5 Obstacles to Effective Upskilling and How to Conquer Them

Employee learning a new skill on a computer

Recently, the Wall Street Journal asked why companies aren’t investing more in reskilling their employees. 

I’d ask a different question: how can employers do a better job using the money that they already are? 

Read to the bottom of the WSJ article and you’ll see employers are indeed spending – an average of $1,300 on education per employee. That’s not insignificant. But in tuition programs, where some of that money is spent, it’s doing less than it could. Consider how most tuition programs are created – as benefits that people can dip into for personal growth. That’s great for the employees who use them. But what if that benefit was tied more closely to the skills the company needs?  

Then you could use it to take on every roadblock WSJ lists as an obstacle to effective upskilling: 

Investing Your Education Budget Wisely

Data: It’s not about knowing what skills employees have – it’s about assessing the skills you need them to build. Take some time to investigate the proficiencies you’ll need in the future. Then you can create the pathways and show people exactly how to get there. In an age when employees want and need to advance for personal and financial security, the old Field of Dreams adage holds true – if you build it, they will come. 

Speed: Expanding what you reimburse as education equips your tuition program with all forms of learning – certificates, certifications, boot camps, and degrees. That ensures the speed to both keep up with today’s skills, and prepare for tomorrow’s. 

Worker engagement: Asking employees their opinions about future tech needs (as WSJ suggests) is only one way to engage employees. They also need to be excited about growing with your company. Need a template for that? Check out T-Mobile for the script on how to use education to excite employees.  

Money: That $1,300 per employee is underused if it’s all dedicated one employee at a time. Partnering with schools for discounts and ferrying large numbers of employees through flat-rate degree programs aimed at your specific goals can take that same budget and return considerably more bang for your buck.  By removing the connection between cost and number of classes (and so no longer requiring employees to delay classes when they reach their tuition cap), flat-rate programs free people to take more classes in a year, and finish faster - one to two years faster, according to our data.

Unrealistic Expectations: The current shift to automation and digitizing will require adapting today’s workforce to tomorrow’s workplace. That doesn’t mean a wholesale shift from line worker to software developers, but the very realistic evolution of perhaps manual manufacturing worker to automated assembly operator. People can – and want to – learn that. Your program can be set up to deliver it. 

One thing’s for sure: it’s a tight labor market out there and new hires alone are not the answer. The truth is, many organizations already have the budget and the program ready to do the job. 

They just need to be more deliberate about how they’re using it.

Middle aged male employee shaking hands with a manager

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Written by: Alan Robins

April 23, 2019

About the Author

Alan Robins at Bright Horizons

As Director of Product Marketing, Alan drives original research and thought leadership for Bright Horizons education benefits programs, drawing on his extensive experience helping companies optimize education programs to support their Talent and HR objectives. Prior to Bright Horizons, Alan was at Gartner, a global leader in providing advisory services to technology and business executives, where he led new product teams in Europe and the US.