Decoding Upskilling & Reskilling and its relevance

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While we now talk about Upskilling and Reskilling the fact remains that organization and especially the L&D / HR function face a tough time getting this done.

Till almost a decade prior whenever I would conduct any skill-building workshop the Karate kid movie would always come to my rescue. The very cute Mr. Miyagi who was shown as a master in martial arts undertakes the task of teaching karate to Daniel.

In the movie, Daniel’s training starts with days of menial chores that he believes only serve to make him Miyagi’s slave. When he becomes frustrated, Miyagi demonstrates that repetition of these chores helped him to learn defensive blocks through muscle memory.

“One of the catchy lines been ‘Wax On Wax Off’ It was an effective video to drive across the importance of believing in your coach and the importance of practice. There are many more lessons that can be derived from the movie although.”

Times started changing and I started coming across new terms revolving around skills ranging from cross-skilling to upskilling and now even de-skilling and re-skilling.

While I wouldn’t get into the discussion on what is the difference in all these terms but would like to give my perspective around 2 buzzing words which are Upskilling and Re-skilling.

Upskilling

It’s usually the process of giving extra training in an endeavor to improve the skills of an employee to make him better at his job.

It primarily implies, for example, a person who is doing a lot of work on excel. While he would be good in advanced excel and would be well-versed with various complex formulas, and upskilling for him would ideally be learning macros for some reports that have constant data points or exploring MS Access. Technology keeps changing and keeping abreast of changing technology is a way of continuously upskilling self.

In the training fraternity also, there is a lot of upskilling required. When I attended a few pieces of training in my first job the IN technology was using OHP (Overhead Projectors), the trainer would write / print on transparencies and project it on OHP. In those days of White Board and Markers getting to see transparencies projected on OHPs was simply a WOW thing. When I started training myself then the IN thing was Projectors and PPTs and now when I manage the function I see Smart Boards that have a USB port, just a pen drive attached and the training begins. No need for a laptop nor a projector. As I write this article during the lockdown period one more thing buzzing is virtual training on Zoom.

Life is simple, if I need to be relevant I need to upskill. 

Reskilling

It’s the process of learning new skills so you can do different job roles. Now this definition becomes tricky wherein the implied message may be that once you are thrown out of one role then you need to learn something new to survive.

We have come a long way and seen many stages of multiple revolutions ranging from industrial, digital and social. All these revolutions actually brought in a lot of different thought processes and approach towards work. Without dwelling more into the different revolutions and the impact of baby boomers, GenX, GenY, and Millennials on the workforce, one thing which became very prominent was the magic of automation.

A person whose job was to maintain time-sheets suddenly realizes that a biometric machine has been installed and now he has nothing to do. Another person who would be taking a lot of pride in clearing bills and vouchers of other employees and processing their travel reimbursements would one day realize that an Expense Management Portal is knocking their door eager to come in. Now the million-dollar question is what do they do. In training parlance, it’s more like ‘Who Moved My Cheese’.

To give my own example, I started my career selling credit cards and personal loans, then switched to customer service then upselling, then moved to line HR and finally landed in learning and development.

So, net-net what’s happening is people need to upskill so they remain relevant and create opportunities to grow and people need to re-skill to either survive, diversify or grow.

While we now talk about Upskilling and Reskilling the fact remains that organization and especially the L&D / HR function face a tough time getting this done.

As specialist we need to realize that any upskilling or reskilling is actually a change that we are trying to induce in an individual and whenever we want to introduce any type of change in an individual the first natural reaction of the individual will be to go in a denial mode. The fact remains that whatsoever we may talk about change management but the fact of life is we don’t like changes. Rather, as I write this during the lock-down period people aren’t even ready to accept this change of working from home, they just want to step out. If we don’t like changes the same applies to others as well.

We need to first prepare them for the change that will be coming their way. We must be brutally honest in telling them how their lives are going to change post this re-skilling / upskilling.

As I love food I will take the liberty of giving this analogy that ‘whatever is good for health is usually not tasty and whatever is tasty is usually not good for health’. The same applies at work, whatever the organization feels good about reskilling and upskilling their employees, is something the employees don’t like and whatever the employees think is good for them isn’t really benefiting the organization.

I would like to summarize this write up stating that all re-skilling and upskilling initiatives that you would try to run in your organization, be aware that it’s a chance that you are initiating and change management has to be dealt in a very sensitive manner.  First prepare people’s mind for the change and then introduce these initiatives. Finally, while doing all this be as honest as possible because more than the initiative been impressive they have to be Honest.

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