Upskilling. Fad or trend here to stay?

Upskilling. What is it and why is everyone talking about it right now? The overarching point of upskilling is continued learning. Many employers encourage employees to continually grow and learn and many employees find this both helpful and necessary to be satisfied with their jobs. Upskilling can take on many forms such as small courses you take here and there as they interest you or a way to work towards a degree or certification to earn that next promotion at work.

Not only is upskilling a current trend in today’s workforce but it is also assisting companies in their diversity and inclusion efforts (Salisbury, 2021). These courses and learning opportunities offered by employers create an equal playing field for employees who may not have access to higher education and degrees that are a requirement for many jobs.

In addition to certifications, upskilling helps employees improve their soft skills in a formal way. It is vital for employees today, both virtually and in person, to develop their soft skills in order to be successful in the workplace. Soft skills include interpersonal skills such as communication, social skills, mindsets, attitudes, etc. Training in soft skills is actually one of the most requested items by employees, especially remote workers.

Given the obvious value of upskilling, 94% of respondents to a survey in 2020 said that their employer offers some form of program for continued learning (Press Release, 2020). However, of that 94%, only 23% actually feel the programs offered are tailored to the actual needs of employees. Clearly this is a large gap and there is still a lot of work to be done. If employers are not seeing a return on investment with these programs it will be hard to convince them to spend more on personalized programs. However, these programs would be much more effective if there was a more personalized option.

Another barrier to the success of these programs is time. Employees, particularly those in the US, never feel like they have enough time to get everything done in a work day. This can be largely attributed to the work culture of the US where everything is much more fast paced than the rest of the world. 38% of respondents felt they did not have time to even take upskilling courses that were offered in their normal day to day and would take courses after hours if they were deemed necessary. This is a pretty large barrier and it is proposed that companies should set aside specific work hours for completing these courses.

On that note, compensation is the largest driver of interest in these courses. Employees not only want to better themselves but they also want to get something for it. Therefore, jobs where there is the possibility for advancement are more likely to be successful in supporting these upskilling courses. Additionally, as the younger generations begin entering the workforce, there is a driving force toward self-paced online learning. This trend has made platforms such as LinkedIn learning extremely successful.

Moving forward, there are definitely going to be some issues that will need to be addressed but upskilling is here to stay. A driving force of employee retention is ability for growth within the company and these continued learning opportunities give employees the chance to stay competitive. It may seem counterintuitive to keep your employees equipped to go elsewhere if they wanted but it actually improves retention as employees feel all their needs are being taken care of in their current position.

Looking for some ways to keep yourself or your employees competitive? Sign up for our first course in a series of courses from AGL Institute called the Virtual Self. This course is aimed at helping you become the best version of yourself in a virtual setting and look out for our upcoming course on virtual teams! Head over to to learn more!

Thanks for reading!


(2020, May 12). Press release: Pluralsight state of upskilling report uncovers fundamental divide between leaders and employees around skills development and barriers for upskilling at work. Dow Jones Institutional News.

Salisbury, Allison. (2021, Mar. 1). Building equitable upskilling programs: It’s not degree vs. short credentials - It’s both. Forbes.