Why Upskilling Employees Matters in Tech - Now More Than Ever

By Lisa Goodall Ashkinos ● May 26, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the world’s digital transformation - at a faster pace than ever before. From purchasing groceries, to ordering medication, to virtual meetings with colleagues, companies and consumers were forced to rapidly adapt to a virtual environment. This digital acceleration, combined with talent movement during the Great Resignation, created a labor gap in the tech industry that has posed extraordinary challenges for tech talent HR leadership, as their new hire delays and onboarding costs exceeded budgets.

Adding to that perfect storm, today’s economic uncertainty, with some sectors seeing increased demand and others seeing negative revenue impact, makes it even more urgent for tech leaders and tech talent HR to prioritize upskilling employees for talent retention, to avoid unnecessary expenditure.

Amidst this twin challenge of talent shortage and economic uncertainty, there is one constant that human resource and talent development teams can rely on: it is always the right time to invest in upskilling employees at all levels through continuous training and professional development.  

A report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) calls on companies to “anchor upskilling and workforce investment as a core business principle.” As organizations look to balance the tech talent shortage in an increasingly competitive – and booming – IT industry, upskilling should be at the top of mind for any HR and talent development team. Below we outline five reasons why upskilling employees matters now more than ever:

  1. It’s proven that outside hires can take three years to perform as well as internal hires in the same job. Acquiring new talent is incredibly difficult and expensive in the tech industry right now. On average, it costs employers 33% of a worker’s annual salary to hire a replacement if that worker leaves. At the same time, upskilling employees to promote from within your organization serves as both a motivation and retention tool. When employees – particularly early- or mid-career employees – know that their organization is investing in their career growth through continuous training and development, they, in turn, become more invested in the work that they are doing, working toward promotion internally instead of looking elsewhere for the same advancement opportunities. This benefits the employee’s own growth, and also contributes to the continued success and growth of the organization as a whole, preventing gaps in productivity that often accompany employee turnover. 

  2. Upskilling employees to promote within an organization also enhances company culture and boosts employee morale. As the Aspen Institute said: a highly engaged workforce cannot be “overlooked or underestimated.” Organizations that invest in their employees and empower them with the skills that align with their interests and passions – particularly if it helps them advance in their career – contribute to a positive workplace culture. Engaged employees are a critical aspect to any company, but particularly during times of uncertainty, when they might be asked to take on expanded roles and contribute beyond their normal duties. Investing in resources for training and development to promote from within demonstrates a commitment to employees and their career growth, contributing to a more engaged and satisfied workforce.

  3. Upskilling employees can help them take on additional work more efficiently. In any organization, there comes a time when an individual is tasked with picking up extra work assignments to support or cover colleagues during times of need or economic stress. For this exact reason, ongoing training and development should be prioritized in any organization to ensure that each employee, no matter their level or role, is prepared – and confident in their ability to – take on additional tasks if and when needed. In one major study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity and UpSkill America, researchers reported that “...upskilling is more than an engagement consideration. It is a lifeline that turns an overwhelmed and unprepared employee into one with the knowledge and skills to take on new tasks confidently and capably.” 

  4. Training current employees to fully use the technologies and tools you’ve already invested in increases your ROI. Often, a company invests in the promise of new technology - but does not fully leverage that new tool’s potential to positively impact the full organization because employees lack experience working with its many features. As an example, one tech training services company, Momentum, was asked by a client to train employees ranging from data engineers to account managers in a technology the company had invested significant capital in, but were only scratching the surface at using today. After surveying employees and their managers about what their needs are, Momentum designs a custom curriculum targeting day by day training toward the company’s business goals. The outcome? Employees only train in the features needed in their particular domain, minimizing time lost from their already-busy schedules and maximizing efficiency gained using their new hands-on understanding of how to use the technology to support and accelerate their daily work and longer-term projects. In short, when everyone on your staff is trained to fully utilize technology for their particular roles, the company reaps optimal ROI. Ensuring that employees are trained to effectively perform their jobs using the tools and solutions already in place contributes to employee confidence and satisfaction - if they don’t know what to do or how to use the systems in place, there’s a higher likelihood they will 1) make an error or 2) leave their role. Either of those situations puts your organization at risk for losing resources (both in time and money!)

  5. Upskilling employees during times of uncertainty better prepares you for the future. A study completed by the Institute for Corporate Productivity and UpSkill America conclude that organizations that actively prepare and train their workforces to be successful today, tomorrow, and beyond - continuously investing in skill improvement or training, particularly during times of uncertainty - creates a competitive advantage for your workforce: “The organizational benefits of continuing to upskill workers during a downturn are readily apparent. When employees have diverse skills that allow them to adapt to changes in business needs, productivity, performance, and customer service are less likely to suffer ill effects.

In conclusion, research and practice has proven that staying the course with, and even accelerating, professional development and hands-on training is an imperative during today’s ongoing labor shortages and times of uncertainty - reducing employee turnover costs, increasing employee productivity, loyalty and overall morale, and increasing return on investment in new and longtime technologies.