As employers struggle to retain employees and fill a growing skills gap, you hear a lot of people calling for initiatives to reskill and upskill existing employees. My question to business leaders is, why just now?

Employees want to grow, and companies want to grow. That means everyone should be aligned in wanting to build a learning organization.

Upskilling and reskilling always makes perfect sense, even for small organizations. But now the issue is even more urgent. Consider the following statistics:

  • The Great Resignation is real. Some four million people quit their jobs each month from April through December 2021.
  • The skills gap is also real. Consider these numbers:
    • According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) 85 million jobs will be obsolete by 2025, and 97 new jobs will be created needing skills that do not yet exist.
    • Gartner said the number of skills workers need is growing by 10% each year, and one in three technology skills required in 2017 is already obsolete.

Employees Want to Learn

Employees have told employers why they are leaving. The message is loud and clear — more than money or perks, they want growth and advancement opportunities.

It is not just front-line workers that have had enough. According to a Talent LMS/Workable survey of employees in the information technology (IT)/technology industry about The Great Resignation:

  • 72% of people surveyed are ready to quit their jobs.
  • 90% of people surveyed want more learning and development (L&D) opportunities from their company.
  • 41% of people surveyed cited limited career progression as the top reason for wanting to quit their jobs.
  • After salary and benefits, skills development opportunities are the No. 1 thing people look for when choosing a company to work for.
  • 62% of people surveyed say they would be more motivated to stay if they had more training and learning opportunities.

“Employers who offer valuable training opportunities build their reputations as employers of choice,” says Kelly Aiken, vice president for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, told the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).

Skills Gap or Training Gap?

We do not have a skills gap: We have a training gap. Employers are talking about reskilling and upskilling as a new idea. But investing in your best employees, providing growth opportunities, promoting internally first, are all best practices businesses should have been doing long before the great resignation.

83% of organizations surveyed by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) reported skills gaps in their workforce. But McKinsey found just 16% of companies are “very prepared” to upskill and reskill workers. Employers have taken the power of their paychecks for granted. As the balance of power shifts from employers to employees, companies that have leveraged their hiring power to skimp on internal learning and development stand to pay a heavy price.

Even without the skills gap, the economics and retention benefits of upskilling employees are irrefutable. There is no question that hiring new employees is far more costly than promoting from within. Yes, you will have to fill the position of the person promoted, but if you fill each position internally, you will be bringing on entry level employees, at lower costs, into your talent pipeline.

HR analyst Josh Bersin has been advocating for internal employee development for years. “The cost of recruiting a mid-career software engineer (who earns $150,000- 200,000 per year) can be $30,000 or more including recruitment fees, advertising, and recruiting technology,” Bersin said. “This new hire also requires onboarding and has a potential turnover of two to three times higher than an internal recruit. By contrast, the cost to train and reskill an internal employee is $20,000 or less, saving as much as $116,000 per person over three years.”

Five Ways to Build Skills and Improve Retention

At Prialto, we hire and train virtual assistants in Asia and Central America to work with North American and European executives. Our assistants and their managers must constantly learn new tools and technologies.

Here are steps your organization can take to invest in, develop and retain employees, based on our experience:

  • Measure and report employee retention. It sounds obvious, but not all companies pay attention to retention numbers, and we all know you can’t manage what you do not measure. Set targets and reward teams for reaching retention goals. Measure employee retention every week and look for patterns and gaps in employee development.
  • Celebrate advancement — even when people leave your organization. Celebrating promotions and departures can help your employees have a vision for their own growth opportunities. When someone gets promoted, explain what they did to earn that step up. When someone leaves for an exciting opportunity, celebrate that too. You will attract growth-minded employees that want to move up in the world, with you or elsewhere.
  • Invest in a learning system. Giving employees access to learning opportunities is easy with a learning management system (LMS). Create a core curriculum to provide guidance for employees to develop the baseline competencies for your business but let them take it from there. Create rewards for course completion milestones that are aligned with business needs.
  • Build cohort-based learning processes. Virtual assistants must constantly learn new tools and technologies to support executives at hot startups and large enterprises. Try to form cohorts where peers can train each other as they learn new tools on the job. This is an uncomplicated way to create a skill-building culture.
  • Survey employees regularly. Asking employees for feedback can be a powerful retention tool if you act on what they tell you. For example, in our organization, we poll employees every day, asking, “Was Prialto a great place to grow today?” Getting daily feedback helps us identify issues early, so they do not fester and lead to unnecessary departures. Another question we ask regularly is, “Do you believe the skills and experience you are gaining here will help you get a better job in the future.” In our last survey, 97% said “yes.” That tells me people are excited about what they are learning.

Make Skill Building Easier

“The easiest talent to source is the talent you already have; the answer to sourcing the right skill sets lies in redeployment, reskilling, and upskilling,” a McKinsey article says. These are three different types of training, which McKinsey says are:

  • Redeployment: When a person’s current role is going away and they are moving to a different role, for which they already have the requisite skills.
  • Reskilling: When a person is building a different skill or set of skills to be able to perform in a different or significantly evolving role.
  • Upskilling: When a person is building a higher level of competency in a skill or set of skills to better perform in the current role.

Finding the right mix of redeploying, reskilling and upskilling solutions will differ for each organization. Businesses will need to use these levers strategically and, at times, in conjunction with one another. The key to bridging the skills gap is to, first and foremost, bridge the training gap.