Upskilling your workforce is pretty much a necessity in 2021. With technology developing so rapidly, in order for you to continue to grow and adapt as a business, your staff need to grow and adapt too. The question of how to upskill your workforce, however, is a bit of a tricky one. Which skills should you prioritise, and how should you go about creating a training program?

As luck would have it, these are precisely the sort of questions we’ve answered for you below. Starting with a fairly obvious but important one…

How do you define upskilling?

Yes, it’s not exactly rocket science, but sometimes in business, we can get so lost in buzzwords that it pays to take five seconds to ensure we’re all talking about the same thing. Upskilling is defined as teaching new skills to an employee. This might be skills related to their specific role, thereby allowing them to progress up the career ladder, or something that enables them to change roles, or simply a new skill that will mean they can perform their current role even better. Easy peasy.

How to upskill your workforce strategies

Create a ‘Learning and Development’ plan

An L&D plan typically has four distinct phases. The first of these is analysis: observe your team and attempt to spot any gaps in their individual knowledge. This could be through testing, interviews, or simply daily observation and note-taking. Then comes step two, in which you specify your learning objectives for each person.

Step three involves creating specified training content, such as modules of company training resources that are to be worked through, seminars, and group coaching sessions. Finally, step four requires you to monitor and evaluate the progress of your team. Creating a learning and development plan is one of the most commonly used answers to the question of how to upskill your workforce.

Try job rotation

Job rotation is the practice of playing a corporate game of musical chairs—everybody switches roles temporarily in order to pick up new skills and gain a deeper understanding of workplace processes beyond their own role. Once everybody has learned all they need to learn, you can rotate them back—or onto a new role.

Job rotation is only relevant to certain businesses and business models. If you’re running a fast-food restaurant, for example, it’s entirely reasonable that you might rotate somebody off of dish-washing duty and into a position as a cashier. The same applies in factories and even some start-ups. It might not work out so well, however, if you’re working in an air traffic control tower and you rotate the radio signaller with the dinner lady.

Allow for job enlargement

Job enlargement (or job enrichment) is the process of expanding an employee’s responsibilities within their role. Examples of this include giving the individual more autonomy within their role, increasing the variety of different tasks they spend their time on, and giving regular feedback to them as they achieve targets. The main aim of job enlargement is to increase motivation, however, it simultaneously works to upskill your employees as they gain new independence.

There are several factors to consider when enacting job enlargement within any of your teams. First and foremost is the question of pay, naturally. If you’re adding to an employee’s previously agreed workload, make sure they’re compensated appropriately if you want them to remain loyal and to stick around. Secondly, make sure your employee has enough free time on their hands to take on more work. Growth and upskilling are only possible if you clear up some space in your employees’ calendars!

Begin peer coaching

Peer coaching is one of the most effective answers to the question of how to upskill your workforce. Free up a window of time for your employees, and within this regular weekly slot, pair them with an employee you’d like for them to work from. This means they don’t have full autonomy within a role they’re unfamiliar with—which could, of course, lead to errors—but instead they are free to shadow a colleague who is experienced in a certain area of the business and can pass on their knowledge.

This manner of upskilling your workforce is less formal than the others in this article, as it relies on casual conversation and encourages the asking of questions. An added bonus is that peer coaching can lead to better interpersonal relationships within your office, which leads to happier employees and more cohesive teamwork!

When you lack the means, outsource!

While outsourcing your upskilling is probably among the pricier options in this list, sometimes it’s necessary. Outsourcing is useful when you have no time for peer coaching or learning development plans, as well as when you don’t simply don’t have the knowledge you are hoping to provide to your employees. If you’re hoping to upskill your workforce in skills involving programming and web development, for example, it may be easier to bring in outside experts.

You can hire anybody from freelance specialists to contractors to come into your business and coach your staff. This could be on anything from how to work with different kinds of people, to how to reach inbox zero, to training in complex new software, with official recognition at the finale of the course.

Send extra staff on away days

There is always capacity for learning. By sending your staff out on out-of-office business alongside their more experienced colleagues, you can ensure they receive through osmosis a healthy amount of knowledge about the business beyond their desk. The kinds of skills learned here may be practical—how to create and conduct a presentation to a client—or they may be more social and relationship-focussed, i.e. how to entertain clients. Either way, when you send your team out on a new mission, you can bet they’ll come back richer and wiser for the experience.

Knowing how to upskill your workforce in a way that suits them is one of the key factors in taking your business to the next level. Focus on coaching your staff over the course of their careers, absorbing as much knowledge as possible, and good things will be coming your way in no time.