As the skills crunch continues to challenge many industries, employers are trying something new to get people into their vacant seats. Many are no longer requiring job-seekers to have college degrees. Rather, they are looking to skills-based hiring to meet their needs. And, while college degrees will likely always be the path to greater economic and career mobility, upskilling through short courses, badges and certifications may be the path of least resistance, at least in the short term, to get a job in today’s market.
While it’s good news that employers are becoming more flexible on qualifications, too many may be missing out on a more efficient path to meeting their needs by having the processes and culture in place that are essential to advancing their current workforce. Upskilling workers who are already enculturated to the organization is not only a faster path to getting the workforce you need today, but it can also be a powerful retention tool. A 2019 study from Deloitte found that 94% of employees would stay at a company that helped them develop and upskill.
Business and revenue models are changing faster than ever, giving a huge advantage to leaders who have the skills and flexibility to be agile and execute quickly. Even in the best of times, the process of hiring externally is time-consuming, inefficient and painful. It’s going to get even harder in the coming years as the skills gap persists and U.S. demographic trends limit the growth of the workforce.
Leaders need to fundamentally rethink work, deciding what is valuable to them and how they can build a nimbler workforce through a culture of upskilling.
The goal for companies should be to identify high potential employees, develop their capabilities and move them into higher-value roles. To achieve this, they need to put in place the tools and systems that will help them select the right people, establish the skills gap that needs to be filled, and ensure the incentives are aligned.
The hardest part is creating an environment that allows this to succeed. Employers must create a culture for workers to have the space and time needed for learning to be effective. They should also build practical components into learning pathways, such as mentoring programs and micro-internships, that enable employees to put book learning into practice and expand their experience. GE won its reputation for developing superb managers with a similar approach, putting executives in temporary roles that created complementary skills.
There’s no real limit to the type of job that can benefit from a culture of upskilling. Tech is the most common area, but that can cover a wide range of roles, including app development, web design, cyber security and digital marketing. Finance, consulting and operations roles may also be good candidates.
It’s relatively easy to add specific hard skills. IT workers who want to learn to code in Python, for example, can access many free courses online, and employers can give them time to study by reducing their weekly work hours. A field like data analysis, by contrast, requires a more sophisticated upskilling infrastructure, especially when expert mentors are unavailable. That could include boot camps, night classes, or perhaps a pathway to a full degree.
Whatever upskilling approach you choose will depend upon the type of skills employees need or want, or you need or want them to acquire. Degrees remain a crucial route, though not the only one, to acquire soft skills, and nearly all learning should be allowed to go into a degree-based track. The idea of stacking skills to eventually achieve the credits needed to complete a degree is another idea that gaining steam in today’s fast-changing workplace.
Any leader who balks at the cost of implementing upskilling programs should pause to consider the cost of standing still in today’s business environment. With the job market this tight and set to remain so, companies can’t simply hire their way out of trouble anymore. Companies that aren’t agile enough to quickly match employee skills with business opportunities are destined to fall behind the competition. It’s time to rethink work and upskilling should be a part of that conversation.