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Everything You Need to Know About Upskilling

Everything You Need to Know About Upskilling

A Tango-branded illustration of a graph going up to the right, with various skills implying upskilling.

💡 What is upskilling?

Upskilling describes the process of learning new skills—or improving existing ones—at work.

Whether you see upskilling as a boardroom buzzword or business imperative probably depends a lot on your lived experience. 

But if you believe employees are a company’s #1 asset, the need to learn new skills has never been higher, and employers *and* employees need to address skill gaps in order to stay competitive…you’ve come to the right place.

This guide covers:

What’s woven throughout? A compelling case for building your own bench of talent. 

The difference between upskilling and reskilling

Upskilling and reskilling often get lumped together in conversations about capacity building and continuous learning. (Looking for a casual conversation starter for your next dinner party? Look no further. 🤓) 

If we lost you at capacity building—think of everything that goes into developing the skills, instincts, abilities, processes, and resources needed to thrive in a world changing really, really fast.

Upskilling and reskilling certainly fit into that category. And they’re both on the rise, with 42% of companies increasing their upskilling and reskilling programs since COVID-19 hit. But they shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

Here’s a quick breakdown to help you distinguish between the two. 👇

A table comparing upskilling and reskilling, with a definition, scope, and motivation for each.

Why upskilling is important

We’ve talked about knowledge gaps before—and how normal they are. We’ve also talked about skill gaps—and how important it is to get good at learning on the job. (👋, Tango!) 

What we haven’t talked much about are performance gaps. Or what to do when expectations don’t meet reality. 

But upskilling isn’t just a last ditch effort for underperformers. (Far from it.) It’s an equally smart activity for top talent, and anyone who wants to proactively develop the skills that will make themselves—and the companies they work for—ready for the future.

According to The World Economic Forum:

  • As much as 40% of workers’ core skills will change in the next five years. 
  • 50% of all employees will need reskilling.
  • By 2025, critical thinking, analysis, problem-solving, active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility will be considered need-to-haves, not nice-to-haves.
  • 94% of business leaders expect their employees to pick up new skills on the job.

7 upskilling benefits for employees

Whether you’re managing a team, concentrating on your own skill development, or both, there are lots of reasons to prioritize a focus on upskilling.

  1. Clearer career trajectory → Upskilling can naturally lead to more career-oriented conversations, with more direct feedback about what’s needed to get to the next level. 💬
  2. Career growth → Successful upskilling can open up new opportunities for career advancement. 🪜
  3. Better efficiency → Upskilling can lead to better job performance and higher quality work, as employees become better equipped to handle complex tasks and challenges. ✅
  4. Increased confidence → As employees develop new skills and knowledge, they may feel more confident in their abilities to contribute (and take on other projects). 💪🏽
  5. More marketability → Those who learn specialized and emerging skills may be more marketable to other employers or industries, which may open up more career options with better leverage. 🤗
  6. Higher earning potential → Employees with in-demand skills and knowledge can command higher salaries and better benefits. 💰
  7. Improved job satisfaction → Learning and development opportunities can make employees feel satisfied and fulfilled at work. 🫶🏿

7 upskilling benefits for employers 

Since upskilling requires a commitment from both employees AND employers, let’s take a look at what companies stand to gain from an upskilled workforce. 

  1. Fewer skill gaps (and greater innovation) → New competencies minimize skill gaps and lead to more creative ideas, perspectives, and solutions for customers. 💡
  2. Improved productivity → More skilled individual contributors create more efficient teams, which collectively drive more effective business outcomes. 🙌
  3. Better retention → People who feel invested in—and empowered to grow—tend to stick around (even if the going gets tough). 🧡 For extra motivation: The cost of replacing a skilled employee is 1.5x to 2x an employee's annual salary.
  4. Cost savings → Upskilling existing employees is often more cost effective than hiring or outsourcing to fill skill gaps. 💸
  5. Continuous learning culture → Providing pathways to improve job performance underscores the importance of having a learning culture, where learning is seen as an ongoing process vs. a one-time project. 📚
  6. Competitive advantage → More institutional knowledge unlocks new levels of operational excellence when it comes to building products, serving customers, and winning deals. 😎
  7. Peace of mind → 60% of CEOs with organizations with more advanced upskilling have more confidence in their revenue. 🔭

Needless to say, the list of pros is long, with customers standing to benefit just as much as anyone. 

The biggest drawback to upskilling is the time and effort required. But think about it this way: the time is going to pass anyway. And new competition is likely to crop up. To avoid being leapfrogged by well-funded, buzzy new brands (and losing your best people), it may make sense to go all in on leveling up your existing bench of talent. 

If you need more convincing—there’s still time to get a head start. According to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022, only 40% of employees said their company is actively helping workers upskill

Skill gap analysis 101

There’s a tried-and-true way to turn upskilling from a goal into a game plan, and it’s called a skill gap analysis.

If that sounds like something that can only be conducted by a Chief Human Resources Officer, don’t worry.

There is:

  • An approachable answer to “what is a gap analysis?” 
  • An easy way to delineate between a hard skill vs soft skill.
  • An 8-step process to make taking inventory of existing skills—and forecasting which ones you’ll need soon—a piece of cake.

Skill gap analysis definition

First things first. A skill gap analysis is an assessment to identify if, where, and why skill gaps are present. 

The initial goal? To surface the delta between existing skills and desired skills. The ultimate aim? To identify the training and development needed to meet core business objectives. 

A skill gap analysis can be run by:

  • An individual employee
  • A project or team
  • A department
  • An organization
  • An industry at large

What does a skill gap analysis have to do with upskilling? It’s hard to know where to start without knowing where you’re falling short. 

Understanding a hard skill vs soft skill

Before we get into how to perform a skills gap analysis, let’s specify what we’ll be looking at. In other words—hard skills and soft skills. 

A table comparing hard skills and soft skills.

Most job descriptions will list a combination of both. You could have all the hard skills in the world, but if you aren’t emotionally intelligent, good at developing relationships, and great at persuading others and resolving conflict, it’s tough to get to the next level.

8 steps to conduct a successful skills gap analysis 

Disclaimer: You can carry out a skills gap analysis with little more than a spreadsheet and a series of semi-intelligent questions. 

BUT, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your final output is well-informed, actionable, and scalable.

These are those. 👇

A list of the eight steps needed to conduct a successful skills gap analysis.

Step #1: Define—and document—your purpose.

Identify why you’re conducting a skills gap analysis, as an individual contributor, manager, department head, or executive. A couple to consider: identifying areas for improvement, optimizing training programs, planning for workforce development, or building a learning culture.

💡 Tango Tip

Take a document-first approach when you're getting your skill gap analysis off the ground, especially if you're setting up a process from scratch.

This will make it easier to increase focus, drive alignment, and identify areas for improvement once all is said and done.

Step #2: Kick off conversations about missing skills needed now.

If you’re an individual contributor go ahead and swap this step for “create a list of desired skills.” If you’re assessing needs for a team, department, or company, get everyone in a room to do a preliminary brainstorm.

In the process, you may hear feedback like “we just need an in-house web developer,” or “it’d make all the difference if we had a dedicated knowledge manager.” Remember the most cost effective solution may be to leverage your existing staff to bridge skill gaps through upskilling. To do that, encourage everyone to think first in terms of skills needed (vs. jobs to fill). 

Step #3: Decide which new/emerging skills will be needed soon. 

This is the step many overlook—and the one that directly impacts how successfully you navigate change (at every level).

It pays to do your research while you create a skills matrix. For example, here’s a list of the 10 most in-demand hard skills for Information Technology (IT) roles:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Cloud-Native
  • Data Fabric
  • AI Engineering
  • Helpdesk
  • Privacy Enhancing Computation
  • Project Management
  • IT Architecture Strategies
  • Blockchain
  • Mobile Development
💡 Tango Tip

If you wind up with a novel of a wishlist (either as an individual performing your own assessment or as a company leader):

  • Give stakeholders $100 to "spend" on their most desired skills.
  • Tally up the total, and then use that data to identify what your focus areas will be.
  • Confirm everyone is aligned on the most important skills to help drive operational excellence.

Step #4: Measure the strength of existing skills.

This one is self-explanatory—and a critical part of the equation. 

In order to move onto the next step, you need a baseline skills assessment in hand. 

  • If you’re an individual contributor—what are your strengths? Which hard and soft skills do you (already) bring to the table? 
  • If you’re a team lead—which skills are already present and accounted for? 

Benchmarking may not be easy—but surveys, performance reviews, and conversations with managers and mentors can help.

Step #5: Identify your skill gaps.

To figure out the gaps to address, compare all the skills you need against all the skills you have.

There are a variety of ways to do this (with and without sophisticated tools). If “scrappy” feels more your speed, you can create an Excel spreadsheet that looks something like this:

A mock-up of a sample skill gap analysis, with columns to assess the current state, desired state, gap distance, impact level, and next steps.

Step #6: Define your next steps.

The “TBD” column in the graphic above may be the most important. How will you begin bridging the skill gaps you’ve surfaced?

If you’re an individual contributor, you might propose:

  • A plan to fill the skill gap internally.
  • A list of resources you’d need to succeed. 
  • Any blockers you anticipate (and solutions to overcome them).

If you’re a company lead, you might consider:

  • If the skill gap can (and should) be filled internally. 
  • Who might be the best person or people to tap into.
  • What a learning pathway might look like.
  • Access to training materials and/or subject matter experts
  • What kind of investment might be needed.
  • How long it will take to see progress.
  • How you’ll define success.

Step #7: Hit the ground running—even if your plan isn’t perfect.

You may not have all the information you need to fill out every column in your spreadsheet, or all the answers you need to field every question coming your way. That’s okay (and to be expected!). 

Start small. Document everything. Share progress. Ask for feedback. Adjust as needed. 

💡 Tango Tip

Upskilling may save you the time, trouble, and expense of:

  • Hiring a new full-time employee to fill a skill gap
  • Finding a reliable contractor or freelancer to outsource work to
  • Restructuring existing roles, teams, or departments

...or all the above.

Step #8: Make a habit of skill gap analysis.

How much do things change in a month, in your role/company/industry/market? 🤯

Doing a skill gap analysis every 2-3 years probably isn’t going to cut it—or keep you on the cutting edge.

8 strategies to solve skill gaps with upskilling

You’ve already done a lot of the legwork by assessing your existing workforce’s skills, surfacing your knowledge gaps, prioritizing your upskilling goals, and selecting the people most capable of helping you achieve them. 

What’s left? Setting everyone up for success with multiple ways to upskill.

Strategy Benefit Example
Enable microlearning moments, on the job, in the flow of work. 🙌 Gives people the information they need, in the moment they need to apply it—and promotes peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. An automatically generated Tango how-to guide with real-time guidance explaining how to create a list of unengaged contacts in HubSpot.
Set stretch goals. 💫 Encourages a growth mindset and builds upskilling into day-to-day work. A senior marketing manager sets a goal of socializing an overall marketing strategy within his first 90 days.
Standardize a personal development plan. 🫶 Inspires employees to own their own development and align their personal interests with business needs. An HR director works with people managers to create a framework to guide monthly career conversations.
Stand up a learning and development program. ✔️ Good option for a large-scale upskilling initiative for many team members. A workshop to teach hiring managers how to reduce bias in their hiring process.
Introduce a job rotation or cross-training option. ↔️ Allows people to perform other roles with related skill sets (and helps break down information silos). An engineer working in a design or research role (developing and testing new technologies) rotates into a project management position (overseeing planning, execution, and delivery of engineering projects).
Subsidize an online course. 👨‍💻 Convenient way to learn new skills or enhance existing ones. A Reforge course on finding product/market fit.
Send team members to a worthwhile conference. ✈️ Great way to access industry experts and pick up new knowledge while networking with peers. Dreamforce by Salesforce (where 86% of attendees report being able to solve a business challenge with something they learned and 83% say they discovered a new tool that helped them or their business).
Launch a mentorship program. 🚀 Expands individual capabilities (and institutional knowledge at large). A longtime team lead connects with a new hire 1x a month for six months to build soft skills.

We’ll leave you with two final tips.

Looking for budget-friendly ways to encourage employee development? Check out:

Looking for the most efficient way to help people capture, acquire, and apply new knowledge? Flatten the learning curve with Tango.                                                                                                               

With just a few clicks of a button, you can deliver a 🌟 how-to guide that:

  • Removes all the friction typically experienced while following documented instructions.
  • Serves people in their moment of need by helping them find (contextualized!) answers fast.
  • Minimizes the mental energy needed to move through processes powering more meaningful work.🕺

The bottom line

What’s the TL;DR? Upskilling may be the epitome of a win-win for employees and employers.

As competition heats up across industries and it becomes more challenging to 1) delight customers and 2) retain employees, it makes sense for employers to look internally and build their own bench of talent using a skills-based approach.

There’s no shortage of options to help people learn different types of skills. The trick is to:

  • Reimagine how knowledge transfer takes place.
  • Find ways to shift upskilling away from the realm of rule or requirement.
  • Reposition upskilling as a growth strategy fully backed by company leaders.
  • Demystify which skills organizations find most valuable.
  • Introduce solutions to fill skill gaps that are likely to be championed by employees.
  • Lean into time/energy-saving tools that help people make an impact and improve their craft. 


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