Here’s How to Build a Skills Program to Retain Employees

Upskilling, reskilling, cross-skilling and expert-skilling your employees build loyalty and ensure staff skills work for your operations.

Written by Nicholas Wyman
Published on May. 17, 2023
Here’s How to Build a Skills Program to Retain Employees
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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Once you’ve recruited talented staff to your business, it might not be long before you ask: Am I offering them enough career development opportunities to keep them? Some of your most talented staff may feel they are employed so that “no one else can have them,” as a former Meta staff member has claimed on TikTok about her previous employer.

That anecdote may inspire you to rethink your approach to recruitment and retention with an enduring focus on multifaceted development for all staff, not just the stars. Upskilling, reskilling, cross-skilling and expert-skilling your employees builds loyalty and ensures their skills stay current and, ideally, future-focused for your operations.

What Are Upskilling, Reskilling, Cross-skilling, and Expert-Skilling?

  • Upskilling: Updating staff knowledge and capabilities so everyone can stay on top of their jobs. After all, knowledge expires, as Samuel Arbesman argues in The Half-Life of Facts.
  • Reskilling: Training employees for another role within your business.
  • Cross-Skilling: Improving staff proficiencies so everyone can do more than just cover their current responsibilities and duties.
  • Expert-Skilling — Deepening employees’ skill sets and knowledge about their work.

Check whether your staff development programs embrace these concepts and if there’s room for improvement. Here’s how: Just as with any robust policy, set your KPIs at the start. As you monitor and evaluate the program over time, however, be flexible about tweaking them. This is an iterative process that keeps an eye out for risks and challenges and finds ways to address them.

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How to Roll Out Upskilling

Improving staff development programs to support your business’s goals, vision, and mission confers several advantages. So, here are some ways to go about training and development:

  • Consider how you can amplify a learning culture throughout your organization. For instance, consider a program like lunchtime video sessions, among other initiatives.
  • Ensure your upskilling helps validate your diversity, equity, and inclusion mission, particularly if you offer a diversity of training that’s differentiated to be accessible to all learners, rather than one-size-fits-all or one-and-done. Accommodations include audio training through podcasts, lessons via mobile app, buddying up learners with peers, non-English options, and supplementary virtual reality training, among others.
  • Harness the potential to offer Industry 4.0-ready training that’s verifiable, stackable, and transferrable through digital and credentials (check out Credential Engine to get started).
  • You’ll be able to refine your programs by building in a rigorous and continuous feedback loop, including asking staff how the evaluation process itself could be improved.
  • Partnering with external organizations for training, enhanced development, even an apprenticeship earn-and-learn program brings in outside expertise to bolster your business. Registered apprenticeship programs are the go because they build nationally recognized skills and competencies.

Bring your revamped approach to life. Ensure you tap your current staff as champions to help in your next recruitment drive. Be explicit about and demonstrate how your workplace values diversity and inclusion. Ask staff to help you reach out to underserved communities to apply for your vacancies. Talk about your policies and practices for people who are neurodivergent, have disabilities or were formerly incarcerated, for example.

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The Benefits of Better Development 

Here’s why it’s worth making the effort. 

  • Current employees will have clarity about (and ideally input into) how your company develops staff and why.
  • Paying for/subsidizing employees attendance at external workshops, conferences, and networking events encourages them to reflect on their work for you and hopefully builds loyalty to your business.
  • Ramping up your mentoring program upskills mentors and proteges alike, fosters cross-organizational networking and builds leadership/management skills. It can also pave the way for in-house promotions.
  • Staff will be more likely to champion your business to those in their professional and personal networks, which may attract prospective staff, possibly easing your recruitment woes.
  • You can promote a robust, beyond-the-norm staff development program through your social media channels, thought leadership articles for industry/sector publications, and other media outlets.
  • You may create intellectual property through a refined and tested staff development program packaged as a service to other like-minded businesses. For example, if you road test and refine a strong internal upskilling program in prompt engineering for an AI application useful for your industry, you could market that to other organizations in your sector.

So, take the green pen to mark your current staff development program. If it doesn’t tick off the four key dimensions of skilling — up-, re-, cross-, and expert- — it may be time for an overhaul.    

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