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Workers Seek to Upskill—With or Without Employers' Help

A woman working on her laptop at night.

​Dissatisfied with training programs offered by their employers, workers are seeking to upskill themselves outside of work, according to new research from ManpowerGroup. As the job market slowly contracts and becomes more competitive, workers are doing anything they can to give themselves an edge.

Upskilling Outside of Work

According to ManpowerGroup's 2023 Workplace Trends Report, 57 percent of employees are pursuing training outside of work. These workers largely feel that company-led training programs don't provide them with relevant skills, help them advance their careers or help them stay competitive in the job market.

"What's important to people is that they have the relevancy of skills that are marketable today as the world of work evolves," said Nimo Shah, director of MyPath and Experis Academy for ManpowerGroup.

Laura Munson, vice president of sales and strategy for staffing and consulting firm ATR International in Santa Clara, Calif., noted that this trend isn't particularly surprising, as large corporations generally have a poor history of training employees on skills that can help them beyond their current jobs. "Often, there are training programs for specific job functions, like on-the-job training," she said. "But if [employees] want to increase their skills, they still have to go out and get certificates outside of the company or go back to college. And a lot of companies don't even have great programs for that."

The report also found that workers are more motivated to develop new skills and experiences than simply advance in their careers. Some are even making lateral moves they find more fulfilling and allow them to be more agile employees.

Shah said MyPath seeks to upskill workers by exploring their career goals and how they relate to the current marketplace. From there, they can determine what training they might need to reach those goals. "It really comes down to a relationship and the individual," she said. "How do you structure this in a way that helps them to actually have the ability to grow?"

There may also be a sense of urgency among workers to distinguish themselves from their peers. With layoffs proliferating—particularly in the tech sector—workers are being forced to get more creative to stay relevant in the work world, explained Munson. This is a reversal of the Great Resignation trend seen throughout 2021 and 2022.  

"As we saw last year, everyone was requesting these inflated salaries," she said. "There's been such a shift [toward] either lateral moves, staying put and/or seeking new skills—so much so that even in my company, we've been starting to think through ways of helping employees get new skills or certification programs and point them in that direction."

Who Has the Power?

In addition to providing workers with inadequate training, employers also appear to be doing little to boost employee morale. Indeed, the recent contraction in the job market may have employers again feeling like they hold all the cards.

The ManpowerGroup survey found that 66 percent of workers feel that employers have all the power to determine where they work. Nearly half (48 percent) said they overwork in any given week and almost a third (29 percent) said they wish their managers would do more to understand the effort required to complete tasks.

The labor market is a lot like the housing market in that it shifts from being an "employer market" to an "employee market." The Great Resignation created an employee market, in which many workers had their choice of jobs and were able to demand more. Now, it's shifting back to an employer market—but generational differences may factor into how workers are approaching things.

"I think the younger generations are still pushing for higher salaries," Munson said. "And I think, older generations see the fear and think, 'OK, I better stay put.' "

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Resignation Regrets

Another recent trend that may be emboldening many employers could be workers expressing regrets about leaving their old positions. A recent Paychex study found that 80 percent of workers regret quitting their jobs in 2021, and about 70 percent of them attempted to get those jobs back.

Munson has observed this firsthand; many workers regret leaving old positions because they attempted to acquire new jobs but soon realized they didn't have the skills those jobs required. "People had this sense that they could go anywhere and do any job, but they're not learning skills or growing with a company," she said. "So all of a sudden, they have a jumpy resume. And if they want to move on again, new companies look at the jumpy resume, and they're not as inclined to hire those people."

Ultimately, the importance of upskilling shouldn't be underestimated. A recent survey by professional learning platform Great Learning found that upskilling helped 43 percent of workers in India advance at their organizations. Additionally, 23 percent were able to move into new domains and 18 percent landed new jobs.

Arjun Nair, co-founder of Great Learning, told Business Insider that workers shouldn't wait until layoffs start happening to upskill. "Most industries and functions are in the midst of a technology disruption," he said. "A good place to start would be to understand how technology is disrupting your sector and how you can leverage technology to improve your productivity and organization's competitive advantage."

Workers who are proactive about upskilling have the right idea.

Chris Thorne, SHRM-CP, owner and president of Chris Thorne Consulting, an HR consulting firm based in Carlsbad, Calif., noted that at the rate human knowledge and technology are expanding, workers have no choice but to constantly upskill themselves.

"Where we used to say that skills learned more than 10 years ago are unlikely to be useful in the modern workforce, we are quickly approaching a point where skills learned more than a year ago will no longer be relevant," he said. "Continuous learning and upskilling are no longer the methods of career advancement for the ambitious; they are now essential tools in career retention for everyone."

Andrew Deichler is a freelance writer based in Maryland.


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