How Managers Can Lead Upskilling Opportunities While Balancing Corporate Needs

Written by: Team Welligence

March 15, 2022

As a manager and leader, you have a lot to answer for: budgets, productivity, innovations, customer retention, revenues, strategy and direction, team leadership,… the list is endless. You also need to ensure your people are taken care of and, more importantly, actually feel taken care of. As we continue to explore the topic of wellness in the workplace, we want to introduce another element of wellness – career development, especially upskilling, reskilling, and general learning and growth opportunities.

You might be wondering how career development relates to employee wellness initiatives. When your team members feel that their career trajectory is important to you, they feel seen, valued, and cared for. In addition, offering opportunities for both you and your team members to develop skills that tie directly to the many wellness initiatives in place at work can be part of their job satisfaction, engagement, and even productivity. And now more than ever, career development is proving to be an imperative for organizations. In fact, a recent poll conducted by Monster found that 86% of workers feel their career has stalled since the pandemic and 79% feel pressure to push their careers further now.

Career Development and the Great Resignation

With the Great Resignation in full force, it’s important to note that when people feel they can depend on their company to help them develop their careers and make them feel engaged, they stay longer. According to i4cp’s 2022 Priorities and Predictions report, 48% of people leave their jobs due to lack of advancement opportunities, 31% cite lack of development specifically, and 19% leave due to disengagement during remote work.

With the cost of replacing an employee estimated anywhere from $1,000 to several thousand dollars, it makes economical and strategic sense to retain employees. In addition to increased employee retention, there are several benefits of having career development programs, including establishing better communication between employees and managers, reduction of turnover rates, improved employee morale, decreased stress, easier succession planning, and increased employee satisfaction.

48% of people leave their jobs due to lack of advancement opportunities, 31% cite lack of development specifically, and 19% leave due to disengagement during remote work. 

According to Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker Survey: Building the Future of Work, 26% of respondents say a lack of opportunities at their former job spurred their departure.

Opportunities to influence your team members’ careers include a range of both formal and informal programs. The reality is that jobs rarely remain stagnant today and just about every profession and industry around the world is in a state of change. Because of that, businesses need a workforce that is agile and able to develop relevant, on-trend skills as demands shift and innovations emerge. For all of these reasons, career development is tied to employees’ overall workplace wellness.

As a leader, you may choose to pursue courses and programs around the topic of wellness at work. Perhaps you want to amplify your skillset around communicating and creating an open dialogue with direct reports. Learning tools to build an inclusive and equitable work environment can go a long way to retaining employees and recruiting valuable talent. If your team is experiencing a good deal of change or upheaval, it may be smart to complete change management and resiliency programs – for everyone in your group.

So, what can you as a manager and leader do to foster career development initiatives within your team?

Here are 4 keys to creating relevant upskilling opportunities for your team members:

  1. The differences between career pathing, upskilling, reskilling, and development

  2. The plethora of upskilling and development options

  1. Encouraging projects to expand employee reach

  2. Being an employee champion

Defining career development: what it is, what it isn’t

Career development is well understood to be an employee’s choice of classes, training, or mentored opportunities that match their career path goals through the pursuit of skill improvement that will lead to advancement throughout their career journey. Traditionally, we have considered career development to be tied to promotions and progression up the proverbial corporate ladder within a singular career path. For example, a marketing professional would be purely interested in progressing from manager to senior manager to director within the marketing field.

While career development no longer adheres to the strict definition of promotions and escalating job titles, it does include professional advancement through the acquisition of new skills and enhancement of existing skills. These new skills may draw a person into a path of varied fields of work within their company or into new roles as they move around in the marketplace. Or, the skills could broaden their horizons in support of corporate wellness-at-work goals.

For example, a manager may integrate ideals of inclusivity as they adjust department culture to be more inviting to working parents; a high school teacher may decide to hone their expertise to transition to a corporate training position teaching adults within an organization on work-related topics; a corporate executive may decide to parlay their skills in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to serve as a consultant to smaller companies during M&A activities. Each of these people is using their existing skills in a new way. While each example could be characterized as a career transition, each is also a story of pursuing a new avenue in the name of career development, leveraging existing skill sets.

While career development no longer adheres to the strict definition of promotions and escalating job titles, it does include professional advancement through the acquisition of new skills and enhancement of existing skills.

Three additional terms – skilling, upskilling, and reskilling – are all related to learning. Using the Cambridge Dictionary definitions, each term is about learning new skills. Specifically, upskilling is the process of learning new skills or teaching workers new skills for a job they’re doing now, and reskilling is the process of learning new skills for a different job. The important part of these definitions is that they are each connected to a person building skills needed in the workforce today and in the near future.

The upskilling options available today

The education options to learn new skills are expansive in today’s world. Deciding which one is right for you or helping a team member decide which will deliver the most ROI requires consideration of factors, including, the immediate skill needed and present knowledge gap, learning styles, budget, the timeline required, depth of knowledge required, learner interests, self-directed versus instructor-led, and quality of courses available.

Assessing each of the aforementioned factors before researching options gives both the learner and the manager a foundation to begin setting expectations and desired outcomes, making the final selection easier and more clear.

Upon researching options, you may find:

  • In-house offerings licensed from learning organizations or proprietary coursework

  • Courses available for individuals, small groups, or your entire team

  • Formal career path programs within the organization

  • Academic courses and academic certification programs

  • Certificate courses offered by professional associations

  • Skill-based courses from online learning platforms such as Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, Edx, and more

  • Tutorials from software companies on specific aspects of their tools

  • And, tutorial-style videos on sites such as TikTok and YouTube.

And, within many of the options above, there will be a choice of self-directed, instructor-led, and combination programs. Some avenues will cost several thousand dollars, others will be free, and most will lie somewhere in between.

Assignments, projects, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Another fantastic way to help your team members upskill—while expanding their depth of knowledge within the organization—is through assignments and projects that are just outside the normal purview of their position.

In the sections above, we provided examples of ways people might develop their careers. They could also use their skills in stretch assignments to work toward career development goals. For example, the school teacher may have gotten involved in a district-wide opportunity to train other teachers on specific new curricula being released. The M&A executive might have offered to work with a local college professor to help craft case study assignments and evaluation criteria for students. Each of these examples required the people in the examples to stretch their current skill set in a new way. As a manager, you can invite your team members to propose stretch assignment ideas to you and you might suggest assignments to them.

Similar goals can be accomplished with cross-functional projects. In this case, you might connect with another leader in your organization to discuss upcoming projects and identify where there could be a cross-over of both needs and talent within your teams. Perhaps there is an opportunity between the marketing and customer success teams to develop new messaging and communications together. Maybe accounting would benefit from a project in collaboration with sales to understand ideal payment terms or financing for customers. A project between Human Resources and the Learning and Development teams could lead to new onboarding processes.

As a manager, you can invite your team members to propose stretch assignment ideas to you and you might suggest assignments to them.

In addition to stretch assignments and cross-functional projects, you may ask a team member to join an Employee Resource Group (ERG). When doing this, you will also fully endorse the time and energy required for the initiative by seeing it as part of their job, not an extracurricular activity. Many companies have ERGs related to sustainability, women in the workplace, veterans’ support groups, new managers groups, and community involvement teams.

Seeking out every type of way your team members can get more deeply involved in their work and in the company provides opportunities for them to grow professionally and personally—and can help you strengthen engagement, deepen skills, and expand the impact of each team member.

Employee champions 

Have you had the opportunity to be your team members’ champion? Have you adopted the workplace wellness initiatives company leadership has put in place? To really stand up and be the champion for your team members, you can call them out for their accomplishments, their impact on the organization, the challenges they’ve taken on, and the ways they’ve grown in their roles?

Now is your chance. Make it your mission to compliment different team members on their work during team meetings. And, be specific. Not just “good job,” but rather “Jane really impressed me by seeking out that extra meeting with ABC Company. In her conversation, she uncovered three things that ultimately helped us recover the account.”

Remember, not every compliment has to be for something big. It could be that a team member has learned a new software skill, allowing them to reduce vendor costs. Your message might be to commend the team for showing resilience following a tough month or even supporting each other when their resiliency needed a boost. Being balanced about who you praise is also important. It can be easy to call out the superstars on the team; take into account the wins of others on the team. Let them know you appreciate and see the effort they put into their work each day.

Your next step might be to brag about various team wins in meetings with your leadership and upper management. Let it be known you are proud of your entire team and highlight ways you’ve tried to foster growth among the team. Then, you could invite other group leaders to share their ideas for collaboration and cross-functional projects to spread the opportunity for development.

Every step you take and every way you support learning/upskilling, career development, and growth for your team members will ultimately translate into wins for the company.

Ready to learn more? At Welligence, we specialize in mental health training programs for the workplace. Our courses are designed to lead companies to overcome the stigma of mental health concerns by way of education and implementation of workplace wellness best practices. Find out how we can help you normalize the mental health conversation in your workplace.

About the Author:

Kimberly Schneiderman’s expertise includes, training, program, and content development for career intelligence—turning thought leadership into action. Kimberly creates and manages a wide range of career intelligence resources and programs for professionals, leaders, and the career coaches who work with them, and frequently presents strategic, research-based webinars. Kimberly loves to work remotely from her home in Florida and owns an endless collection of the comfiest sweatpants.