How upskilling and essential skills increase growth, development & retention

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4 mins, 19 secs read time

2023 is shaping up to be the year of skills. We’re seeing more companies shift to a skills-based hiring strategy as a way to welcome nontraditional talent. At the same time, upskill training is gaining traction as a retention strategy that demonstrates companies are committed to growth, development and continuous learning among their people.

The Greenhouse team recently headed to SXSW in Austin, Texas to share our insights and learn from some of today’s most successful companies. In a session titled, “How upskilling and essential skills increase growth, development and retention,” host Meg Jones of The Female Quotient led a discussion between Micah Gebreyes, Senior Manager II, Editorial Lead at Greenhouse, Maria Vilchez Lowrey, Chief Growth Officer at Direct Digital Holdings, Michelle Fine-Smith, SVP, Global Consumer Partnerships at Variety, W. Joe DeMiero, US CEO at Universal McCann and Tanu Grewal, VP, Marketing Innovation and eCommerce at AlEn USA.

They discussed why we’re seeing an uptick in upskilling right now, which essential skills all employees should have and how to maximize the success of your upskilling initiatives. Read on for a few highlights and key takeaways.

Why focus on upskilling now?

If you feel like you’re hearing about upskilling more than ever, you’re right. According to LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report, upskilling is a top priority for 2023 and 89% of learning and development professionals agree that proactively building employee skills will help them navigate the evolving future of work.

On the SXSW panel, Tanu drew a direct connection between the pandemic and the focus on skills we’re seeing today. She said, “COVID led everyone to prioritize different things. People want to increase their skill sets and shift professions.” She also mentioned that Gen Z and millennial talent evaluate the professional ladder in a very different way compared to previous generations.

Micah said that people-first companies – those that pay fairly and offer consistent opportunities for growth – have a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. With the majority of companies increasing headcount while also facing a serious talent shortage, candidates are still in a position of power when it comes to deciding where they want to work.

Hiring great talent is hard enough already. It’s like securing Beyoncé tickets. Just like those tickets, everyone is fighting for them. You're not the only one who wants them. You have to prepare, plan ahead and stay organized.
– Micah Gebreyes, Senior Manager, Editorial Lead at Greenhouse

There’s also a DE&I component to upskilling. “When done right, upskilling can also help advance equity at your company,” said Micah. “Upskilling and reskilling employees provides an opportunity for advancement for those that might not get it elsewhere. Without it, businesses are potentially putting individuals from historically underrepresented groups at an initial disadvantage, but also putting their business at risk because studies have shown that diversity at every level drives business success.”

Which skills should you prioritize?

When it comes to upskilling your current employees, which skills should you prioritize? Tech skills like cybersecurity, coding languages and data analysis are always in demand, but the panelists focused their discussion on the soft skills they believe are critical to success, especially for leaders.

Reflecting on lessons learned during the pandemic, Tanu said, “Empathy has emerged as an essential skill.” Maria highlighted communication skills. “They’re the cornerstone of teamwork, collaboration and influencing buy-in.” Michelle said listening is one of the most important leadership skills because good listening leads to a better understanding of what your team members are going through and the ability to tailor your management style accordingly.

Tips for successful upskilling strategies

Ready to take the next steps with upskilling at your company? The panelists shared a few tips for success.

  • Be transparent about learning and growth opportunities

If your company already offers professional development opportunities, make sure you’re clearly communicating them to both current employees and candidates. “People want education and transparency on how they can actually develop professionally,” said Micah. She added that the number one question she’s asked by candidates during interviews is what growth opportunities look like at Greenhouse.

  • Don’t dictate – make it a partnership

People feel more invested in learning when they have agency to choose what, when and how they learn. This is why Michelle recommended having conversations with your team about what they want. “It’s not about leaders dictating a career path. It’s working with your team in partnership to figure it out,” said Michelle.

  • Create psychological safety

Admitting you don’t know something can make you feel vulnerable, and many people won’t feel comfortable doing this if you haven’t created psychological safety on your team. As a manager, you can model and encourage this behavior. Joe said one effective way to accomplish this is by sharing your origin story and asking your team members to do the same. When you explain why you are who you are, you create a deep connection and develop the trust that’s necessary for having difficult conversations.

Looking for even more learnings from SXSW 2023? Check out essential lessons on the future of hiring here.

Dinah Alobeid

Dinah Alobeid

is the Senior Director of Content and Communications at Greenhouse. She helps shape and share the Greenhouse brand story and keeps its audiences informed on company news and industry knowledge. Dinah has over 16 years of communications and content experience in the technology field and prior to Greenhouse, she built and ran the communications team at Brandwatch. She's an avid writer, dancer, foodie and book nerd. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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