Leaders: Here are 3 reasons it’s totally worth upskilling your people


In the current war over tech talent, it’s worth mulling over the words of one of the most well-known commanders in the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington, famously described his soldiers as being “the scum of the earth,” but also acknowledged that “it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are.”

Such an acerbic C-suite attitude would be a huge red flag in modern-day workplaces, but the point about developing an organization’s available talent still stands. Instead of just chasing top-tier talent in any sector, leaders would be wise to invest in their existing employees to cultivate the talent they need. The most agile companies have already embraced remote hiring to increase their available pool of candidates, while shifting to remote work and accelerating digital transformation efforts. But there is only so much trained talent to go around, particularly in the tech sector, unless organizations proactively put resources toward upskilling and reskilling their own people too.

Here are three reasons why it’s never been a better time for organizations to look within to nurture their existing employees.

It’s good business

Many companies are already willing to pay top dollar to recruit talented candidates when they could often retrain an existing employee for much less money. Josh Bersin, a corporate talent advisor, has pointed out that the cost of recruiting a mid-career software engineer can rise to $30,000 or more, not including the cost of onboarding and the higher potential turnover among new hires compared to existing employees.

The cost of reskilling an internal candidate for the same position? Maybe $20,000 or less.

Upskilling and reskilling can also deliver noticeable boosts in productivity for organizations. A McKinsey study showed that 75% of upskilling and retraining cases would create positive economic returns for U.K. employers, and estimated productivity gains as being between 6% and 12%. In other words, investing in employee career growth just makes business sense for many organizations.

It increases employee satisfaction

Providing opportunities for continuous learning and retraining can also encourage employees to stay on with your organization. The 2019 edition of LinkedIn’s Workforce Learning Report found that 94% of employees said that employer-provided learning opportunities would entice them to stay longer at a company. The 2021 edition showed that younger Gen Z employees agreed with the statement that “learning is the key to success in my career.”

Having the capability to offer career-growth opportunities could also help employers retain their existing workforce—especially at a time when many workers are feeling restless and rethinking both work and lifestyles. The Microsoft Hybrid Work 2021 report found that “41% of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year, with 46% planning to make a major pivot or career transition.”

A company with a reputation for investing in its employees’ career growth may also gain an edge in the ongoing competition to hire new candidates. The same McKinsey report that looked at the benefits of upskilling and reskilling summarized this well: “When a workplace values its talent, it attracts more talent.” Or as Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has put it: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

It makes learning easier

Companies that fall behind in offering such career growth and learning opportunities will find themselves at risk of losing their workforce to competitors—especially as a growing array of tools and platforms has already democratized learning for anyone with computer and internet access. According to HackerEarth’s 2021 Developer Survey, devs value career growth just as much as compensation when choosing their employers.

The survey also showed that many software developers are already taking advantage of popular upskilling options, including YouTube tutorials, platforms like StackOverflow, and competitive coding platforms like HackerEarth. Savvy employers may have an opportunity to incorporate some of these into their continuous learning offerings for employees.

Employers should pay attention to what their people want to learn when investing in career-growth options. For example, despite the popularity of programming languages, such as C++, Python, and Java, our HackerEarth survey also showed that most developers expressed an interest in learning Go, Rust, and Kotlin.

There are also upskilling opportunities through low-code and no-code platforms that enable employees to develop software solutions for business problems without requiring formal training in programming languages. By transforming more employees into “citizen developers,” organizations can narrow the tech talent gap and improve their overall business efficiency by leveraging software.

Upskilling is trending up

Some companies had already adopted a forward-looking strategy of upskilling and reskilling workers even prior to the pandemic’s onset. In 2019, Amazon promised to spend $700 million on an upskilling program for 100,000 of its frontline workers by 2025, while PwC committed $3 billion over several years to retraining its entire 275,000-person workforce.

The COVID-19 disruption of traditional workplaces has forced many more companies to take notice. According to a McKinsey Global Survey on reskilling from late 2020, a majority of respondents say that their companies are doing more skill-building within their workforces and placing a higher priority on closing skill gaps than they did before the pandemic.

It’s clear that many companies are embracing upskilling and reskilling as more important than ever in adapting to the COVID-accelerated trends of remote work and digital transformation. Given the benefits of higher productivity, higher employee satisfaction and retention, and the widespread availability of tools, o
rganizations that deliberately invest in their own tech talent will find themselves better positioned to meet whatever comes their way in the future.

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