The American workforce is at a critical turning point. According to the 2022 Career Optimism Index™ study, 40% of employees are reporting that their careers have been taken off-course by the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite significant barriers and professional challenges, the data shows that a vast majority — 81% — remain hopeful about the future of their careers.

Employers have a valuable opportunity to help convert this optimism into career enhancement for their workforce and navigate a significant disconnect: While 88% of employers rate their company’s current opportunities for upskilling as “good” or “excellent,” only 59% of employees agree, according to the research. Additionally, 89% of employers say that these opportunities are provided frequently, but one-half of employees disagree. This gap in perception is notable in an environment where over three quarters of workers say it is important that their employer provides opportunities for upskilling. In fact, 68% say they would be more likely to stay with their current employer if more upskilling opportunities were provided.

But even more than a want or need, continuous upskilling opportunities are an imperative: Nearly one-half of workers worry their job skills will become outdated because of advancements in technology and one in three Americans have found their job has become automated during the pandemic — a 10-point increase from 2021.

To turn The Great Resignation into The Great Retention, it is vital that employers invest in continuous upskilling opportunities. Doing so will not only lead to retaining talent but also build stronger, more agile organizations that are better equipped for the future.

Here is how employers can best implement upskilling programs that reduce employee turnover and increase retention long-term.

Diversify Upskilling Programs to Build Hard and Soft Skill Sets

Employees should have the autonomy to pursue a variety of professional development opportunities, as well as specialized skills training courses. Formal coursework, virtual sessions, personalized coaching, and seminars that offer flexibility are among the key resources employers can offer when it comes to honing hard skill sets. Honing soft skill sets should also be a priority. Connecting workers with mentors can play a role in this growth and is an untapped area of interest among employees, as only 63% feel they have someone in their professional life who advocates for them, according to the Index.

Follow Through Beyond Programs’ Conclusions

In addition to offering programming and encouraging people to take advantage of these resources on their terms, it’s important to empower employees to apply their new skills on the job. That allows people to expand beyond their current roles and reach for titles and responsibilities made possible by their new training, tapping into the intersection of organizational needs and employee strengths and ambitions to drive growth. Programs should be designed with processes in place that allow employees to track their own progress, measure proficiency and identify areas they would like to improve or build upon. Such feedback can also indicate to them when they are ready to build on their skill sets again, continuing the cycle of proactive learning and ensuring continued success.

Consistently Communicate Offerings and Seek Areas of Improvement

Employers say they are providing the necessary opportunities for upskilling, but it is clear that workers are not as aware of existing options and are less satisfied with the skilling opportunities available to them, as well as the frequency with which they are provided.

Upskilling programs are ineffective if employees are not finding value in what is being offered. Leaders must listen, facilitate transparent channels of communication and ensure these opportunities are addressing the topics that are most important to their workforce’s needs, interests and professional development, and that they are delivered with a format and cadence that is designed accordingly.

Furthermore, creating awareness of these programs through frequent communication is of utmost importance. Programs should be actively marketed to gain participation and avoid company-wide mandates. The prioritization of flexibility and autonomy should drive such campaigns.

The availability of constant formal and practical upskilling opportunities enables employees to stay engaged in their current role with an eye on their future trajectory at their company, while also helping to grow the business through continuous collective knowledge-building. The impetus is on employers to make this mutually beneficial growth possible.