temple roof representing upskilling stages
Training & Learning

How to Upskill the Workforce at Different Stages of the Learning Cycle

Upskilling your workforce is mission-critical during times of economic uncertainty. Working with tight training budgets and hiring freezes means teams across the organization are asked and expected to do more with less. In the case of L&D teams, that means equipping existing employees with more skills that help them better serve emerging business needs.

A majority of L&D leaders have taken the cue and are focused on upskilling and reskilling their employees. But upskilling isn’t a one-and-done exercise. 

For it to be effective and truly have an impact on business growth, upskilling needs to be a continuous process that extends into different phases of the employee lifecycle, from initial onboarding and ramp-up, to development and growth. In fact, upskilling remains useful at the offboarding stage by helping departing employees train their replacements.  

Done right, upskilling the workforce impacts an employee’s entire tenure. The key is to zoom in on business needs and skills gaps at each stage, and deliver tailored upskilling training accordingly.

employee onboarding survey template

Increase new hire retention by asking the right questions.

Upskill new employees during onboarding with a training roadmap 

New employees are eager to gain knowledge and skills that will help them perform in their role with a running start. Upskill them during onboarding with microlearning sessions to teach them critical skills they will need and use in their new role. This can alleviate some stress or anxiety from being in a new role, while boosting engagement and new hire retention.

That’s especially important when you consider that employee engagement has spiraled downward in recent years, fueled by the Great Resignation and quiet-quitting trends. In fact, 82.54% of new hires quit within the first 6 months, with major reasons being the role turning out different than expected, and not having enough training. 

The solution to a bulk of these concerns is upskilling the workforce from the start of their role, during the onboarding stage.

Give new hires visibility into day-to-day tasks 

When new hires say their work was different than expected, it shows that either the job description wasn’t accurate, or there are gaps in an employee’s understanding of role requirements. Ideally, this type of expectation-setting is done during the recruitment process. However, if that stage has passed, use the first week of onboarding to break things down for new employees. Include time for clarifying conversations and give new hires a detailed overview of the skills and tasks involved in a role before they dive into their first few weeks. 

Provide an onboarding map with details of trainings and expectations, a list of resources, and familiarize them with the company culture. Giving visibility into what lies ahead will help new employees transition successfully into their new role. 

You should also arrange peer discussions during the onboarding phase. Managers are busy, so it can be hard for new employees to rely on them for help to fill their skills or knowledge gaps. Pairing new hires with a team member in a similar role can be a more accessible way for them to ask questions freely and prepare for the tasks to come. 

Integrate upskilling training into the first few weeks

You hired new employees for the core skills they bring to the role, but there will be plenty of skills that they don’t yet possess. If your job description encouraged candidates to apply even if they didn’t have every skill you listed, you’ve made an underlying promise to upskill them on the job. And now is the time to fulfill it. 

Whether it’s a project management tool they’ve never used before, a communication process they aren’t familiar with, or a technical skill they’ve only dabbled in before–a collaborative onboarding process can help fill all these gaps. 

With a comprehensive learning platform like 360Learning, new employees can learn from training authored by subject-matter experts and peers, ask questions, engage in discussions, and even provide feedback through reactions and comments. 

This makes it easy for new employees to become productive earlier in their onboarding, sets a precedent for collaborative learning, and helps them make connections with coworkers. 

Break training into digestible chunks and make it fun

New hires want training, but they don’t want to sit through hours of boring instruction. It’s difficult for employees to absorb and retain tons of information without the chance to apply it. Ultimately, long and dense training courses lead to information overload. And if new hires are already overwhelmed or burnout in their first week, you’re probably not onboarding in an effective way.

Instead, upskill your new employees with bite-sized courses they can easily remember. Micro courses are a great way to engage employees and keep them on track. Plus, you can gamify onboarding material with quizzes, simulations, and levels to motivate employees to keep learning. 

Include rewards and recognition in your gamified training so that new employees get an instant sense of gratification and confidence. When new hires are confident and productive, they have a positive impact on business goals, driving a higher return on your recruiting investment.

Upskill employees in the ramp-up phase by filling knowledge gaps  

The honeymoon phase of employment doesn’t have to end abruptly at the end of onboarding. In fact, employees are highly prepared for upskilling right after onboarding, because they are now familiar with their role and company processes, and settled into their jobs. 

Training needs analysis helps you identify which kinds of training your workforce needs to perform their best. Traditionally in top-down management, leaders and L&D teams chose what kinds of training content and material to provide employees. 

But with a bottom-up approach to L&D, employees are able to declare their own training needs. This guarantees your employees get the training that is most relevant and useful on the job, and helps L&D teams allocate training budgets more effectively. 

For example, 360Learning has a learner-centric learning needs tool that helps companies identify their more urgent skills gaps and build the right training roadmap to tackle them. 

The ramp-up phase is also a good time to encourage employees to participate in feedback loops and celebrate early wins. Peer feedback is a form of upskilling because employees learn from the guidance and resources that coworkers provide. Peer feedback can also help identify patterns in an employee’s performance that can be recognized and celebrated, setting the tone for balanced and constructive feedback. 

In fact, the behavioral learning theory suggests that people are more inclined to pursue and use new information when learning is rewarded. 

When you include peer feedback loops in day-to-day company operations - and recognize and reward employees for this practice, you encourage workers to proactively identify opportunities for their own learning and growth.

Related: Download our free Peer Feedback Template

Retain tenured employees by giving them opportunities to grow

Your most tenured employees should be included in your upskilling efforts. They have valuable insight to share with others in the organization: experience, context, and familiarity with business goals you need to speed up problem-solving and boost productivity. 

But it’s also important to give them opportunities to grow and pursue different paths or interests within your organization. 

Experienced employees may also have “done it all” in their current roles and would welcome new challenges to learn different aspects of the business. 

A lateral move would be a great option for employees who are interested in a different function, and could be well-timed if you have a growing business need in the area. 

Built an internal mobility strategy

Upskill your experienced employees by providing them with new professional challenges through stretch assignments, or lateral or upward moves into other roles.

Evaluate their skill sets and ask about their interests to assign related tasks or projects. This sets them on a path to growth that also benefits the business. 

When company funds are tight, management cannot always match promotions with salary increases right away. And much of the time, employees don’t like to be asked to perform more work without increased compensation to reflect that change in responsibilities. 

To support successful internal mobility in times of economic difficulty, you can communicate to your teams that increased performance, supported by upskilling, directly impacts business outcomes - which brings in more revenue. 

Company success depends on strong employee performance. Providing all your employees with the resources to perform their best–and to take on more senior roles if they’re interested–supports and aligns growth goals  for both employer and employee. 

And, when the time comes for succession planning, you will have a ready talent pipeline to meet your needs. In short, use internal mobility as a strategy to keep your upskilling cycle in motion.

Make room for coaching and mentorship

Seasoned employees make great coaches. After all, they’ve spent enough time at your company to know the solutions and processes that are central to a role. Give those who are interested opportunities to coach team members and help them develop leadership and mentoring skills. 

Senior employees need coaching too. Help them make connections within the company so they can continue developing in their own areas of interest. Encourage them to have career conversations with higher-ups and leadership, and pair them with mentors to create a vision of their future at the company.

Develop and involve subject-matter experts

Upskilling from within is most effective when you leverage the internal expertise and knowledge your employees possess. Call on your top talent and download their expert knowledge into training courses. In other words, invite them to become course authors and create training material for peers.

Course content created by internal subject-matter experts is highly relevant and often easier to apply directly on the job compared to one-size-fits-all training by external instructors. This is because SME-led learning can put into context the organizational processes and inner workings of how projects and tasks are run, executed, communicated within the company. 

Plus, sharing institutional knowledge saves training dollars. Ultimately, employees feel recognized for their knowledge-sharing, and peers benefit from the courses, inspiring others to become course authors. This leads to a continuous learning process and strengthens your upskilling initiatives. 

Build a knowledge transfer process through offboarding 

A robust offboarding process can continue to upskill your workforce even after an employee’s exit from the company. 

Unfortunately, many companies handle offboarding poorly by either overwhelming employees with hand-off tasks or moving on too quickly after they give notice. In fact, most companies don’t have a formal offboarding process. 

This leaves a negative impression for departing employees, even if their overall experience at the company has been a positive one.

Without a structured offboarding process, departing employees take a wealth of knowledge and skills with them, leading to poor transitions and lost information.

There’s tremendous opportunity to preserve this knowledge with an offboarding process that involves proper documentation, hand-off, and a skills-based transition. For example, ask departing employees to create a knowledge bank or hand-off document of tips, tutorials, and solutions for the next person you hire for the role. 

And if you already have a backfill for the role, set up a meeting between them and the exiting employee, so the former can ask any questions and capture valuable missing information like log-ins, contact details, or situational context. 

This information can also be documented asynchronously in the knowledge bank, in addition to quick video tutorials, links to documents, resources, customer notes, or even examples of work done by the departing employee to help the person taking over upskill effectively.

You can also encourage your departing employee to create a short video or timeline of their own journey in the role. It’s a great way to give the next person a vision of how they can develop in the role and at the company. 

Customize upskilling initiatives for different business functions 

Upskilling your workforce looks different at different stages of the learning cycle, but your initiatives also need to be adapted for each business use case. 

For example, upskilling initiatives for your content team would look different from those you employ for customer-facing teams. Keep in mind that just like regular training, upskilling programs can be tailored to different learning styles and needs. And ultimately, your upskilling programs should be designed for real-life application, to be most effective.

Want to implement more effective upskilling programs in your organization? Book a demo to see how 360Learning can help, with the power of collaborative learning.