An introduction to developing workforce skillsets

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Many managers equate skills gaps with the need to hire, but there are better ways to go about bringing new capabilities into your organisation. The talent you’re looking for is often already under your roof; investment in training will help you utilise it.

Research shows that developing workforce skillsets is becoming a priority for businesses.

Around 51 per cent of learning and development professionals plan to launch upskilling programmes in the next year, where employees learn new skills within their existing job function. Interestingly, 43 per cent plan to launch reskilling programmes, which teach employees new skills for a different job function.

This guide outlines some of the biggest factors influencing workforce skills development and quick wins for improving your employees’ skillsets. The next step will be to use our dedicated action plan to direct your change and improvement.

What factors influence the need for skills development?

There isn’t always the luxury of choice when it comes to skills development. External factors can be hugely influential; understanding these factors will help to make sure your workforce is prepared.

Technology is transforming jobs

While some jobs are disappearing due to advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and automation, many are transforming. Investment in skills development will determine whether businesses rise to meet new challenges or fall behind.

Manufacturing is one of the best examples of this job transformation, where technology is replacing lots of manual or repetitive tasks. Manufacturing roles will likely place a greater emphasis on digital capabilities and soft skills like creativity or critical thinking in the future – unique human qualities that can’t be automated.

The hiring landscape is competitive

A competitive hiring market means that there’s no guarantee you’ll find the right skills when you need them.

Recruitment can be tough if you’re looking for someone with specific expertise, and companies face additional challenges if they’re based rurally or can’t compete on salary.

A focus on internal skills development encourages leaders to identify and resolve skills gaps in advance. Rather than relying on recruitment – and risk rushing the process and hiring the wrong candidate – training and development programmes should help build the talent pipeline you need.

Development is key to employee retention

A commitment to developing skillsets can strengthen and future-proof your business, but it also affects morale, productivity and staff turnover.

Continuous learning and development keeps employees motivated and engaged in their roles.

Stagnation is one of the biggest drivers of high staff turnover – if your employees feel like they could do their job with their eyes closed, they’ll start looking for challenges elsewhere.

The companies that retain their best employees are the ones that offer frequent opportunities for learning and improvement.


“We certainly expect the demands for automated solutions to only grow in times to come and we need to ensure staff are in a good place to react to these continued changes. We’ve provided additional training to members of the team to develop their skillsets further in electrical engineering, robotics, vision systems and new tooling processes.”

Chris Unwin, CEO at LAC Conveyors and Automation

The cold hard facts

How many employees will need to upskill or reskill due to changing job requirements?

A huge proportion of roles are expected to be affected by technological advancements. A World Economic Forum report found that more than half (54 per cent) of all employees will need significant upskilling and reskilling by 2022.

Common mistakes when developing workforce skillsets

Training is expensive and infrequent

A common mistake is letting learning and development become synonymous with pricey, infrequent programmes.

There’s a dizzying number of training options available, from online courses to week-long workshops your employees attend in person.

Those intensive, week-long courses give staff a more comprehensive and interactive experience, so they’re particularly effective. But if you’re trying to develop skillsets across your workforce, opting for a handful of expensive programmes will drain your resources.

Training can be free and frequent through activities like job shadowing, in-house training or on demand online options.

New skills don’t relate to your business goals

Leaders need to provide guidance to make sure staff are learning skills in areas that will benefit the business. A scattered or ad-hoc approach to training risks leaving your business without vital skills when you need them.

Skills development should support your goals and provide a foundation for growth. Be realistic about the capabilities you need – don’t spend time on training if your business is unlikely to ever utilise those skills.

You haven’t factored in what your employees love doing

When you’re identifying training needs, don’t ignore areas that your staff are really passionate about. Be encouraging if there’s something within the scope of their role that an employee wants to learn more about.

Staff want companies they can build careers with – showing them that they’re valued and can progress in their chosen field will make you more likely to retain them in the long term.

“Developing your team is absolutely vital to success and I know that my own team feels valued by having development opportunities. If you don’t maintain and nurture your team and their skills, how can you possibly hope to grow your business?”

Dawn Evans, CEO of Ajuda

The cold hard facts

How dependent is employee skill development on budget?

Studies show that budget constraints are becoming less important. Only 27 per cent of talent developers named “limited budget” as their top challenge in 2019, compared to 49 per cent in 2017.

This data correlates with a rise in online learning – and 59 per cent of talent developers now spend more of their budget on online learning.

Quick wins for developing workforce skillsets

Create a skills development map

Avoid taking a scattergun approach to learning by creating a skills development map. This will help you identify the skills you need to support business growth or development in the short and long term.

  1. List your goals for the short (one-two years), medium (three-five years) and long term (five-plus years)
  2. Think about the skills you need internally to achieve these goals
  3. Look at your workforce’s current qualifications and capabilities and identify where skills gaps could stop you getting where you need to be
  4. Decide on the training needed to fill those gaps

Find out how your employees like to learn

People vary widely in their ability to learn and remember new information. Leaders should accommodate employees’ different learning styles to make training more effective.

A quick way to find out how your staff prefer to learn is to send out a survey and record responses. Alternatively, ask managers to talk to employees about learning preferences in one-to-one meetings.

Online learning is growing in popularity because it’s flexible enough to meet a lot of different needs. Staff can read, watch or listen to information, and complete sessions in one sitting or over a few weeks.

Create career development plans

You’ll only reap the benefits of developing skillsets if those employees stay with the business. The last thing you want is to spend time on training and development and then lose your employee to a competitor.

Encourage managers to build career development plans around training. Where do team members want to be in two years? What skills or experience do they need to get there, and how can your business facilitate this?

Career development plans improve staff retention and give you a clearer idea of the skills you’ll have under your roof in the future.


“Investing in your employees’ futures and supporting their long-term career goals will result in a workforce that feels valued and works harder, leading to greater productivity and business outputs.”

Stuart Allen, executive director of curriculum and quality at The Skills Network

The cold hard facts

What learning methods do employees prefer?

Employers should always speak to staff to find out how they want to learn, but research can give you a good idea of popular options.

According to Statista data, employees’ preferred learning methods are as follows: in a classroom with a group (42 per cent), working with a mentor or peer (22 per cent), learning alone (18 per cent), online (13 per cent) and learning virtually with a group (six per cent).

What to do next?

We have a wide range of content dedicated to helping you solve crucial business challenges, but here are some suggestions:

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