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What Is Upskilling? How Colleges Can Help Level Up the Workforce

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2020-10-14T16:22:08+00:00October 14, 2020|

If there’s one thing that’s constant about the world of higher education, it’s that it’s always evolving. The introduction of online education and all of its various formats is one obvious example of this. And similar to the way program modalities have adapted to meet the needs of students, schools are now rethinking their credential offerings to meet the needs of the current workforce.

Many professionals are feeling the need or desire to advance their education, but not necessarily with a full-on degree program. This trend has given way to a new concept called “upskilling”.

So what is upskilling, exactly? And what does this movement mean for higher education institutions? To understand this concept, we enlisted Tim Loatman, Director of Academic Services at Collegis Education. Keep reading to learn more about this new approach to educational advancement.

What is upskilling and reskilling?

“Upskilling is essentially building on previous skills to acquire (or evolve) into higher-level skills,” Loatman explains. “These skills may be more complex, more developed or more advanced than the previous skill sets.”

One important component of upskilling is the fact that skills are being added to complement or enhance the current role of that particular employee. Reskilling, on the other hand, is a similar concept but focuses on an entirely new set of skills – often because the employee is preparing to take on a different role altogether.

Upskilling and reskilling are both initiatives that employers often encourage with their staff, finding it can lead to numerous workplace benefits. Some examples of these employer-initiated opportunities include: virtual learning, lunch-and-learn training sessions, mentoring and shadowing, microlearning and tuition reimbursement or assistance offerings.

It’s also possible for individuals to commit to upskilling or reskilling on their own. This is especially common for professionals who are between jobs, laid off or just seeking new career opportunities. Loatman believes the ideal candidate for upskilling is someone who already has an education foundation to build upon.

“Part of the actual upskilling equation is the ability to learn new things,” Loatman explains.

“Learners who already have had the opportunity to learn new skills at one time are prime candidates for upskilling.”

Why is upskilling so important today?

As corporate America has fully embraced the digital economy, there has been a natural learning curve for many U.S. workers. The way we conduct business and interact with clients and colleagues has evolved, which emphasizes the need for certain skills and competencies, such as digital skills, analytics skills and organizational transformation skills.

Some reference this shift as the “fourth industrial revolution”, which has already triggered a skills gap in areas like artificial intelligence, robotics and other technologies. We’re also continuing to experience a skills gap due to the aging workforce. Professionals in the baby boomer generation are retiring by the day, which leaves more and more vacancies that can be hard to fill.

The American workforce has been faced with these concerns for the past several years, but nothing has rocked the economy more than the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the laid-off workforce is coming to grips with the new reality that their former jobs may not ever be recalled. One survey by Prudential Financial reports that more than a quarter of respondents worry they lack the skills that will be most in-demand when the economy recovers.

This combination of factors only reinforces the importance of upskilling and reskilling. And it’s time for higher ed to step up to the challenge and help provide the educational opportunities today’s workforce is desperate for.

How can higher ed help?

Upskilling can be considered a subset of a larger trend, part of the progression of higher education. A traditional degree is no longer the only unit of learning. Many colleges and universities now offer a variety of credentials, such as certificates, digital badges or micro-credentials to help provide hyper-focused training that aligns with the precise skills and competencies employers are seeking today.

“As more and more people begin to pivot away from traditional degrees and more toward specific skillsets, upskilling provides a very focused way to solve skills gaps,” Loatman says. He goes on to explain that when employers identify a skills gap they need filled, there’s not always a ‘matching degree’ to fit their skill needs. This is where a short, specialized certificate or training may be a better fit.

“These kinds of learning pathways are very attractive to adult learners,” Loatman adds.

In order to meet the needs of the workforce, colleges and universities need to diversify their offerings and cater to the upskilling professionals. Provosts and higher ed leaders should not only be considering the demands of the current workforce, but also preparing for the skills that will be growing in the coming years.

Start educating for the future workforce

The interest in upskilling and reskilling is surging now, but it won’t be fading anytime soon. It’s time to start breaking the mold of traditional college education by providing the right-sized learning opportunities to meet the needs of students and employers alike.

Our team at Collegis Education are experts in assessing program portfolios and identifying growth opportunities based on consumer demand and market dynamics. Check out our in-depth guide to gain further insights.

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About the Author
Kristina Ericksen
Kristina Ericksen is a content writer with four years of experience writing for higher education. She holds an English degree from Gustavus Adolphus College.