Rapid developments in the way we work call for adaptability. Invest in your current employees—not just in hiring new ones—to keep up.
Everything is changing.
Let’s get straight to the point: We are living in an era of continuous transformation, which means that the way we work needs to change. This probably isn’t news to you. Shifts in the way we work have already brought a wave of challenges for HR teams to tackle, like (digital) skill and leadership gaps, the war for talent and employees’ new outlook and expectations for their careers.
There are huge numbers attached to these changes: According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), half of the global workforce will require reskilling by 2025. The Covid-19 pandemic sped up the process, increasing the current number of people requiring reskilling or upskilling to nearly 300 million—close to 10% of the entire workforce worldwide.
If you haven’t started to address what this means for your organization, your employees have already noticed. Nearly 40% of workers feel anxious about becoming obsolete, and many feel they’re not being given the opportunity to develop themselves in their current jobs. According to the 2020 Pulse of the American Worker Survey, 80% of U.S. workers looking for new jobs post-pandemic said they are concerned about their career growth. Lastly, a report from Boston Consulting Company puts the worldwide average of people willing to retrain at 68%. In other words: Your employees are just as motivated to fill in their skill gaps as you are.
A solution we often turn to is hiring new people to fill skill gaps—but can hiring help you keep up with these fast-pace changes long term? Most professionals need and want to develop new skills, so trying to hire new people isn’t enough to prepare your organization for a future where change is the norm. You need to focus on the people you’ve already got on your team. Time to make upskilling a priority!
I skill, you skill,
we all scream for...upskill!
Admit it—that subtitle almost worked. But back to the matter at hand. In case you haven’t been bombarded with the term already, upskilling means learning or improving new skills that enable people to do their current jobs better while preparing them for future challenges. In order for it to have a positive impact on your company as a whole, upskilling needs to be more than a side note—it needs to become a major part of your company strategy, led by HR. Let’s look at why it deserves your time and attention.
The first and most obvious upside to upskilling your employees is that you’re giving them the tools they need to fill skill gaps that are interrupting your organization’s progress. Unlike temporarily hiring new people to fill in skill gaps, upskilling provides you with a long-term plan to predict and overcome future challenges too. According to a McKinsey survey, 91% of companies that have started re- and upskilling feel prepared to take on future skill gaps.
The future shouldn’t make you and your employees nervous. Teams that take time to upskill are unafraid of change because they’re agile and can adapt to whatever gets thrown their way. Let’s say, for example, you realize that new technology in your industry will make it necessary for employees to integrate that tech into your product. You can prepare by adding the necessary skills to your upskilling program. The same can be said for finding new leadership: Gradually guiding employees towards management roles with a learning plan makes the transition smoother and your leadership bench deeper. If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready!
Upskilling doesn’t just have upsides for your organization as a whole; employees that are given the chance to build up their skills and careers over time are much more likely to stick around. This brings us back to hiring: The better your retention rates are, the less crucial hiring will become. If your employees feel that you’re investing in them and their future, they’ll be happier, more productive and motivated to prove that they’re worth the investment. Everybody wins.
Of course, we’re not saying that you’ll never need to hire anyone ever again. Bringing in new talent for the right reasons is a legitimate strategy for strengthening your team. So here’s one last benefit to upskilling that has a direct impact on hiring: Creating a growth culture in your organization will make you more attractive to those new talents that you’re struggling to find. An overwhelming majority of professionals are ready to learn new skills or even completely retrain, so give them the opportunity to grow that they’re looking for!
We usually try to give things a positive spin because we’re positive, glass-half-full people. But that’s really hard to keep up when talking about hiring. Hence the above subtitle. The accurately named “war for talent” has been raging for years, forcing HR teams everywhere to get creative (or downright desperate) in pursuit of talent. It’s expensive, drains your time and takes away HR resources that could be better used elsewhere. That’s why you should only hire new people when it makes sense to—and why, in many cases, upskilling the people you already have is the better option.
On average, HR teams use 15% of their expenses on recruiting. It costs about 40% of an employee’s salary to hire a new person in their role. Even after all that, it then costs anywhere from 12 weeks to 12 months before the new hire is completely onboarded and able to work productively. The time and money it takes to bring in new talent is a well-known but often under-appreciated factor in future plans for most companies. The first response to a skill gap or unfilled position in your company shouldn’t be an immediate search for new people—take a look internally at your team first.
Even if you’d rather hire someone instead of reskilling, upskilling, or promoting people internally, the fact is: you might not be able to. It’s harder than ever to find qualified people right now. In many European countries, for example, it takes an average of one full week longer to fill positions than it did a year ago. It’s not just about highly qualified technical jobs either. One study found 69% of HR teams worldwide were struggling to hire talent with the right blend of technical skills and human skills. To put it bluntly: There’s no point in putting all of your focus on hiring new talent when the perfect candidates you’re looking for probably don’t exist.
It’s more than time, money and effort that you should consider when hiring: Investing more in external recruitment than internal development won’t earn you any points from your current employees either. If your people notice that your response to an open management or senior position is to look outward rather than inward, they probably won’t get the feeling that you’re ready to trust them with that responsibility. In other words: Why should they trust you if you don’t trust them?
This isn’t to say that some situations require a fresh set of eyes from outside of your organization, but oftentimes there are potential candidates right under your nose who could fill the role you’re missing. The more opportunities to grow and develop that you give them, the more likely you are to keep up with the fast-changing times and keep your best talent around.
Upskilling is the name, growth culture is the game
Up- and reskilling isn’t just about filling your current skill gaps to prepare for what’s coming next year. You need to think further than that. It’s about creating a growth culture within your organization that allows your employees to make learning and growing a constant part of their careers and lives. The world is transforming at a rate never seen before, so the only way to keep up is to make transformation the norm. You and your employees should grow and change as you want and need to—towards your shared goals and their personal goals.
This isn’t some utopian dream that’s far from reality. It’s where a consistent up- and re-skilling program will take your organization if you make it a permanent part of your company strategy. So stop fighting the current of constant change with quick fixes like recruiting—start surfing the wave with an upskilling strategy that can turn your company culture into a growth culture.