Times are tough in the business world.
Facing a global economic slowdown and a looming recession, many companies — including tech giants like Google, Amazon, Salesforce and Hubspot — are cutting costs to rightsize staff and adjust to the post-pandemic climate.
In times like these, when margins are thin and headwinds are strong, one thing is clear: investment in online learning and career development is more important than ever.
Upskilling and reskilling programs are crucial engines for growth, and a win-win for both employers and employees. Not only is it less expensive to reskill a current employee than hire a new one, but young professionals are expecting, if not demanding, that employers provide learning opportunities on the job.
Unfortunately, the reality is that most corporate training programs are missing the mark. According to i4cp’s 2023 Priorities and Predictions Report, only 12% of respondents think the upskilling efforts in their organizations are effective.
In this article we’ll explore macro trends in the L&D landscape, identify key skills that companies need to effectively future-proof their workforce, and share best practices for designing and delivering highly effective upskilling and reskilling programs.
As companies seek to cut costs and run lean in 2023, many are taking the opportunity to invest in employee upskilling and reskilling. Nearly half of L&D professionals (48%) expect a larger training budget this year, according to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report.
That’s good news for employees, who say that having opportunities to learn and grow is the number-one driver of a great work culture. This rings particularly true for younger generations; in a recent survey by eCampusNews, 84% of adult Gen Z respondents (born after 1996) agreed that it was extremely or very important that employers provide resources for continuous learning.
But despite bigger budgets and demand for on-the-job learning opportunities, it’s not all sunshine and roses in the L&D world.
According to LinkedIn, only 15% of L&D professionals report that they have active upskilling and reskilling programs, and significantly fewer have reached the post-activation and measurement phase.
One of the biggest challenges is that skills are becoming obsolete at a faster rate than ever before. According to a 2022 report from Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH), the average shelf life of a skill acquired today is only ~5 years, and 87% of businesses are already suffering skill gaps.
That means companies must evolve and take proactive, ongoing measures to future-proof their talent, or else the gaps will continue to widen.
It also means that traditional L&D efforts are no longer keeping pace with today’s rapidly changing skills landscape. To stay ahead of the curve, companies need to adopt modern training methods, create space for employees to learn and grow without limitations, and build a corporate culture that promotes learning at every level of the organization.
A well-executed L&D strategy can yield tremendous benefits at both the individual and company-level, from retention and morale to performance and profitability.
When you invest in upskilling and reskilling, you reduce the risk of turnover, attract higher quality talent, and empower your best employees with the tools and resources they need to stay sharp. According to LHH, more than half of organizations report increased levels of both employee productivity and loyalty after participating in training/upskilling programs.
Research shows that upskilling can significantly impact a company’s bottom line as well. In a survey from Bersin Associates, firms that prioritize learning and development have a median revenue per employee of $169k, compared to $83k among those that don’t. Furthermore, studies from LHH and Boston Consulting Group estimate that upskilling and reskilling programs yield a savings of $136k per employee, compared to the costs associated with layoffs (including recruitment, outplacement, and severance).
So what about companies that choose not to invest in upskilling and reskilling?
When you don’t make learning opportunities available to employees, you pay for it in multiple ways; not only do you risk losing your top talent, but higher turnover rates mean spending significantly more on employee replacement costs (typically 1.5 – 2x annual salary) compared to upskilling the people you have.
Furthermore, companies that aren’t making upskilling a priority now will have an extremely hard time staying relevant and competitive in a future where many of today’s skills are obsolete. The potential impact is massive, and growing; Gartner estimates that 80% of the world’s employees today lack the skills they need to take on a more future-proofed role.
Simply put, the time is now for companies to rethink and reprioritize how they approach employee upskilling and reskilling.
When the stakes are this high, and the pace of change is this fast, companies can no longer sit back and hope for yesterday’s solutions to solve today’s problems.
In place of traditional, outdated L&D efforts, they need to adopt a modern approach that allows them to:
- Identify and focus on the skills that matter most
- Evolve the way training is designed, delivered and measured
- Create an “always learning” corporate culture
The first step in building an effective training program is identifying the right skills, based on current and anticipated future needs.
While this may sound simple, it’s something that many companies are doing poorly, or not at all. According to i4cp, only 15% of respondents believe their organization is highly effective at analyzing the gap between current workforce capabilities and future business requirements.
This is a big deal, especially considering the potential scope. The World Economic Forum estimates that roughly half of the global workforce will need reskilling by 2025, and that 40% of core skills are expected to change over that time period. To stay ahead of the curve, companies need to assess their current skill set, identify which specific skills will be most important in the future, and focus their upskilling efforts on closing the gaps.
This begs the question: what are the skills of the future?
One of the most common, universal themes we’ve seen recently is the rising demand for data literacy and data analysis skills.
And it’s not just us — the World Economic Forum lists “analytical thinking and innovation” as the #1 highest-demand skill for 2025, followed closely by “complex problem-solving” (#3) and “critical thinking and analysis” (#4).
We live in an age where raw data is more abundant, accessible, and approachable than ever before. And with the rise of online learning, self-service business intelligence platforms, and low-code/no-code tools, data literacy is quickly becoming more of a core competency and less of a siloed, specialized skill.
In other words, data skills aren’t just for programmers and professional analysts anymore.
These days, we’re seeing marketers using data to optimize budgets and media mix, sales reps using data to target higher quality leads, HR departments using data to predict employee churn, and product teams using data to create better user experiences. Data is everywhere, and analytics is what transforms information into insight.
Companies have a lot to gain by democratizing data skills throughout their organizations. By helping employees develop data literacy skills, they are empowered to understand and interpret raw data, communicate and visualize complex information, work more accurately and efficiently, and ultimately make smart, data-driven decisions for the business.
That said, only 25% of L&D professionals planned to deploy a data analytics training program last year. While this is up from 18% in 2021, it remains surprisingly low given the versatility and growing demand for these skills. As companies seek to future-proof their workforce and make the most of their L&D investments in 2023, we expect to see data literacy and analytics skills take center stage.
For many companies and L&D teams, corporate training means cramming people into a conference room and forcing them to sit through dry, generic presentations on vague topics like “leadership” or “teamwork”.
Scheduling is a nightmare. Content quickly becomes outdated and irrelevant. Employees are disengaged. Program measurement is an afterthought, or nonexistent.
It’s time to evolve.
With the rise of e-learning and the pandemic-fueled growth of EdTech in 2020, modern tools and technologies are completely revolutionizing how companies upskill and reskill their teams.
Personalized learning paths are replacing generic programs, hybrid models are capitalizing on the benefits of both synchronous and asynchronous learning, and online, expert-led courses are keeping employees more engaged than ever before. Perhaps most importantly, L&D leaders are now able to monitor progress in real-time, track key engagement metrics, and measure the impact of their programs without having to rely on qualitative feedback surveys or self-reported progress reports.
When it comes to learning and development, a “one-size-fits-all” approach just doesn’t make sense.
An effective training program should be designed to suit learners based on their individual skill gaps, baseline abilities, professional goals, and learning preferences.
Skills assessments are a great first step, and can help expose larger gaps while pinpointing strengths and weaknesses on an individual level. This allows team leaders and L&D professionals to personalize the learning experience, target the most relevant skills, and keep employees of all ability levels active and engaged.
Ideally, learning plans should also account for individual needs, interests, abilities, and learning preferences. For example, new hires might learn at a slower pace and benefit from peer support or scheduled check-ins, while seasoned employees may thrive in a purely self-paced environment.
While there are certainly benefits to live training, including real-time feedback and peer support, it has some major limitations and drawbacks as well. Most notably, synchronous learning only really works when everyone is starting from the same baseline, and capable of learning at the same pace.
Online learning platforms solve this problem, and several others. Generally speaking, they are more flexible, efficient, and cost effective than in-person programs, support a wider range of instructional methods, and serve as a central hub for ongoing, asynchronous learning. Teams can create custom learning plans in a matter of minutes, admins can track progress and performance, and employees can focus on the skills they need most, at their own pace and on their own schedule.
While each method has its pros and cons, a hybrid model gives you the best of both worlds.
Upskilling and reskilling programs that blend synchronous and asynchronous methods help keep learners on track and engaged, minimize the risk of cognitive overload and learning fatigue, and accommodate learners of all types. While hybrid models can take many forms, they typically involve a mix of independent, self-paced learning and recurring live sessions (peer feedback, expert Q&A, project reviews, etc.).
Whether you upskill employees live or asynchronously, keeping them engaged is key.
In terms of the content itself, leveraging a hands-on, project-based approach can help with both engagement and knowledge retention. Research shows that realistic practice, spaced repetitions, and real-world context all contribute to a more positive and effective learning experience. Learners should alternate between learning new skills and applying them to projects and assignments designed to simulate what they might encounter on the job.
Another strategy for driving and maintaining engagement — particularly for self-paced methods — is providing a direct line to support. Self-paced learning can be a lonely experience, so it’s important to provide learners with opportunities to ask questions, compare perspectives with other learners, and get expert feedback in the moment of need. Peer learning groups, online communities, course discussion boards, live chat, and expert-led Q&A sessions are all effective ways to integrate support into the learning experience.
Last but not least, gamification is one of the most powerful tools for keeping learners engaged and productive. According to a 2023 report by Zippia, nearly 70% of students prefer gamified learning experiences over traditional education methods, citing increased motivation and engagement as the primary factors. Tools like leaderboards, activity trackers and digital badges provide immediate feedback and positive reinforcement, and motivate learners to work towards tangible milestones and targets. In the same study, gamified learning techniques like case studies and simulations were shown to impact knowledge retention as well, yielding a 14% improvement on skill-based assessments.
One of the most common maxims in the business world is that you can’t improve what you don’t measure, and L&D is no exception.
While some companies use qualitative methods like feedback surveys, the majority are flying completely blind; based on LinkedIn Learning’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, only 5% of upskilling and reskilling programs have made it to the stage where they are measuring and assessing results.
Measurement is how you quantify success, identify opportunities to refine and optimize, and actually prove that your training investments are delivering value for the business. For upskilling and reskilling programs, it’s how you identify who is on track, who is falling behind, and how effectively you’re closing the gaps.
At the very least, modern upskilling programs should provide real-time progress tracking, along with clear and intuitive metrics to quantify improvement (like pre- and post-course assessment scores). This holds learners accountable, helps administrators refine learning plans, and gives L&D stakeholders a simple way to measure program impact and efficacy.
Building a highly effective L&D practice isn’t just about identifying skill gaps and offering modern training programs; it’s about building a culture that prioritizes and celebrates lifelong learning at every level of the organization.
To be clear, we’re not talking about adding a footnote to the company handbook. Building an “always learning” culture requires long-term commitment, and means:
- Embracing learning as a core value
- Creating time and bandwidth for knowledge sharing
- Holding everyone to the same growth and development expectations
- Measuring and optimizing the impact of L&D investments
- Integrating learning into every employee’s job description
- Investing in upskilling to create a future-proof workforce
This is a significant mindset shift for most companies, where training is often considered an extracurricular activity (above and beyond an employee’s scope of work) or reserved for special cases like new hire onboarding.
Building a long-term learning culture means getting support and commitment from the top down. “Just as buy-in from senior staff is essential, so is buy-in from employees. They need to believe that they have some agency around their careers and be willing to learn and develop new skills and capabilities” says David Clark, Global Managing Director at LHH Clark. “We have to realize that people have an enormous capacity for adaptation and learning, and gear more corporate resources in that direction to optimize their opportunities.”
The impact of creating a corporate culture that values and prioritizes continuous learning is significant and far-reaching. Not only has it been shown to impact profitability, but it promotes a company-wide growth mindset, makes employees feel valued and supported, helps future-proof the business, and improves overall employee engagement and retention.
- Despite increased budgets for L&D, skill gaps continue to widen
- Skills are becoming obsolete faster than ever before, and roughly half of the global workforce will need reskilling by 2025
- Data analytics tops the list of highest-demand skills for 2025, yet only 25% of L&D professionals planned to deploy an analytics training program as of last year
- To close the gap, companies need to evolve the way training is designed, delivered and measured
- Creating an “always learning” corporate culture is critical for long-term success
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