Building From within – How Learning Teams are Upskilling the Workforce

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The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on work and workplaces are still being felt by employers and will continue to do so for some time. The pandemic shocked labour markets and as businesses open up they are starting to see the after-effects, one being a rise in job vacancies. These vacancies will put pressure on employers who were already struggling to fill jobs pre-pandemic. In this article we look at how to fill the gap (spoiler – the answer’s probably right in front of you).


Why hire when you can upskill?


The World Economic Forum estimates that in the next five years, automation will displace 85 million jobs and create 97 million new jobs. Skills are becoming business critical.

Learning teams have a central part to play in upskilling and reskilling employees. Buying in talent is still an option, but a combination of skills scarcity in the candidate market and the scale of skills required mean that reskilling and upskilling employees is the viable option for employers. McKinsey suggests that in 75% of cases it pays to reskill an employee.

So how are learning teams looking to upskill employees at scale? LinkedIn Learning’s 5th annual Workplace Learning Report provides some insights. Based on a survey of 1,260 L&D professionals, 814 learners and 3,080 people managers, carried out at the end of 2020, the report shows that upskilling/reskilling are the number one priority for learning. This is a 15% increase from June 2020. So what can they do about it?


Hello L&D: You’re in charge of upskilling now


The survey shows L&D professionals are using a range of tactics to upskill the organisation:

  Including people managers in driving employees’ learning and skill development (49%)

  Using internal data and tools to identify skills gaps in the organisation (41%)

  Creating career paths with course recommendations and skills needed (41%)

  Setting up feedback loops to understand what skills to build or courses to recommend to the organisation (36%)

  Working closely with your organisation’s executive team to align skilling programmes to a revised business strategy, in response to COVID (36%)

  Working closely with the talent acquisition and/or HR departments to identify skills needed for workforce planning (32%)

  Leveraging skill assessments to validate skills in the current workforce (30%)

  Using external data resources and tools to identify skills gaps in the industry (19%)

  Creating large-scale reskilling programs to fill positions that are new or difficult to hire for (17%)


These approaches echo the three-pronged approach advocated by Mckinsey. They are:

  1. Conduct strategic workforce planning
  2. Improve the training offer
  3. Foster a culture of lifelong learning


Points one and two are familiar territory for learning teams, but it is point three which presents a huge challenge. There are so many good reasons for organisations to foster a culture of lifelong learning. Our indepth analysis of 1,000 articles on the subject revealed 20 compelling reasons. These include its appeal to younger people – who have been most negatively affected by the pandemic – managing change and enabling employees to take control of their own learning. 

Learning teams must ensure they don’t get stuck on strategic workforce planning and providing effective training in order to upskill the organisation. Organisations with a culture that supports skills development will succeed at upskilling at scale.


The Call for Talent is Coming from Inside the House


The LinkedIn Learning research also shows that L&D professionals are focusing on internal mobility as a way of helping plug skills gaps, with 51% saying internal mobility is more of a priority than before Covid-19. Tactics include helping identify skills gaps (39%), building internal mobility tools (33%) and helping identify skills adjacencies (31%).

This is a key focus of one of our partners, Degreed, an organisation that provides an upskilling platform to help people develop their skills, and to make the connection between learning and opportunities within the organisation. Degreed is powered in part by curated content from Anders Pink that is aligned to key skills. As it says in its blog post, “Creating real business value happens when employee learning is connected to opportunity. This is a core tenet of the new talent operating model. And it really comes to life when organisations establish a marketplace that connects employee skills and skill development to ongoing, real-time internal opportunities for employees to explore new types of work.”

Making opportunities visible to all employees enables them to see how they can use their skills in different teams and in different parts of the business. Making this a reality for employees requires senior leaders to champion skills. It requires employees to feel like they can take control of their development and for managers to support skills development.

As Degreed says, “When a company’s senior executives champion skill development, it’s a recipe for building an effective learning culture. Employees need to understand and embrace their own development and feel empowered to design, grow, and achieve their career goals. And managers must adopt a mindset shift that enables talent to flow more freely across the company, supporting people who want to use their skills beyond their immediate teams.”

Upskilling provides learning teams with an opportunity to magnify their impact by venturing out of the traditional role of learning and into skills and talent management and supporting the organisation through accelerated and ongoing change.

Many learning professionals are already reporting that they are having greater impact, with 64% of respondents in LinkedIn Learning’s survey saying that L&D has shifted from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’.  In March 2020, 24% of L&D professionals said they had a seat at the executive table. That jumped to 63% in March 2021.


Upskilling is where learning teams can have a significant impact in the coming months and years.


Learn more about how Degreed and Anders Pink work together to provide skills-based content automatically curated from the web in the flow of work in the Degreed platform.