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How to upskill employees with tech skills of the future

There’s a poignant moment in the Netflix series, 3 Body Problem, where an alien character marvels at how quickly technology has advanced on Earth:

“Human beings have existed for over 100,000 years. For most of that time, you weren’t so different from apes. It took you 90,000 years to get from hunter-gatherer to farmer. After that, how long did it take you to become industrialists? About 10,000 years. Atomic power? Two hundred years. Computers? The information age? Fifty years.”

The show may be science fiction, but the acceleration of technological innovations that it references is absolutely real. Technology is advancing faster than ever today—and so are the skills that employees need to keep up with these innovations. From cloud computing, to mobile development, to AI, companies today need technical talent with skill sets that didn’t exist even a decade ago.  

Take AI engineers, for example. Companies have significant AI skills gaps on their teams, but they can’t source enough new talent to fill these roles. To address this, a recent McKinsey report finds, companies are upskilling their existing engineers. An author of the report explains, “When it comes to sourcing AI talent, the most popular strategy among all respondents is reskilling existing employees. Nearly half of the companies we surveyed are doing so.” 

Upskilling and reskilling are key strategies companies can use to fill technical skills gaps on their teams, and they’re more important today than ever. This article will dive into what technical upskilling is, when to use it, best practices for upskilling, and how to measure the success of your program. 

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What is tech upskilling?

Tech upskilling is the process of continuously building employees’ technical skills to address current and future skill gaps and business needs. In an era where technological advancements are rapidly transforming industries, companies must invest in upskilling to keep employees’ knowledge and skills up to date with the latest innovations. Tech upskilling both boosts an organization’s competitive edge and fosters a culture of learning and innovation. 

Why is there a need for upskilling your technical talent today?

The need to upskill your technical talent today is driven by rapid technological advancements that are reshaping industries through digital transformation. As technologies such as AI and automation become integral to business operations, companies must adapt quickly to harness their full potential and maintain a competitive advantage. 

Recent statistics underscore this urgency: 42% of companies increased their upskilling efforts after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, where in-person workplaces became remote-only overnight and business needs changed suddenly. Upskilling equips employees with the tools and skills they need to best contribute to their teams; it also serves as an effective employee retention strategy. By investing in their professional growth, organizations boost engagement and motivation among their employees, reducing turnover and building a more skilled and satisfied workforce.

Should every company have a tech upskilling plan?

Companies of many sizes and industries who employ technical talent (software developers, engineers, data scientists, etc.) should consider implementing a tech upskilling plan as part of their strategic workforce planning. This commitment to enhancing skills in industry-specific technologies both future-proofs businesses against rapid changes in the market and increases workforce agility. A well-crafted upskilling initiative fosters innovation and growth by preparing employees to tackle existing and emerging challenges. 

Upskilling vs. reskilling: What is the best option?

Upskilling and reskilling are two strategies for workforce development, but they serve slightly different purposes. Upskilling refers to the process of improving the existing skills of employees to enhance their performance and enable them to handle more complex tasks within their current roles. On the other hand, reskilling involves training employees to acquire entirely new skill sets, preparing them for different roles within the company as their current positions evolve or become obsolete. The key difference lies in the focus: upskilling is about enhancement and addition, while reskilling is about redirection and role changes.

When deciding whether to invest in upskilling, reskilling, or both, companies should conduct an organizational needs assessment to understand the specific demands of their industry and the future trajectory of their business. This assessment should consider the career development paths available within the organization and how employee role evolution might impact these paths. A cost-benefit analysis can help determine the financial viability and potential return on investment for each training option.

How to choose between upskilling employees vs. hiring externally

When you’re choosing between upskilling employees and hiring externally, you should weigh several factors, including recruitment costs, time-to-productivity, and the fit with organizational culture. Upskilling your internal talent pool is often beneficial as it promotes knowledge retention and leverages the existing understanding employees have of the company’s processes and values. This approach can be more cost-effective than external hiring, which involves higher recruitment expenses and typically a longer ramp-up time to full productivity. However, there are situations where external hiring is necessary, especially when the required expertise is not available within the current workforce or when fresh perspectives are needed to innovate and drive growth. 

Benefits of upskilling employees

If you decide to invest in upskilling employees, instead of or in addition to hiring externally, upskilling offers numerous benefits to your teams and your organization. Here are a few of them:

“Companies that excel at internal mobility retain employees for an average of 5.4 years. That’s nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with it, where the average retention span is just 2.9 years.”

  • Increase productivity: A recent McKinsey study found that 91% of companies and 81% of employees said that upskilling and reskilling training boosted productivity at work.
  • Ensure alignment with industry standards: Continuous upskilling ensures that employees’ skills stay relevant and compliant with evolving industry benchmarks, keeping the company at the forefront of quality and regulatory standards.
  • Attract new talent: A commitment to employee development is a significant draw for prospective hires who value professional growth and learning opportunities, making the company more attractive to top talent in the field.
  • Reduce turnover rates: When companies invest in their employees, it fosters loyalty and job satisfaction, leading to increased employee retention and lower recruitment costs over time. One study found that 45% of employees said they are more likely to stay in their role if they receive more training.
  • Enhance innovation capacity: Upskilling helps employees adapt to new technologies and methodologies, equipping them to drive innovation and maintain the company’s competitive edge in the marketplace.

Challenges with upskilling

While upskilling offers many benefits, it can also present challenges that organizations need to address to maximize the impact of their training programs. Challenges may include:

  • Resource allocation: Upskilling requires significant investment in terms of time and money. Organizations must strategically allocate these resources to avoid straining their budgets and overburdening employees with work and training commitments.
  • Training effectiveness: Not all training programs achieve their intended outcomes. Companies face the challenge of designing and implementing effective training that genuinely enhances skills and contributes to business goals (how to do this will be addressed in the sections below).
  • Employee resistance: Some employees may be resistant to change, especially if they feel comfortable in their current roles or uncertain about new technologies. Overcoming this resistance involves clear communication, demonstrating the benefits, and possibly incentivizing participation.
  • Scaling training programs: As a company grows, scaling up training programs to accommodate more employees or new roles can be challenging. This requires adaptable training models and possibly leveraging technology like online learning platforms to ensure consistent and efficient training delivery.

When should you consider hiring new staff?

When considering whether to hire new staff, you should weigh several factors. A skills shortage within your existing workforce that cannot be quickly remedied through upskilling is a primary reason to look externally. Business expansion needs may also compel your organization to bring on new talent with specific skills not present in the current team. You should also compare the cost of training existing employees versus hiring skilled new personnel, especially when time constraints demand immediate expertise that training cannot provide quickly enough. In these cases, hiring new staff can be the most efficient and effective strategy to meet immediate business needs.

How to help your employees develop the tech skills of the future

To help employees develop the tech skills of the future, it’s crucial to first identify skills gaps within your team. This allows for the creation of personalized learning plans that are tailored to meet the needs of individual employees and the organization as a whole. Companies can also foster a proactive learning culture by integrating mentorship programs and collaborative learning environments into their upskilling program. These strategies enhance skills development while also encouraging teamwork and knowledge sharing. 

Additionally, offering support for obtaining certification and credentials can motivate employees to commit to their development paths. And finally, leveraging third-party learning content and services can provide employees access to specialized knowledge and training resources that ensure they have the tools they need to succeed today and in the future.

Top employee upskilling strategies

The best employee upskilling strategies include a range of approaches designed to enhance the capabilities and productivity of your workforce. Implementing continuous feedback mechanisms, for instance, helps employees identify areas for improvement and tracks their progress over time. Job rotation is another effective strategy that allows employees to develop a broader range of skills by experiencing different roles within the organization. Other strategies are peer mentoring and peer coaching, which can foster a supportive environment where employees learn from each other’s experiences and insights.

One of the most impactful ways to fill skills gaps on your team is by offering upskilling courses that provide structured learning opportunities to help employees stay current with industry trends and technologies.

Features of an effective upskilling platform

The best tech upskilling platforms offer relevant content that is engaging, personalized, and results-oriented.

Feature 1: Personalization

Top upskilling platforms excel in offering personalized learning experiences. In fact, 78% of learners say they need course recommendations based on their individual career goals, according to a recent report. By assessing the skills and goals of each learner, upskilling platforms can tailor content and pathways that meet individual needs effectively. This personalization helps learners engage more deeply with the material, progressing at their own pace while ensuring that they are developing the skills that are most relevant to their roles.

Feature 2: One-on-one learning support

Effective learning often requires direct support, which is why leading upskilling platforms provide one-on-one learning assistance. AI-powered learning assistants ensure learners receive the help they need to overcome challenges and comprehend complex topics—and they can do so at scale. This personalized attention boosts confidence and facilitates a deeper understanding of the material.

Feature 3: Gamification and microlearning

Incorporating gamification and microlearning techniques is a hallmark of advanced upskilling platforms. These features break down learning into bite-sized tasks and use elements of play to increase engagement, motivation, and retention. Gamified challenges and short learning modules make the upskilling process more interactive and enjoyable, which helps ensure your employees follow through on their learning goals.

Feature 4: Outcome-driven

Lastly, the best upskilling platforms are outcome-driven and focused on skill mastery. These platforms ensure that a learner has mastered a skill before moving on to a new topic. Platforms should also provide team leaders visibility into their employees’ skills with analytics dashboards to track learner progress, skill proficiency, and time spent learning. Integrations with existing learning management systems (LMS) help align learning platform insights with organizational goals.

How do you upskill your team or employees more efficiently?

To upskill your team or employees more efficiently, leveraging technology platforms is key. Online learning platforms offer a suite of tools that facilitate data-driven skill development and allow you to tailor learning paths that precisely match the needs of your organization. By utilizing analytics dashboards, you can monitor progress in real time, identify learners’ current proficiency in specific skills, and adjust learning plans to better suit their needs. 

How organizations can ensure the long-term effectiveness of their upskilling initiatives

For organizations to ensure the long-term effectiveness of their upskilling initiatives, several key elements must be in place. First is leadership commitment, as leaders set the tone and standard for what priority continuous improvement and learning has within their company. Establishing a sustainable learning culture that encourages continuous development and curiosity is also important. This environment should be supported by establishing success metrics, which allows the organization to track the impact of training programs and adjust strategies as necessary. Regular program updates may be needed to keep content relevant and aligned with the latest industry trends and technological advancements. Lastly, integrating upskilling initiatives with broader business goals ensures that they contribute directly to organizational success.

What metrics to track to measure the ROI of your upskilling program

To accurately measure the return on investment (ROI) of your upskilling program, tracking specific metrics can provide valuable insights into its effectiveness and impact. Here are a few metrics to consider tracking:

  • Employee performance improvements: Monitor pre- and post-training performance metrics to see how employee productivity has increased as a result of upskilling efforts.
  • Skill attainment: Tracking employees’ learning completion rate may give some indication of learner engagement, but it doesn’t show how effective the training was. A more useful metric to track is skill attainment: to what degree employees have mastered the skills they’re working toward.
  • Cost savings versus traditional hiring: Compare the costs associated with upskilling existing employees against the costs of hiring new staff—including recruitment, onboarding, and ramp-up times—to assess financial efficiency.
  • Employee engagement and satisfaction: Measure changes in employee satisfaction and engagement through surveys and feedback mechanisms before and after training, as these are indicators of the program’s resonance with the workforce.
  • Impact on business outcomes: Link improvements in business performance metrics such as sales, customer service quality, and operational efficiency directly to upskilling efforts to understand their true impact on organizational success.

Accelerate your employee upskilling with CodeSignal Develop

This article has explored what tech upskilling is, why companies should invest in upskilling, and how to ensure upskilling programs are successful. As technology changes and advances at an ever-growing rate, upskilling becomes an increasingly important way for companies to keep pace with innovation and the changing skill sets needed to take advantage of tech advancements. Using online learning platforms is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways for companies to upskill their current technical talent with the skills their organization needs today and in the future.

Ready to explore upskilling or reskilling your technical teams? CodeSignal Develop is a revolutionary learning platform designed to achieve the key business outcomes of reskilling workforces and closing skills gaps, all supported by advanced tracking and reporting capabilities.

Want to learn more about how companies are using CodeSignal Develop to close skill gaps on their teams? Check out a recording of our Innovation Spotlight webinar, which showcases how Google and others are using Develop to level up their teams’ skills.