Learning & Development

Upskilling Versus Re-Skilling

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation, companies around the world have been faced with changes in the skills necessary to succeed, as well as more difficulty in hiring new staff or replacing departing employees.

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Many employers have resigned themselves to the idea that they can’t easily bring on new staff with the perfect set of skills for the company’s needs. Instead, their focus has shifted to training and developing existing employees. In this context, many employers and managers who see potential value in training employees on new skills may be confused by two commonly used terms: “upskilling” and “reskilling.” What do these terms mean, and how are they different?

A Look at Upskilling 

In simple terms, upskilling refers to enhancing employees’ ability to perform tasks within their current silo or career path. For example, a software developer might be taught new skills to help him or her manage not just a portion of code but also an entire application. Or, compliance specialists might be trained on recently enacted regulations impacting the business.

These new skills enable the software developer and the compliance specialists to take on greater responsibility within their existing scope of work. The new skills are enhancements and improvements that are built on existing skills and competencies.

A Look at Reskilling

Reskilling, on the other hand, is more focused on teaching the skills necessary to perform a new job function. For example, a restaurant that hasn’t been able to replace a cook who recently resigned might train a waiter to help with some cooking in the kitchen. Or, a manufacturing specialist might be trained to drive a forklift and help load the products the company produces onto trucks to support the short-staffed shipping department.

Both upskilling and reskilling represent a company’s efforts to improve and expand its workers’ skill sets, often in the face of a tight labor market. There is a difference, however, in the focus of these efforts, and employees may be more or less receptive to them based on their personal career aspirations.

How Employees View Upskilling vs. Reskilling

Employees eager to rise up the corporate ladder in their current job function may jump at the opportunity for upskilling, for example, but be wary of reskilling that might take them further from their desired path.

Therefore, managers should take employee preferences into account when implementing upskilling and reskilling and be sure to clearly understand and communicate which approach they’re taking and which objectives they’re pursuing with new training

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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