain 100,000 employees, a third of its U.S. workforce, in new technologies by the end of 2025. Maybe this example seems a bit extreme for small and mid-size businesses, so let’s reflect on the Association for Talent Development’s research and findings.  According to ATD, companies typically spend $1200+ per employee for training and development.

Now consider the alternatives. If Amazon had chosen not to upskill their workforce, they theoretically might have to eventually downsize 100,000 employees. What would the costs of providing severance packages for those employees look like? Also, what would it cost Amazon to find, recruit, and onboard 100,000 employees? According to Forbes, the total associated costs of employee turnover for entry-level employees, mid-level employees, and highly skilled-level employees, comes to 30-50 percent, 150 percent, and 400 percent of their annual salary respectively. Given this, the costs to upskill your employees might easily be the better option.

Top reasons to consider upskilling your workforce

The decision to upskill your workforce cannot be made based on costs alone. There are other areas to consider that are a bit less tangible. For starters, chances are over time you’ve developed some loyal talent in your organization, but perhaps they don’t possess the digital skills you foresee needing in the future. Let’s face it, loyal talent is often difficult to find so when we have these types of employees, we want to retain them for as long as we can. Offering these employees new opportunities through training and upskilling can be a win-win. Your employees feel valued and respected while your organization benefits from retaining the employee and gaining the skill set needed to move forward in the future.

Furthermore, organizations that provide their employees with opportunities for additional learning and development effectively enhance employee engagement and employee enthusiasm for work. Think about the overall morale-boosting potential this provides. Not only are we in an era of digital disruption, but we are also in an era of very low employee engagement levels.  Yes, according to Gallup, employee engagement has improved in the U.S. up towards the tune of 34% of employees feeling engaged, but this is still a relatively low percentage. Providing learning and development opportunities, such as upskilling, is a known tactic to improve employee engagement.

How can you deliver upskilling opportunities to your employees?

If you’re looking for ways to deliver upskilling opportunities to your employees at scale, then using learning management technology is a great place to start. An LMS provides a cost-effective solution for delivering learning and development opportunities. An LMS enables you to deliver eLearning, microlearning, webinars, video-based learning and more. Employees can use an LMS to learn at their own pace from any computer or handheld device when it’s convenient for them. You’ll easily be able to monitor and track your employees’ activities and results.

According to an article recently published in strategy + business, “When courses are precisely defined and use digital tools such as software-based training as part of the curriculum, upskilling can be remarkably productive. For example, in university study, the minimum time needed to gain a solid foundation in Java programming is about 800 hours, spread over two years. With an online course, a worker can progress at his or her own speed, accelerating the learning curve. Under those circumstances, it is possible to learn to code well enough to get a job in nine to 15 weeks.”  Based on this study it’s clear that using an LMS to deliver upskilling can also help expedite your employees’ time to proficiency and productivity.


No matter what industry or line of business you’re in, the digital technologies and skills needed to succeed are constantly changing. If your organization is concerned over a growing skills gap, it’s time to consider upskilling as part of your growth strategy.

Picture of industry crusader Susan DistasioSusan Distasio | eLearning Industry Crusader | ePath Learning, Inc.

About the Author:  Susan Distasio is an eLearning Industry Crusader focused on advocating for advancement and change in the eLearning and professional development industry.  An avid seeker of knowledge and continuous improvement, Susan is happy to share her research, observations, and thoughts regarding “all things related to learning and development.”  When she’s not out on the learning crusade, Susan can be found with the wind in her hair riding her Harley or simply enjoying life with her husband, Steve, and her Siamese cat, Elvis, and with family and friends.