How to Make Upskilling Part of Your Recruitment Strategy

Coworkers participate in upskilling activities.

Employers can’t fill open positions because they can’t find applicants with the skills they need. Meanwhile, job seekers desperate for work but lacking critically needed skills feel discouraged from applying for those roles. This leaves recruiters and hiring managers frustrated by the challenge of closing the gap. It’s not exactly a feel-good story. The good news? There’s a solution to this problem: upskilling.

Over the next few decades, millions of workers will be displaced as the need for some physical and even some basic cognitive skills is replaced by automation. Meanwhile, employers will be scrambling to find applicants with high-level cognitive abilities, social competencies, and tech skills. Plus, the timing could not be worse. An aging workforce and looming mass retirements have triggered a talent and knowledge gap that is only exacerbating the skills gap.

This gap, no matter how deep, can be navigated as long as you have the right tools and the right strategy. The five strategies below are designed to help you upskill your workforce and successfully narrow the skills gap.

1. Conduct a Skills-Gap Analysis

The first step toward developing an upskilling strategy is to conduct a skills-gap analysis. Begin by determining your company’s goals at a point in the future—say, five years from now. The timeframe will vary by industry, but you must look well beyond the next quarter or even the next year.

Next, determine what jobs you suspect will be most affected by automation during that timeframe. Look at which new roles automation might create by taking stock of what skills are most sought after in your industry currently and in the years to come.

Then, take stock of the skills and knowledge your employees will need but do not yet possess to reach your future goals. This may involve comparing your company’s current job descriptions to the list of skills you suspect will be most critical in the future. You can also conduct an inventory of your workforce’s current skills based on performance reviews and similar metrics, or by having your staff complete task-based skills assessments.

2. Redesign Your Job Descriptions

Once you’ve conducted your skills-gap analysis, begin redesigning your job descriptions at every level to include the skills:

  • You are short of now
  • You anticipate needing it in the near future
  • You predict you’ll need it for years to come

In the business world that is rapidly unfolding before our eyes, nearly all workers will need technical skills, customer focus, and an adaptable attitude toward change. Build in flexible core competencies like customer focus, a love of learning, and a facility with technology, rather than specific skills like experience with a certain platform or software suite.

Gone are the days when you could create a job description with a shopping list of dream qualities and expect to find your unicorn. You’ll need to manage expectations and be willing to hire for potential rather than immediate job readiness. Start by revamping your existing job descriptions for current staff and then work to help them attain anticipated must-have skills.

From there, you have three options: Train your current workforce, begin recruiting a more adaptable workforce, or do both simultaneously.

3. Create an Upskilling Program for Your Current Workforce

If you’ve already done an in-house skills assessment, you should have a good idea of which employees lack the skills you will need in the future. You may also have identified your most adaptable employees, who can be upskilled or even move into different roles. From here you have a few options as you work to develop a learning and development program.

Employers in sectors such as light industrial, manufacturing, and logistics will need to aggressively invest in upskilling their existing staff to both retain and recruit the workers they will need to remain competitive. The good news is that today’s workers are highly incentivized to take advantage of training benefits through their existing employers and to seek out employers willing to retrain them.

Depending on the size of your organization, you might partner with a trusted staffing agency to create a training program, contract with a training vendor that can create a customized upskilling program for you, or hire someone to head up in-house skills development that includes self-guided learning modules.

4. Recruit and Hire Adaptable Employees

As mentioned in Step 2, employers need to begin shifting their hiring strategies toward recruiting for potential rather than for a specific skill set that is likely to have a short shelf life. Hiring managers and recruiters will need to convince employers that their desire to hire applicants who can “hit the ground running” is not sustainable. For some, this will mean convincing executives with an eye on the quarterly bottom line that they need to adapt their expectations to the reality of a changing employment landscape.

Instead, you’ll need to target your hiring practices and strategies to find applicants with “soft” skills that lend themselves to career-long learning: critical thinking, problem-solving, curiosity, and patience. While 46 percent of newly onboarded employees are considered failed hires within the first 18 months, 89 percent didn’t last because of a lack of soft skills such as coachability and interpersonal relationship building, rather than technical incompetence.

As you look for your newly defined ideal employees, be sure to mention in-house training benefits in your descriptions. This increasingly popular job perk can help you attract the kinds of curious lifelong learners your workplace will need in the coming decades to keep up with the rapid pace of change.

5. Invest in Training at All Levels

Upskilling employees and offering training benefits as part of your compensation practices builds loyalty among top performers, increasing worker productivity and innovation. When coupled with mentoring, career development, and promoting from within, investment in employee training saves time and money you would otherwise spend on recruiting and onboarding, and then some.

The best strategy is an aggressive one. Don’t just offer apprenticeships and internships to forge relationships with promising students and recent graduates or intense training during onboarding and then drop it after the first year of employment. A comprehensive skills development program needs to include aggressive training of prospective hires, new employees, and existing personnel.

Some particularly in-demand roles, such as an Agile coach or information architect, may become very difficult to fill. If the need arises, consider gauging whether some of your top-performing employees may be interested in training for these sought-after roles.

Be generous. Offer tuition reimbursement. Use your skills-gap analysis to pinpoint underutilized employees with hidden potential. The loyalty you cement in your workforce through these gestures won’t just pay off in increased skills acquisition; it also will save you time and money otherwise spent on recruitment and training when the next hiring crisis emerges.

You Know How to Use Upskilling to Conquer the Skills Gap, Now Get More Winning Strategies

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