Upskilling - new skills for new challenges

The world of work is facing major upheavals - once again. The progress of digital technology will accelerate once again with the introduction of artificial intelligence in many sectors of the economy. Companies and their employees can keep up the pace if they consistently develop their skills.

According to a recent McKinsey study ("The Future of Work after COVID-19"), 6.5 million employees in Germany will have to acquire new skills and qualifications in their jobs by the end of the decade. Another four million will probably even change jobs.

Under these circumstances, it has long been taken for granted that lifelong learning is an indispensable prerequisite for the professional success of employees. What is not yet as widespread is the realisation that the success of companies also depends on how successful the learning processes of their employees are. Freshly trained specialists are rare, which is why companies are increasingly dependent on expanding the potential of their existing employees. Upskilling" has therefore become a trendy term.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling refers to corporate strategies for the continuous development of employees. Employees are integrated into a system of training opportunities that enables them to keep up with changing requirements.

Typically, this involves the use of digital tools such as corporate learning platforms; hence the term "digital upskilling" is often used. The creation of such digital structures helps to perpetuate organised learning in the company. Continuing education takes place constantly and is no longer tied to the selective attendance of events.

When progress completely overtakes a job description, further training is often no longer sufficient. The retraining of employees for a new field of activity can also be tackled with the help of digital tools. The technical term for this is "reskilling".

The contents: What do we want to learn?

The upskilling approach originally stems from the need to keep pace with the digitalisation of the business world. Therefore, the technical qualification of workers plays a major role for many providers of upskilling concepts; currently, for example, concepts for the use of artificial intelligence are often the subject of further training.

In the meantime, however, the importance of so-called soft skills for change is becoming increasingly clear. The McKinsey study mentioned above, for example, sees not only technical qualifications but also emotional and social skills as a prerequisite for professional success in the working world of the future. These include communication and negotiation skills, team orientation, initiative and leadership qualities. More and more, the focus of upskilling concepts is therefore shifting from narrow technical training to a broader development of employees' personal skills.

Creating knowledge: Tools and trainers

Upskilling projects in companies often work with digital technical tools that free learning from the traditional bondage to face-to-face events.

The most comprehensive approach is offered by digital learning platforms - Learning Management Systems (LMS). These are digital environments for organising and delivering learning content, for example online courses. Such platforms became widely known during the Corona era, when schools used them to organise online classes. Most federal states relied on the open source software Moodle, on the basis of which systems such as Logineo in North Rhine-Westphalia or Mebis in Bavaria were set up. There are numerous other learning management systems - both open source projects and proprietary software.

LMS are suitable for providing the most diverse forms of digital learning content - from simple pdf instructions and PowerPoint presentations to learning videos, interactive modules and self-tests to extensive online courses with numerous lessons. In addition to this content, communicative elements can be integrated: Learners and teachers can exchange information via chat systems or in video rounds. Interactive whiteboards, wikis or similar collaboration tools enable joint learning, even if the learners are not in the same room. Gamification tools can be used to increase motivation: Point systems, rankings and rewards are designed to spur ambition in a playful way.

Companies can set up their own LMS or opt for external solutions from training specialists. In the meantime, there are numerous companies that create digital learning content tailored to the needs of the client.

If your own learning platform seems too costly, cooperation with an established e-learning platform is often an alternative. Here there is ready-made interactive learning content, such as courses on many standard topics, which companies can have activated for their employees.

Not all learning content can be conveyed well without personal contact with a teacher or trainer. Webinars - interactive online seminars - are therefore now widespread. There are also tools that create virtual classrooms. Here, trainers and course participants sit in front of the computer at the same time, are connected via video conference, exchange materials and work together on tasks via interactive modules.

How to employ upskilling effectively

Developing an upskilling strategy that works from the abundance of approaches and tools is a challenge in its own right. Various pitfalls have to be navigated:

  • Employees must be convinced that the effort is worthwhile for them. Therefore, development frameworks that take into account personal career goals should be worked out together with employees.
  • The reference to everyday working life should not be lost. Learning content must be practical and quickly applicable.
  • Educational modules must take into account the limited time and energy resources of employees. When learners have to organise their own time, content with many short lessons is often more effective than large blocks of learning.
  • Most people do not learn as effectively alone as they do in a motivating community with others. Learners should have forums for exchange with other learners and with trainers.

Upskilling – a partnership

Upskilling is a joint enterprise of companies and employees that serves both sides in more ways than one. The competence of a company is the competence of its employees. They, in turn, benefit by securing and improving their career prospects through further development of their skills.

And they are aware of this: according to a survey by the IU International University, 88.7 per cent of employees believe that continuous training is important for a successful career. This means that in a time of shortage of skilled workers, attractive qualification offers become important arguments when choosing an employer.

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