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4 Strategies for Upskilling and Reskilling

Recent surveys indicate that new skills and organizational knowledge sharing are critical for tackling the skills revolution. HR leaders will need innovative solutions for upskilling.

Two women looking at a computer screen.

The post-pandemic, 21st century workplace demands a new strategy for HR. According to The Wall Street Journal, “The novel coronavirus pandemic led to a reworking of the economy unlike any other since World War II.” This requires an innovative response from HR professionals in business, non-profits, government, and education. 

Strategies must address the facts head on. First, consider the following data from a variety of sources.

  • 58 percent of the existing workforce needs new skill sets to do their jobs.1
  • 83 percent of industry association economists say employers in their sectors are finding it more difficult to fill jobs than they were five years ago.2
  • 55 percent of employees still struggle to find and share organizational knowledge and 61 percent are not completely satisfied with their company’s workplace tools and technologies.3
  • Approximately 53 percent of college graduates are unemployed or working in a job that does not require a bachelor's degree.4

It is no wonder that a 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report indicates that HR will need to change substantially or radically in its accountability over the next 12 to 18 months.5

Innovative strategies are needed in order to address these issues. New strategies should include previously under-explored options. What follows are four strategies for your consideration. They are not prescriptive, rather these recommendations are meant to spur further thought. 

1. A Focus on Skills

Degreed is an education technology company that focuses on enabling and recognizing professional and lifelong learning and skills. Janice Burns, Chief Career Experience Officer at Degreed, said in a recent interview that, “Skills are the language of business.” Further, Burns says that “There is a ‘skills revolution’ going on.” 

The Degreed approach is an ongoing upskilling process resulting in positive outcomes that surpass business profit and loss statements, according to Burns. While benefiting the organization, a skill building approach: 

  • Demonstrates commitment to employees.
  • Is inclusive thereby embracing social responsibility.
  • Offers a positive impact on a variety of industries (by solving skill shortages).
  • Data-driven solutions that result in a constant renewal of workforce performance.

2. Agile Learning Opportunities and Knowledge Sharing

According to Deloitte Insights, “employees rate the ‘opportunity to learn’ as among their top reasons for taking a job and 94 percent say they would stay in a company if it helped them to develop, yet only 15 percent can access learning directly related to their jobs.”6 These statistics should have an impact on skill building and providing learning opportunities. 

Jeremiah Fern is Senior Director for Sales and Channel Enablement at Tenable, a cybersecurity organization headquartered in Maryland. Fern revamped all of the sales training to address a need for ongoing, continuous learning and knowledge sharing. The unique aspect of Fern’s solution is to customize learning to the learner’s preference while making it more accessible through a variety of venues and in many forms. Microlearning assets are made available just-in-time and at point-of-need, they can be “pulled” by user (instead of “pushed” to the learner), and they are accessible both by PC and mobile devices. 

Since Tenable emphasizes the user experience, Fern has designed the microlearning in the context of performance, available in the employee’s workflow. Fern’s mantra is “At end of day, it doesn’t matter how you come to know what you know. There should be a variety of venues to get to knowledge. The user experience is a high priority. So, the goal is to provide learning in the context of performance. Sales professionals can learn through more formal methods like an on-demand training course or through informal weekly Zoom webinars, company presentations, product brochures, etc.” Assessments are built into the platform so that everything is in one place. 

There is a knowledge management element to this learning approach. Employees can submit knowledge content directly to Prime, the content platform, and make it available to everyone. Fern says, “We have a formal governance model to make sure it’s not the Wild West. If it is something worth assessing, contributors work with my team to develop the material into a sanctioned offering.” This approach demonstrates a blending of knowledge and learning management including the knowledge management cycle of creating, capturing, storing, sharing and applying knowledge.7

3. Apprenticeships

Today’s apprenticeships are an old idea, reinvented. According to the Department of Labor, “Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction to prepare workers for highly-skilled careers. Workers benefit from apprenticeships by receiving a skills-based education that prepares them for good-paying jobs. Apprenticeship programs help employers recruit, build and retain a highly-skilled workforce.”

Accenture, the global consulting firm, offers a successful example of the business case for—and implementation of—apprenticeships as a major component of its workforce strategy. In a conversation with Pallavi Verma, Senior Managing Director of Quality and Risk, North America, Accenture, Verma described Accenture apprenticeships as “real jobs, with real world experience at a sustainable wage, most of the time on client-facing work.” Verma described a situation where Accenture hired an apprentice who was a food truck operator who was retrained in a technical field. 

Verma says a business benefit of apprenticeships is that the individuals who come through the apprenticeship program “are more loyal.” There is a lower attrition rate among apprentices. “The appeal is ‘sticky’ in other words, people stay.” In a sentence, the business case for apprenticeships is that there is low turnover and the organization benefits from a diverse pool of non-traditional hires who become dedicated employees with customized skills.

4. Business/Education/Student Partnerships

An emerging strategy to supply workers with certain in-demand skills is through business/education/student partnerships. There is a synergistic relationship between business and education. Intuitively we know that educational institutions should prepare us with life skills. When educational institutions partner with businesses for student employment, the relationship prepares students to be productive future employees. 

Nickolas Lantz is the Executive Director of Experiential Learning at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and leads the Experiential Learning Center at JHU. Lantz’s vision is to offer students work experiences that enhance their resumes/portfolios and make money while they are in school. To that end, Lantz oversaw the development of a platform to connect students with work opportunities; it is called SMILE. Employers within or outside the university can post job positions in SMILE. It provides equal access for all students, establishes employment eligibility, displays paid projects and allows for onboarding with the organizations providing projects. Currently enrolled students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels have access to SMILE. 

The four strategies described demonstrate possibly untapped options. They represent a skills focus (not a job description focus), technology-enabled continuous learning, alternative labor sources, an emphasis on the future workforce and social responsibility. As such, these strategies offer success in the present, while readying us for the future. 

Deborah Waddill, Ed.D., is President of Restek Consulting LLC and author of Digital HR and The e-HR Advantage.


1 Baker, M., & Zuech, T. (2021, February 4, 2021). Gartner HR Research Finds 58% of the Workforce Will Need New Skill Sets to Do Their Jobs Successfully

2 U.S. Chamber Launches Nationwide Initiative to Address National Worker Shortage Crisis and Help America's Employers Fill Jobs | U.S. Chamber of Commerce (





7 Waddill, D. (2018). Digital HR: A Guide to Technology-Enabled Human Resources. SHRM. Pp. 149-150


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