What are Upskilling and Reskilling and Why Do They Matter in Higher Ed?


Whether you’re currently employed or looking for a new job opportunity, everyone who wants to be competitive in their careers faces the same challenge: keeping their skills updated and marketable. Beyond a traditional classroom setting, the opportunities to learn new skills are often either on-the-job or employer-provided training. Otherwise, it’s up to individuals to find the time and resources to keep learning.

Two common ways for employees to keep their competitive edge are upskilling and reskilling. Both learning vehicles are extremely strategic, efficiently targeting skills learners need to maintain their relevancy or prepare for a new job or promotion. 

Upskilling is all about adding new, relevant skills to your resume. Because technology is constantly evolving, it’s easy to see the value of courses that help quickly expand skill sets. While it sometimes makes sense to go back to school and earn an additional degree, that takes a substantial amount of time and resources. Upskilling is an efficient way to gain knowledge and experience to bridge skills gaps in your field.

Reskilling allows employees to build skills and pivot to a new position. When technology renders certain positions obsolete or employees become interested in taking on different responsibilities, reskilling can help expand knowledge into new areas. Targeted reskilling can help current employees qualify for new positions at their company, or prepare for a new career altogether.

It’s normal to have questions about upskilling and reskilling; they’re topics that affect every employee in every industry. Some of those questions might be: 

Are technical skills the only thing people are learning through upskilling and reskilling? 
Where are people getting this type of agile education? 
Does higher education even have a place in this type of fast and focused learning? 

Let’s dive in and see what people are learning, where they’re doing it, and how higher ed can make valuable contributions to continuing education.


Soft Skills: A Significant Upskilling Asset

Efficient training programs for hard skills like physical trades, coding boot camps, and graphic design are great ways to pick up marketable skills quickly. But marketable hard skills aren’t the only thing necessary to build a successful career.   

Soft skills are now recognized by employers as incredibly important and valuable…and also seriously lacking in the current workforce. SHRM.org reports statistics from multiple surveys with some telling results:

  • In an Adecco Staffing USA survey of executives where 44% of them claimed that a lack of soft skills was the biggest proficiency gap in the U.S. workforce.
  • A combined report from the International Association of Administrative Professionals, OfficeTeam, and HR.com said 67% of HR managers surveyed would hire a candidate with excellent soft skills, even if they were lacking technical skills.
  • Only 9% of the same group of HR managers would hire someone with strong technical credentials but insufficient soft skills. 

Why do employers care so much about soft skills? Because they are a critical component of innovative teams and companies, impacting everything from productivity to the ability to outthink a competitor. Problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, dealing with ambiguity, and creativity are all soft skills that can make or break teams.

Upskilling in these areas is a significant asset. But who is responsible for providing that training, and when is the best time to do it?


Upskilling and Reskilling Through Employer Training

Once you enter the workforce, it can be difficult to find time and resources to continue learning. Employer training, whether provided directly or sponsored through higher education, can provide employees with valuable upskilling and reskilling opportunities. 

Some employer training is focused on compliance, safety, and other necessary aspects of running a business. Upskilling and reskilling are different. These types of training should focus on what skills would benefit employees and the company most. But programs like that don’t exist at every company, and employees don’t have to wait for their companies to make the first move in training. Indeed.com has some recommendations for how employees can find the right upskilling opportunities:

  1. Think about gaps in your company. These could be inefficient processes, old technology, or missing skills that would benefit your team. 
  2. Consider your current skills. Do you have any that aren’t being used by your current position? Would a little reskilling help you use existing skills in a different area of the company? Are there new skills you could gain to compliment your current work?
  3. Research training programs for the skills you’ve identified. Does your company already offer training that may help? Have coworkers taken courses in the areas you’re interested in? Does higher education provide courses or certificate programs that would fit your need and provide you with the credentials relevant to your industry?
  4. Ask about company-sponsored training. Companies may offer in-house training, partner with an external facilitator, or provide funding for you to pursue outside training through higher education programs or online learning platforms.
  5. Make a training plan. Think about your time, your budget, and your company allowances. Work with your manager to build a plan for completing your training, and talk about possible opportunities for you as you meet your upskilling or reskilling goals. 

Continuing education isn’t just a good idea for individuals; it’s also very beneficial for higher education institutions and employers. Graduates who return to colleges and universities for continuing education can also contribute to mentoring programs, fostering student success, and building networks. Innovative employers are supportive of that effort—Fortune reports that education and skill development is an attractive retention strategy, a way to bolster the bottom line, and is ultimately the best path to preparing current employees for future leadership positions. 

The next question is, how and when is this training provided?


Upskill and Reskill Anytime with Online Courses

The great thing about upskilling and reskilling is that it doesn’t have to take years or come with the price tag of a traditional degree. Consider what you want to learn, then start researching online courses and platforms that offer the training you’re looking for. Many of them offer free courses, which are especially great if you’re trying to find out if a reskilling area is right for you.

It is important to consider if you’ll need a formal certificate or other completion credit, especially if this training is to build up your resume. Other programs that offer online badges and free certificates provide great skills, too. Some popular learning platforms include:

LinkedIn Learning
Hubspot Academy
Grow with Google

Online learning is accessible, flexible, and often a low-cost way to gain new skills on your own schedule. But online isn’t the only option for upskilling and reskilling. Higher education is also building solutions bridging the gap between longer traditional learning and online programs. 


Upskilling and Reskilling Opportunities Through Higher Education

What do upskilling and reskilling mean for higher education? It certainly doesn’t diminish the value of getting a degree in the first place. What it does mean is that there is still space beyond graduation for colleges and universities to provide alumni and new learners with additional education opportunities. (These are typically known as professional education programs, which can provide a more traditional classroom learning experience than independent upskilling.)

Professional education programs from higher education institutions can include national certifications, specialized workshops, boot camps, and more. Spanning soft skills and hard skills, learners can participate in these classes that are designed to be more flexible with options for in-person, online, and hybrid learning. Higher education programs like these give students the chance to learn with a group, either in person or online, and benefit from a more traditional educational atmosphere.

Professional education opportunities can vary from single classes to a series of courses, with non-credit or credit options available. Longer certification programs are especially relevant to those who are looking to reskill and change jobs. 

Whatever learning method you choose, the benefits of upskilling and reskilling are undeniable. Companies are recognizing the value of intentional, targeted training and many are combining resources to provide their employees with the best possible education. Partnerships with higher education institutions, along with successful online programs like LeaderU, can provide employees with every type of learning they need to be successful today and make progress in their careers down the road. Contact us to learn more about upskilling and reskilling through LeaderU.


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