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What "upskilling" means for the future of your business

Training current employees for future opportunities.

When Amazon does something, they go big (and grab a lot of headlines). Their goal? Hire, train, and retain the best employees.

And, they put their money where their mouth is by pledging $700 million to launch and scale training programs to upskill employees in their corporate offices, tech hubs, fulfillment centers, retail stores and more.

Wait...what's upskilling?

It isn't just the latest trend corporate buzzword. Upskillling is how you can help current employees learn additional skills to apply on the job to benefit your company. It's also a great way to retain them and keep them engaged.

Data, technology, machines, cloud computing and artificial intelligence will likely play a large part in upskilling since they'll be critical to the future of workplace innovation. This means it's critical to have employees master these fields or you may be at a competitive disadvantage.

What are potential upskilling areas?

Here are some of the fastest growing job areas External Site, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Statisticians
  • Software developers
  • Information security analysts
  • Operations research analysts

With increases in technology and the amount of data we can readily access, there are steep skills gaps. These gaps are even occurring in industries that you might not expect, like construction and manufacturing.

Technology aside, as one of the largest generations (Baby Boomers) is on the verge of retiring, it's important to train qualified employees to fill managerial or other skills gaps.

How can my company can benefit from upskilling?

Existing employees can gain critical skills at a lower cost than hiring a new employee. Not to mention, you have the benefit of existing institutional knowledge staying at your company. Consider these other ways an upskilling program may benefit your company:

  • Employees learn new skills and apply them to your business in real time.
  • Knowledge and technical abilities further your employees' abilities, keep them engaged and set them up to move into higher-skill, better-paying jobs. Bonus: This can lead to an increased job satisfaction.
  • It helps your employees and your company be relevant in a fast-changing environment.
  • Upskilling creates career paths in fields that will continue growing in the future instead of filling jobs that may become obsolete. In effect, you're putting your business ahead of the curve.
  • It helps attract new talent. When prospective employees see how you care for and develop your current employees, they want to join your organization.

Up to 85 percent of the jobs current college students will do in 2030 don't exist yet, according to a prediction External Site by The Institute for the Future.

The cost of not investing in the skills of your current employees

Recent data from Work Institute's Retention Report External Site estimates it costs as much as 33 percent of a worker's annual salary to replace them. And, with the median employee's salary at $45,000, that means the average employee turnover cost is a whopping $15,000.

The millennial generation is entering the workforce full-speed ahead. By 2025, 75 percent of your employees population will consist of millennials. And, according to Gallup, millennial turnover could cost the U.S. $30.5 billion annually. To make sure you keep your company's bottom line in check, and retention of millennial employees, avoid these common mistakes when managing this ever-growing generation in your workforce.


When you consider the top reason employees leave is lack of career development, upskilling can help save you money and keep your employees happy and engaged. A Randstad study External Site found 40 percent of U.S. employees haven't been offered resources or been financially supported by their employer for upskilling purposes.

Find a solution to upskill your workplace

Refer to our checklist of things to consider if you're intrigued by the idea of upskilling your workforce. It helps you identify skill gaps, consider the different routes to upskilling and how to involve and engage your employees in the decision-making process.

After all, not everyone is Amazon and has the capital to invest $700 million in upskilling. However, there are many cost-efficient, forward-looking things all businesses can do to take care of their employees now while preparing for the future.

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  1. Identify potential current (and future) skills gaps.
    • Whether it's because of changing technology, industry trends, or an aging workforce, it's important to inventory the library of skill sets at your company.
    • What are your employees's different aptitudes, abilities and interests? These could be as varied as technology, management, presentation and analytical skills.
    • Hone the skills that are (or will be) most critical for your business.
  2. Think of the different routes to upskilling.
    • Not all higher learning involves four to eight years of expensive tuition and long days and nights of course participation and study. There are 90-day programs, certifications, on-the-job training, real-life project work, eLearning via free classrooms and digital training, and videos.
    • Look at what educational programs can be purchased from third party resources.
    • Consider mentorships, job shadowing, and frequent lunch-and-learns for informal learning.
    • Consider mentorships, job shadowing, and frequent lunch-and-learns for informal learning.
    • How can you make training and development available and affordable?
      1. Considerations could include:
        1. Paying tuition and fees toward a certificate or diploma in specified fields of study.
        2. Offering paid study time.
        3. Require employees to stay with your company for a specific amount of time or they will have to pay the tuition back.
    • Involve your employees in the decision-making process.
    • Show them your interest in career development during performance reviews and 1:1s or anonymously survey your employees to see where skill gaps and employee interests align.
    • Ask them how they learn best. Explore different learning options that range from microwaved (10-minute videos) to slow cooker (half or full day in traditional classrooms) to fit each employee's individual needs.
    • Inquire what incentives or help they need to upskill from a personal and professional perspective.

The bottom line on upskilling your workforce

Upskilling can lead to recruiting better candidates and ensuring more satisfied, longer-tenured employees. This can lead to an increase in your business's efficiency, save you money and prepare your business for the future.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield account representative, or email us at Send Email.