There is no question that organisations and the employees within them have undergone enormous change in recent times. Long standing business models and ‘tried and tested’ ways to work have been turned on their head and leaders have been sent back to the drawing board.  

What has become painfully clear is the new way of work does not allow any ‘fat in the budget’ and tough decisions have had to be made. Many employers have come to the difficult decision to downsize, restructure and merge positions.  

The result is workers have found themselves in the position where they need to reskill or upskill to meet the new needs of their employment. Understandably, this has been met with mixed reviews. Some employees jump feet first into change and thrive with the new challenges, while others are very resistant. There is no doubt that this feeling can be warranted, but there is a great saying that “if you don’t like change, you will like being irrelevant even less”. This is true to businesses and the workers within them. 

Reskilling vs Upskilling 

These terms are often used interchangeably in the workplace, however according to the Cambridge dictionary: 

Upskilling is the process of learning new skills or of teaching workers new skills. 

Reskilling is the process of learning new skills so you can do a different job, or of training people to do a different job. 

In recent times reskilling has taken centre stage as leaders work hard to train existing team members to assume new roles and responsibilities. 

Reskilling is a key to business agility  

An organisation’s ability to be agile is critical to survival in uncertain times.  What was considered most important yesterday may not be today. In many businesses, there are employees that have been doing the same job for a number of years. While there are clear benefits to loyalty and expertise, the issue is that these same workers are now faced with a scenario that their core function is no longer required. 

Where it is possible, viable and compliant with the relevant industrial instrument, employees are being asked to adapt to new skills to support the business in their agile response to the different customer needs. This has driven a huge people priority for organisations as they scramble to put into practice appropriate reskilling requirements. The goal is to ensure that employees can be successful in their new requirements and that the business can once again thrive.  

What are some of the factors creating the buzz about reskilling? 

Workforce planning and skill requirements analysis 

Lockdowns, social distancing and other restrictions have in some cases overnight changed the way in which businesses operate. A shop floor assistant may need to reskill to use their customer services and sales requirements through a tele sales environment and a ‘front of house’ operator may now find themselves back of house packing orders. 

The ability to pinpoint current and future skill requirements and overlay this with workforce planning is a strategy that will optimise the current workforce and enable effective redeployment when required.  

Digitalisation and automation are still a thing 

You could be forgiven for thinking that the need to reskill is purely driven by the global pandemic. This is undoubtedly a key driving factor, however prior to COVID-19, HR teams were focused on upskilling to incorporate the changing platform driven by digitalisation and automation.  

These two factors have been burning in the background for some time and we have seen many organisations transform their business and the positions within. Roles were ‘off shored’ or ‘globalised’ and lower level functions were automated. These two levers generated a great motivator to have reskilling high on the people agenda. 

Learning and development is a key hook to retention and engagement 

Employees recognise that the climate is quickly changing and they are acutely aware that the days of complete job security are over. Learning more than what your roles requires is no longer an optional extra. Workers want the opportunity to learn the role of the person sitting next to them and above them as a way to safe guard themselves through turbulent waters. Learning is also critical to engagement and retention as employees want to know that organisations are still prepared to invest in them when the chips are down. 

Employers prefer to ‘build’ over ‘buy’ 

Recruitment is expensive and taking the time to invest in a new employee can be a risky proposition. While there will always be a need to ‘buy’ in talent, there are many benefits to ‘build’ the talent from within – especially when there is a loyal workforce with the skill and the will to learn more. When current employees are upskilled, it can feel like a strong investment in the intellectual property and good will already displayed. 

Business intelligence is enabling reskilling  

We no longer operate in a ‘suck it and see’ business environment. The technological capabilities that currently enable businesses means that there is seemingly endless data to cut and dice the operations model. Business intelligence provides detailed information about who is doing business with you and when they are doing it – but importantly, it can predict future requirements. 

Don’t wait until it is too late   

Workplace planning is about staying ahead of the game and ensuring that reskilling is a key part of the people strategy. While no one has a crystal ball, recent times have shown us a strong glimpse into how fast the business climate can change and this motivated an investment into employee development.    

From the employer perspective, clever reskilling enables workers to be ready to meet the changing needs of the business, while positively influencing engagement, loyalty and retention. Employees are slowly waking up that having the ability to be agile and learn new skills in many cases makes them more valuable than long standing employees. For both parties, reskilling is worth the effort and just may be the insurance policy that provides an invaluable lifeline. 

Further information

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

Ai Group Training Services

The Australian Industry Group provides a large variety of WHS, Employee Relations and leadership courses, all conducted by practitioners with extensive industry experience.  

All programs can be customised to suit your organisation’s needs, these can be delivered at your workplace or at the Ai Group public venues. We also offer training via our Digital Classroom ™ where courses are held in a live environment online -  participants are able to engage and discuss with others and the facilitator. 

For more information about Ai Group Training Services see here

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.