How to Implement Skills Development Training Programs for Employees & Partners: Upskilling, Cross-Skilling, Reskilling

ITA Group
ITA Group

engineer learning new technical skills

Depending on your industry and the state of your business over the past year, there’s a good chance skills development might have been bumped from your to-do list to allow you to tackle more pressing issues. Consider this your reminder that the skills gap isn’t going anywhere—and it may be growing even faster as a result of pandemic-driven market changes.

A global survey by LinkedIn found that 64% of learning and development professionals say reskilling their current workforce to fill skills gaps is a greater priority now following the effects of COVID-19.

And according to a series of studies by Channelnomics, 46% of channel leaders face challenges in getting partners to adopt new technology or services. As such, some fear the already growing skills gap will be one of the most pressing challenges for organizational leaders today.

There’s debate on the severity and scope of this skills gap, yet it has the potential to cause some real issues. A global data report by Degreed found more than one-third of workers feel less confident they have the skills to do their jobs well (compared to pre-pandemic). Almost half (46%) predict their current skills “will die out” in the next few years. Another 46% of global workers said if their employers didn’t offer them opportunities to upskill, they were likely to leave their job.

Top 3 Drivers of Skills Gaps for Employees & Channel Partners

Skills gaps exist among both employees and channel partners, though they’re being driven by different root causes tied to business disruption and technological advancements. Here are three most common drivers of skills gaps for each audience:

infographic showing drivers of skills gaps

While a variety of drivers are at play, it’s clear that we should expect continued disruption: 

According to Gartner, the number of skills required for a single job is increasing by 10% year over year, and over 30% of the skills needed three years ago will soon be irrelevant.

Those skills aren’t always easy to find—that creates the skills gap. It’s the canyon between the skills organizations currently have and the skills they want and/or need for the future.

Companies Can’t Deny the Importance of Skills Development Programs

Industry expert McKinsey & Company’s recent global survey found 87% of organizations say they’re either experiencing a skills gap now or expect to experience one in the next few years. Nearly all respondents classify closing potential skill gaps as a priority for their organizations, and about one-third say it is among their top three priorities. Yet, the same survey found relatively few indicate that their organizations are ready to respond to the skills gap issue.

Companies need to examine the essential skills they need or want and compare them to what their workforce currently has. Success will come through experimentation, including recruiting from non-traditional labor pools, embracing a “work from anywhere” philosophy to get the best talent regardless of geographic location and collaborating with educational institutions to improve new grad readiness.

The most common approach to skills development is training current workers (employees and partners) to acquire the knowledge they need to do the necessary skills. This includes: Upskilling, cross-skilling and reskilling. Take a look below for more details.

graphic defining upskilling, cross-skilling and reskilling


Related: Upskilling employees not only boosts retention, but also gives your company a competitive edge. Find out how to cross-train your team to increase effectiveness.

4 Steps to Ensure You Execute on Skills Development Programs

Many organizations know that they need to pursue skills development efforts but are quickly overwhelmed. This can have a downstream impact that actually makes the skills gap worse for them.

That’s why we’re sharing four key phases for a successful skills development strategy, including practical examples of how we’ve partnered with organizations to execute on their skills development program.

1. Define Focus

It's essential your company knows where its employees excel and where they fall behind to develop a plan to bridge the talent gap. One way to do this is by conducting a gap analysis to identify strengths and weaknesses. A skills gap analysis should encompass physical, cognitive, emotional and technological skills. The analysis will help you understand who needs to complete skills development (roles, partner types, etc.) as well as how fast the skills development needs to happen. In a pinch, you can also use surveys to gauge the gap between knowledge, understanding and execution.

2. Build Awareness

Change can be uncomfortable for workers, especially if they believe they are in a vulnerable position as a result of their necessary development. That’s why clear and compelling communication is critical to the successful launch of your initiative. During this stage, be sure you’re addressing common questions and potential concerns, including:

  • What skills you need from them
  • Why their development is important to the company and/or customers
  • What’s expected of employees/partners during the process, including how you’ll be supporting them
  • What’s in it for them (personally) if they adapt their skills

Real-World Example: In the wake of COVID-19, it was paramount for a professional services provider to mitigate risk-related behaviors by educating workers on how best to keep safe and healthy. A branded campaign was designed to make the invisible risk more approachable, relevant and ultimately, make it easier for employees to know how they could navigate potentially risky situations.

example of risk management campaign


3. Boost Engagement

Telling employees and partners they need to engage in more learning and development activities in addition to existing workload often leaves them feeling overwhelmed. That’s why it’s imperative you keep your employees and channel partners motivated to actually complete their skills development training. Constant communication to reinforce foundational messages and promote training opportunities will ensure you build excitement for change while mitigating fear and change overload.

Real-World Example: A global retailer recently recognized there was an opportunity to improve training completion for a specific type of technical worker. Additionally, they were struggling to retain those employees once they were upskilled, putting further strain on the organization. To address both issues, we recommended a shift in their engagement and reinforcement strategy to focus on a combination of leadership coaching to improve motivational appeal and individual performance-based incentives. This shift from relying solely on tenure in role has already positively impacted employee engagement and retention. 

4. Reinforce Progress

In today’s high-velocity work environment, offering ongoing incentives and recognition to create excitement along the way is essential to reinforce learning and sustain long-term behavior change. Highlight and reward top performers (both individuals and teams) for making progress. Peer examples can serve as a success story for others to see how those developed skills helped accomplish better outcomes.

Make sure you’re celebrating along the way, too. As individuals complete skills development training, be sure to celebrate and reward their achievements. This can be as simple as awarding certificates of attendance for training sessions or programs. If you offer multiple courses, combine related topics into programs and celebrate when students “graduate” from topic-specific programs or levels of achievement. Take it a step further by hosting an awards banquet quarterly or semi-annually to recognize team members who reach development milestones.

Real-World Example: A global technology services and hardware manufacturer had been facing a shift in sales style from product to service and needed to reskill and upskill their partner engineers to turn them into presenters. We built, communicated, delivered and continually reinforced the program geared toward shifting the skillset of this non-traditional audience through intrinsic motivators like badging, recognition and learning milestones, while gamifying the development with merchandise and contests. This effort engaged partners across 89 counties, and led to successful skills development resulting in $70 million in pipeline generated in the first six months of the program.

Skills Development & Training Programs Benefit the Whole Organization

Not only is a skills development program perfect for tackling these real-world situations, it's also shown to build a stronger employer brand, a deeper bench of talent and a wellspring of innovation over the longer term to improve organizational performance, including increased sales and retention of employees and customers.    

Want to learn more about how ITA Group can help you build buy-in and motivate your people to follow through with skills development? Check out this video!