Upskilling: How to get the training you need right now

Young woman sharing her views with team in office meeting. African businesswoman with digital tablet talking with colleagues sitting in front.
Australia's skills shortage continues, which means it's more important than ever for businesses to upskill the staff they already have. (Source: Getty Images)

With Australia’s skills shortage showing no sign of easing, many employers will be looking to upskill their existing workforce in the coming months to ensure their business can continue to compete, despite the lack of available skilled labour.

However, a new report from global recruitment firm Hays found that 92 per cent of professionals say their current role requires them to learn new skills, but less than half (48 per cent) say the learning provided by their employer suits their needs.

Disconnect between employees and employers

The recently released Learning Mindset Report surveyed 15,000 workers across 26 countries (including Australia) and found a disconnect between employees’ expectations of workplace learning and what they were actually receiving.

Yahoo Finance spoke with Eliza Kirkby, regional director for Hays in Australia, to get her view on whether the report’s findings were an accurate reflection of what is happening in the local job market.

“Regardless of the specific upskilling required, one underlying issue [in Australia] is that many organisations haven’t fostered a culture of regular learning, which is vital for a successful upskilling program,” Kirkby said.

In a time of limited skilled resources available to fill the roles needed for continued growth, upskilling existing staff is becoming a key element of any successful business.

Yet it seems many Australian employers are failing to deliver in this area.

“Employees feel they aren’t given the permission or time to learn, and when learning is offered it doesn’t match their own specific learning needs or style,” Kirkby said.

The report indicates that formal learning - such as structured, in-person training courses - is the preference for many workers looking to enhance the skills they need to deliver what employers are asking of them.

Yet many organisations simply don’t have the structures in place to deliver this type of training effectively, or the time to implement them.

As a result, many workers are left feeling underwhelmed by the training they receive.

Businesswoman explaining something to female colleague over computer at desk in office.
Mentoring can be an effective way to upskill existing staff to counter skills shortages. (Source: Getty Images)

Mentoring is effective but underutilised

One area the report indicated was particularly effective in upskilling staff was mentoring, where an employee is allocated a manager or experienced colleague to provide regular, ongoing guidance on their learning journey.

“Our survey also found that mentorship schemes are highly effective, yet underutilised. Roughly half of employees surveyed said there was no mentorship program in place at their organisation. But when such a program is in place, two thirds of workers and three quarters of employers were pleased with its effectiveness,” Kirkby said.

The challenge for employers is balancing the time required to deliver a structured mentoring program with the demands of their day-to-day business operations.

The evidence would suggest implementing such a scheme pays dividends in terms of long-term productivity and motivation of employees, but it’s not something that is being consistently offered in the Australian workplace.

Kirkby goes on to add that “the most common soft skills that employees want to upskill in are teamwork, communication and problem solving”, which can often be addressed with via a combination of mentoring and formal training courses.

How should I approach my employer about upskilling?

If Australian workers are unhappy with the training they are receiving, there are some practical steps they can take to address this, Kirkby said.

“Once you’ve identified your learning goals, book a meeting with your manager to communicate them. Ask if there is a learning budget and if they can help connect you to learning opportunities."

As with most workplace issues communication is vital, and getting your boss to understand what you need is the first step. Suggesting a formal plan to achieve your learning goals (and why they will be beneficial to your performance) is the best way to achieve a positive outcome.

While there is no doubt that nervousness about a potential downturn in the economy will be weighing on the minds of many business leaders as we enter 2023, employers need to be aware that learning and development opportunities are a major factor in employees’ decision to stay or move on.

“A lack of upskilling is one common factor motivating candidates to move jobs. Learning and developing new skills, along with flexibility, are also the key priorities for most people when thinking about their career and what’s important to them,” Kirkby said.

With skills shortages set to continue well into the New Year, the ability to retain key staff is as important as ever for Australian employers.

Communicating with these individuals about their training needs and investing in a structured development program could alleviate the recruitment challenges many firms are currently facing.

For employees, 2023 may be the best time in years to capitalise on market conditions and get the training you need to develop your career.

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