The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

The Importance of Upskilling During Turbulent Times

Many institutions will return to campus this fall with tighter budgets and a leaner workforce. Preparing the internal talent pipeline and keeping employee skill sets agile through upskilling will be critical to navigating these challenging times.

The term “upskill” has been turning up with increasing regularity in conversations about continual learning and keeping staff current with skills they already have. New skill requirements emerge, while others fade out of existence. With organizations transforming faster than ever and implementing technical innovations, what types of skills should we be introducing now to higher education HR practitioners?

Higher Ed Challenges Are HR Challenges

In order for HR to remain relevant, we must acknowledge and connect HR work to our most pressing institutional challenges. One such challenge is creating and sustaining a leadership pipeline. For example, according to the 2019 CUPA-HR Administrators in Higher Education Annual Report, the median age of presidents is 61; the median age of provosts is 59; the median age of deans is 58; and the median age of associate deans is 56. What efforts are currently underway for your institution to invest in and develop internal talent? Check out the blog A 7-Step Model for Developing an Internal Talent Pipeline for inspiration.

In its Talent Trends 2019 report, PwC found that a majority of the CEOs that completed the report listed reskilling (when staff learn a completely new set of skills) and upskilling their current workforce as their top talent acquisition strategy. Why? It is cheaper than sourcing externally. It is also a way to fill skill gaps. According to the report, “Upskilling efforts must target fundamental skills gaps, instilling at least a baseline of digital acumen, with an eye towards building a flexible workforce for the future. Rather than classroom training exclusively, the programs should focus on changing behaviors and encouraging people to innovate and solve problems in new ways.”

Most industries turn to reskilling and upskilling staff related to technical skills: deep learning, algorithms, automation, natural language processing, Excel, data analytics, and the cloud. Industries spend a lot of money on digital transformation. For example, International Data Corporation (IDC) reported that worldwide spending on digital transformation technologies was expected to reach 1.3 trillion in 2018, with an estimate of 2.1 trillion in spending by 2021.

Upskilling and Reskilling Through the Pandemic

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, institutions rapidly adapted to temporary remote, work-from-home arrangements as an important step in social distancing while maintaining normal operations, and the ability to adapt to new technological applications helped sustain the level of productivity, as well as connectivity with others. These are great examples of upskilling and reskilling. How have you, for example:

  • Upskilled by revisiting communication techniques for working with individuals, learning (new) socializing skills, and exploring new ways to work together as a team?
  • Reskilled by aiding in the use of new technology to complete work, challenging what technologies should be used for informal/formal conversations, And enabling employees to troubleshoot technology issues? How have you prepared for virtual responsibilities such as leading a virtual meeting, facilitating employee onboarding, and recruiting, interviewing and hiring new employees?

Upskilling as a Tool for Retention

2019 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness Index found that, other than offering higher pay, providing workers with opportunities to advance their careers may be the best way to improve employee satisfaction. A key player in the tech space is Amazon. They announced in 2019 they will invest $700 million their Upskilling 2025 initiative.

As our institutions work toward recovery amid budget cuts, we will need to look for ways to continually offer opportunities for staff to nurture their professional development.

  • What should a reskilling and upskilling strategy look like?
  • Which skills will be valued and rewarded?
  • Which skills won’t be needed in the immediate future and in the long-term?
  • Which soft skills will be required, alongside technical skills?
  • And let’s not forget, which Institutions will need to continue their efforts to create an environment where people want to work and thrive.

No one should underestimate the transition that’s underway. The workplace model that hasn’t seen many changes over the past couple of decades will experience constant change for the foreseeable future. This will be an interesting evolution to follow, as we help our institutions navigate the changes that lie ahead.

Related Resources:

Defining Success With a Higher Ed HR Competency Model

CUPA-HR Learning Framework and Resources

Creating Your Individual Development Plan (E-Learning Course)