Here’s Why Employers Should Pay for Employees’ Upskilling

One, it’s good for your business. Two, it’s good for employees.

Written by John Mitchell
Published on Sep. 05, 2023
Here’s Why Employers Should Pay for Employees’ Upskilling
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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Artificial intelligence has some people wondering whether this latest technological advancement is coming to take their jobs.

3 Ways to Upskill Employees

  1. Start with a skills assessment. You can’t know what skills they need if you don’t know where you are starting from.
  2. Give the people you work with new projects, engaging them in different things and allowing them to make a difference. 
  3. Seek input from the employees who will be involved in the upskilling. Ask them what issues they face and struggle with, and what new or improved skills might be beneficial.

Their concerns shouldn’t be surprising. Technological advances often make people worry that they are replaceable, at least in part because they are replaceable — if they aren’t taking steps to upskill and make sure they are ready for the job market that lies ahead. 

Even when AI or some other technology steals jobs, centuries of progress have shown us that new jobs not previously thought of are created. The trick for job hunters is making sure they develop the skills needed as the job market evolves. Upskilling is required and it must be refreshed regularly.

But this constant need to keep skills up to date isn’t just something for employees to worry about. Employers need to worry about it too, and here are three reasons they should write the check for employees who want to upskill. 

Read More About UpskillingProfessional Development Matters. Here’s How Upskilling Helps.


It Helps the Bottom Line

Smart employers routinely provide workers with educational opportunities to level up, knowing that the time to upskill is not two years down the line, when your employees’ skills are antiquated. By then it could be too late and your company’s bottom line might be at risk. 

That’s because it’s costly to replace employees you had to let go because they could no longer do the next job. There’s the cost of finding a replacement, the cost of not having someone in that position for a period of time and the cost of training someone new.

One problem employers sometimes encounter is that companies are not universities. They are not designed to educate, per se. They are designed to train (and often, not even that). So, one decision that needs to be made is whether some training can happen in-house, and whether other training would be better handled through a partnership with an outside entity.

In general, it’s better to use internal training for anything that is unique and specific to the company. Then consider turning to outside sources to provide training for broader skills.


It Helps Retain Employees

The good news is that most employees want regular training and advancement opportunities. Many of them are even eager to keep improving. The bad news is that in many cases employers aren’t providing what’s needed to stay abreast of the latest advancements, whether that is the quickly evolving world of AI or other technological hardware and software that are always being upgraded to the next level.

Many employers also aren’t offering employees a clear path on how to advance in their careers. If you are a rookie salesperson with ambitions to become a company vice president, how do you get there? What skills do you need to work on? What training will help? All ambitious employees need to be given pathways that set out exactly what steps they must take if they want to move up in the company. These pathways are the roadmaps to advancement and growth along a career path and a desired future position. Like streetlights on a dark road, they illuminate just where to go.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that while 51 percent of Americans are very or extremely satisfied with their jobs overall, just 44 percent can say the same about the opportunities their employers are giving them for training or developing new skills. Even fewer, 33 percent, are very or extremely satisfied with their opportunities for promotions. 

That is a warning bell for employers worried about turnover. It is nearly impossible to retain top talent if employees do not see a pathway for growth or if their employer is not offering upskilling.

This doesn’t mean everyone at the company is aiming for the c-suite or to be a future CEO. Some may want to be a team leader. Others may want to move into a more demanding or rewarding job in a different department. Even if they expect to remain in the same position, both employee and employer need to realize that in five or 10 years that position could require very different skills.

More Ways to Upskill Your EmployeesHere’s How to Build a Skills Program to Retain Employees


It Doesn’t Matter if Employees Leave

One understandable though misguided criticism of upskilling is that a well-trained employee becomes a marketable commodity. Once they improve their skills they may take their talents elsewhere. You will have spent time and money on them, only to be rewarded by disloyalty.

Yes, this is possible. But it’s a gamble worth taking because you need to keep your workforce abreast of the changes and skill sets needed in their industry. Otherwise, they will be left behind in this competitive environment, and so will you and your business.

Think of the situation this way: People indeed may leave if you give them new skills, but isn’t it better to get three or four good years out of someone who is always striving to improve, rather than to get more years from someone who is satisfied to remain mediocre?

And maybe (and research supports this), if you let those ambitious employees see how much you value them, they will surprise you by showing loyalty because yours is a forward-thinking company that believes in and invests in them.

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