Reskilling in Today’s World

Defining Reskilling for Learning Leaders

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“Today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow, and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete.”

That was a statement made last year by the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work. At the time, the commission highly recommended organizations invest in education and training. The ILO also recommended commission members to establish lifelong learning systems within their organizations.

Given today’s environment, it’s no longer a recommendation but a necessity to business survival. Some companies are ahead of the curve having already started the process of reskilling their workforce. As an example, within the last year Amazon announced it would put $700 million toward reskilling 100,000 workers.

Walmart says it's investing $4 billion over four years to help frontline and back-office employees transition to jobs on the digital side of the business… specifically those related to customer-service roles.

Part of the struggle for Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) and other learning leaders, however, is understanding how one might define reskilling and then applying it to the necessary programs. To get a better understanding of what's involved, we turned to Glenda Quintini, a senior economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).


Defining the Term

In a paper recently published by Quintini and her colleagues Priscilla Fialho and Marieke Vandeweyer, Quintini says reskilling needs to be defined in terms of content, format and financial investment.


According to Quintini, reskilling is “not just about a medium of learning, but rather about learning in a service of an outcome.” That usually happens when an employee transitions into a new job and/or successfully executes new tasks.

Quintini’s point: reskilling is just as much about learning core competencies as it is learning technical skills directly related to a specific job.


In the paper, the team of experts say reskilling happens in three different formats.

  1. Formal learning. This usually happens in a classroom setting and involves the employee returning to some type of institution; a college, university or training organization.
  2. Non-formal learning. This type of learning is organized by the employer whether it's in-house or provided by a third party vendor. It usually doesn’t lead to a certification of some sort.
  3. Informal learning. This type of learning happens from co-workers or supervisors and can happen at any point during an employee’s day-to-day activities. One might also refer to this type of learning as social learning.

Choosing the appropriate type of learning is tricky for learning leaders. There are several factors that must be included. For instance:

  • What type of learning do employees prefer?
  • Does the organization take a personalized approach or a one-size-fits-all approach?
  • What is the connection between the current economic environment and the desired outcome of the training?

Financial Investment

A recent study from Capgemini Research Institute and LinkedIn showed nearly 30% of employees feel their skills will be redundant in the next two years. It’s a little bit better for Generations Y and Z. Nearly 50% of those employees give their skill relevancy four to five years before being out-of-date.

That means organizations must be focused on making sure employees are skilled appropriately. And it's financially sounder to reskill than to hire outside talent. It costs a company six times more to hire outside the organization than to reskill current employees.

Furthermore, according to the 2020 LinkedIn Leading with Learning report, 64 percent of learning leaders said reskilling the current workforce to fill skills gaps is more of a priority than ever before.

We can look back in history for proof. Take Frederick Winslow Taylor and his examination of the laborer shoveling sand. Taylor is often credited with the invention of training; said to be the greatest workforce productivity revolution of all-time.

He figured out which steps to eliminate and how to do the job with the least physical strain on the operator. Further, he found the traditional shovel was the wrong size, wrong shape and it had the wrong handle. He then proceeded to redesign the shovel for maximum output with minimum effort.

As a consequence, the laborer's productivity (output/hours worked) nearly tripled. The job became easier and enabled the laborer to be paid a much higher wage.

For more information about Frederick Winslow Taylor and his work, click here.

All of this points to a single reality: employees want their companies to invest in them, their future and help them stay employed as the market changes.

Reskilling Candidates

As one might assume, not all employees can be reskilled. In some instances, an employee may not wish to be skilled. It’s unfortunate, but it is also a reality employers face and must, therefore, figure into the decision to reskill.

Basically, there are two types of candidates who learning leaders should focus most of their reskilling efforts. Those employees are often referred to as self-starters. These are employees who go out of their way to learn new skills, and as such, this makes them a desired asset to the organization and ones worth holding on to at all costs.

The second type of reskilling candidate is one who manages time well. Reskilling often happens on the job and that means balancing learning with completing regular job responsibilities and functions.

Reskilling Benefits

Reskilling, as one can already see, comes with huge benefits across the board. In some instances, there's some crossover between employees, supervisors and managers. Helen Colman, a content creator at iSpring Solutions broke the benefits down best.

Benefits of Reskilling

Managers Supervisors Employees
• Easier for them to accomplish the company mission
• Forces them to be more future-focused
• Creates an engaged workforce
• Improves employee retention
• Offers a pipeline of qualified employees
• Fosters knowledge transfer
• Reduces skill gaps in their direct reports
• Prepares the workforce
• Results in more productive line employees
• Creates a culture of continuous learning in the organization
• Opportunity to change positions or job roles
• Can learn new skills
• More likely to remain engaged
• May have opportunities to begin a new career path


Of course, the benefits and gains made by these three groups also benefit the overall organization. Again, we turn to Colman for the list.

Organizational Benefits

The advantages of employee reskilling include:

  • Greater employee loyalty
  • Employees who already know the business and the market
  • Increased retention
  • Lower onboarding and initial training costs
  • Development and retention of in-house functional and business knowledge
  • Easier succession planning
  • Greater understanding of company culture and ways of working
  • Team strengthening


In Summation 

Reskilling the workforce is a massive topic. This article lays the ground work for a second piece on the topic. Part II will focus on the methods of reskilling and what works best for employees within an organization. Expect Part II in the coming weeks.

Until then, I pose this question to you: what reskilling methods have you employed within your organization and what has been working?

Please share your answers in the comment section below. Some of your comments may be used in Part II of this reskilling article series.