Today we continue the next part in our upskilling series. If you need to revisit the first part, please see All things upskilling: Are you on track for 2025? (Part 1). As a recap, we checked in on the predictions from the Simpsons, what is happening around the world, the 4th Industrial Revolution, the top ten skills for the workforce by 2025 according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the global statistics and the skills conundrum.
So that brings us to what is upskilling, reskilling and cross-skilling?
Personally, I believe that all three refer to something slightly different.
What is upskilling?
Upskilling refers to the practice of building your skills and expertise in your current domain. Think of yourself standing on a staircase. The incremental knowledge and skills you build to get to your next step, i.e. your career level or your next level of proficiency or even your next level of experience, is what I define as upskilling.
Say you work in the Finance department of your company with a specific focus on accounts, your current domain. You’ve been dealing with vendor invoices for the past six months and are skilled on the accounts payable side. An upskilling example would be those steps you take to acquire the skills to perform the role of accounts receivable. Same accounts domain but slightly different concepts and you’re practically working on the other side of the ledger.
What is reskilling?
Reskilling refers to the practice of divesting your skills and expertise into an adjacent domain. Think of yourself standing on a staircase but moving to an adjacent staircase in the same building. You’re still acquiring skills within the same field, however, you’re learning new skillsets that allow you to take on a different role.
Say you work in the Security practice of your company with a focus on network engineering. You’ve been monitoring and managing firewall rules for the past year. A reskilling example would be you using that base knowledge and partially transitioning into a complementary role such as security incident and response management. You have the experience of the front line and are now moving along the chain to deal with traffic that might have gone past the firewall and caused a security incident within the network perimeter.
What is cross-skilling?
Cross-skilling refers to the practice of expanding your skills and expertise into a totally different discipline. Ditch the stairs; you’re now in an elevator. You’re leveraging any existing experience and applying it to something out of your home base and acquiring a completely new skillset.
Say you work in the first line operations team of a logistics company. You have a strong grasp of all the operational processes and procedures including where things don’t always work the way the procedure documents are written. Your manager moves you into the second line risk and compliance team to oversee the same operations area, instigating a knowledge-sharing exercise. When you leverage that operational knowledge, all you need is to learn the risk/compliance frameworks and understand that language. This is the art of cross-skilling.
From observation, globally, we all do cross-skilling the best. Think back to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. A lot of companies reduced or deferred deliverables related to side functions and instead repurposed their roles temporarily to support high-volume functions such as inbound logistics, technical support, operations and customer support. This was cross-skilling at its peak.
What about studying and training?
Equally important, but a slight difference. Studying usually refers to starting from step zero on the staircase and moving up as opposed to the incremental step in upskilling. Think about it. You wouldn’t need that accounts payable person to study accounting from scratch just to take on the accounts receivable role.
Training on the other hand doesn’t always mean an incremental step up. As it stands, refresher training often indicates reinforcement of your current skills so that you don’t forget them. You are usually staying on the same skillset step.
What are the features of an upskilling program?
Ideally, an upskilling program should have the following elements to maximise the impact to your skills acquisition adventure.
- Short and sharp
- Oriented towards a work deliverable
- Play component (optional, but highly encouraged)
They’re macrotrends though, so why should I upskill? Why should I invest in my teams to have them upskilled?
While technology assists our lifestyle and helps us perform more efficiently, it also disrupts. That’s why it is often called disruptive technology. If you’re not learning and staying up-to-date, you’re likely to lose relevance in the workforce.
It always reminds me of the movie Hidden Figures. The character of Ms Dorothy Vaughn, played by Octavia Spencer, foresees that the new IBM machine could compute significantly faster than her team meaning they would likely be replaced and lose relevance in NASA’s space program division. She takes the initiative to learn the FORTRAN programming language and teach the skills to her team as well. This way, when a FORTRAN programming team was required by NASA, Ms Vaughn and her team were a simple lift and shift between departments.
Reflection: The skills step that Ms Dorothy Vaughn and her team undertook – would this be an example of upskill, reskill or cross-skill?
Reduce the likelihood of displacement
Similar to the disruption theme, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory teaches us the capacity for technology to displace certain jobs.
The character of Mr Bucket, played by Noah Taylor, works at a toothpaste factory applying caps to the tubes as part of the packaging. When the factory automates this step in the chain with a machine, Mr Bucket loses his job as those skills are no longer needed. Although the steps in the middle are not shown in the movie, Mr Bucket goes on to take a new technician role of fixing and maintaining the very robot that displaced his role.
Reflection: The skills step that Mr Bucket undertook – would this be an example of upskill, reskill or cross-skill?
Do you know how much weight upskilling has on your employees’ decision to stay or go? Here are some snippets of surveys around the world.
“More than two in five employees in Singapore have left a company because they felt that it did not provide enough learning and development (L&D) opportunities” (Lim J. More than 40% of Singapore workers quit job due to lack of skills training: Survey; Today Online Singapore, 2019).
Interestingly, similar trends were seen across Asia-Pacific, with India at 45%, Australia at 29% but lower in Japan at 16%.
“Two out of three UK workers have changed jobs because of a lack of training and development opportunities…”. (Musaddique S. Workers are quitting their jobs due to lack of training, study finds; The Independent, 2018).
Recall that global surveys show that only a third of capability-building programs are seen to have a business impact. Contemplating this, how are your training and L&D programs tailored to upskill staff while having an impact to your business?
Social obligation to your community
Shortly after these surveys, we moved into the Covid-19 pandemic and the skills gap kept widening.
When people are happy in their roles and receiving training and development to advance their careers, it contributes to their overall mental and financial wellbeing. We all have a social obligation to our community to ensure this wellbeing continues.
What skills should I focus on?
I would recommend three primary skills upfront:
- Emerging technology – you should know how to build it
- Risk management – you should know how to uphold it
- Cyber security – you should know how to protect it
Regardless of the technology in the future, these three will always be in high demand as they form the essence of any decision-making.
In Part 3, we will look at the three pillars and how they are structured for your learning journey, the dilemma of multiple skills needing to have business impact, the ambiguity around unlearning, the fallacy of coding and wrap up with a check-in on our 50% milestone ahead of 2025. See the full post at All things upskilling: Are you on track for 2025? (Part 3).
Let me know your thoughts and as always, I’d be happy to connect, have a chat and support you in your skills journey 😊