Image: Shutterstock/Yulia Raneva

Professional development has been on the back burner for most people since the pandemic started in March 2020. At the same time, digital transformation projects have accelerated, along with the Great Resignation. One way to prevent employees from leaving and build new skill sets is a reskilling program.

That requires a plan and a willingness to rethink traditional ideas about what career advancement looks like.

Sara Cooper, chief people officer at software company Jobber, said that companies spend a lot of money in the hiring process only to have individuals languish in a role that is not a good fit.

“If you redirect some of that time and effort into redeveloping people in house, that is money better spent,” she said. “People are going to be much happier and engaged and productive for you.”

SEE: Great Resignation: Top reasons employees are quitting right now (TechRepublic)

Jeanne Nicastrom, SVP of talent at the advertising firm R/GA, said the company hires curious people who have a desire to learn and then allows people to try out different skills internally.

R/GA managers build skills in employees through an internal Global Mobility Program.

“Internal mobility helps us develop future leaders while allowing the ‘DNA’ of R/GA to remain within our network while fostering people with hybrid skills and greater collaboration,” she said. “Since the arrival of Covid-19, our internal mobility program saw an increase of 42% year-over-year.”

Kelby Zorgdrager, CEO and founder, DevelopIntelligence, a Pluralsight Company that builds custom training for software developers, said all reskilling efforts must be intentional, formal and managed to succeed.

“Relying on individuals to ‘retrain themselves’ in the midst of current workloads is a recipe for failure,” he said.

There is no one size fits all for reskilling programs. Companies may need to rethink “the way we’ve always done it” attitudes and even establish a real budget for the effort. Here are three ways to build a modern program that meets the needs of companies and workers.

Building a career jungle gym

Cooper at Jobber, said the company realized early on that millennials and Gen Z workers want opportunities for skills development, not a path to the traditional corporate ladder. Jobber is a platform for small businesses to manage scheduling and customer communications and has more than 100,000 customers in 47 countries.

“We have built the development infrastructure so they can have multiple career paths,” she said. “People don’t need to leave so that they can advance or change their careers.”

Cooper said the company encourages people to make lateral moves as well as take a more junior position to support skills development. This was a deliberate change to the traditional approach of career development requiring a move up the ladder.

“Sometimes very deliberately people have gone down a level, technically, but that allowed them to direct their career in a way that to them was success,” she said. “Companies have to reframe how you think of success for employees.”

Cooper said that an officer manager in Toronto wanted to work in recruiting instead. The company created a development path for her to move to the talent attraction team and helped the individual build a new skill set.

Jobber has a clearly defined career path for each role at the company so employees know what it takes to go from marketing specialist to a manager to a senior manager.

Cooper said this new attitude about career development requires a culture shift. That includes building a culture of learning and celebrating all job changes whether the move is up, down or sideways.

“Sometimes a job change can seem like it’s a secret vs something to be celebrated,” she said.

“If a person is willing to fundamentally change their career path, that does take a certain amount of bravery.”

The flip side of this advancement plan is an understanding that some workers are content with their current jobs.

“We do not believe in forcing people to develop,” she said.

Self-directed approach to learning new skills

Instead of mapping out a path, some companies leave it to individuals to set the professional development agenda. Learning a new skill takes time and effort and companies can only provide so much incentive. The trick is to provide enough support for an individual to build on his or her own motivation and personal drive.

Learnerbly uses a self-directed approach to reskilling both internally and in client work, according to Lauren Mason, head of people. The company sees this approach as more engaging for employees and easier for individuals to choose the format that works best for them.

“Another benefit is that it boosts engagement and retention by allowing people to upskill towards their chosen career goals, and, fulfil these goals at their current workplace,” Mason said. “Self-directed learning can also help an organisation build a more diverse skill set and a broader base of insight, as everyone is not learning the same thing.”

SEE: Working from home: How to get remote right (TechRepublic)

Individual employees draw up and follow personal career development plans. The company provides these resources to make the plan a reality:

  • Designated hours during the work week chosen by the individual and devoted to learning
  • Learning leave for pursuing out-of-office learning opportunities such as training courses and conferences
  • A personal learning budget to spend on Learnerbly’s marketplace

Create your own reskilling adventure

Zorgdrager of DevelopIntelligence said companies are using multiple approaches to reskill existing employees:

  • Self-paced online resources
  • Bootcamp-style instructor-led training programs
  • Blended learning programs that combine self-paced content and virtual instructor-led sessions

Some employers are “insourcing” talent which means selecting employees from the current workforce to reskill, and others are hiring candidates with adjacent skills and reskilling them as part of the new hire onboarding process, Zorgdrager said.

Zorgdrager said the HR department usually recruits people for reskilling programs. He suggests using these criteria to guide the process:

  • Does the organization want to reskill an existing team?
  • Should the program accept applications from a variety of employees who will then form a new team during or after reskilling?
  • Who is eligible?
  • What minimum qualifications do individuals need to apply for consideration?
  • Do they need to pass specific technical assessments?

“In general, concentrated periods of learning lead to faster mastery of new skills,” he said. “The best designs include hands-on practice that mirrors the specific types of tasks and projects employees will be working on post-training.”

The final step is to build a well-defined method for assessing employees’ skills before, during and after the reskilling program.

“Organizations need to define success measures up front, how they will track results and how they will use the results to refine the program,” he said. “The goal is continuous improvement for both the students and the learning program.”