Learning leaders have been talking about, preparing for, and spearheading upskilling and reskilling initiatives for a few years now. But why do upskilling and reskilling programs matter so much?

While building skills and expanding learners’ skillsets is at the heart of learning and development, many learning leaders, along with their C-suite bosses, have been slow to connect critical dots: Companies that have a strong learning culture and that foster internal mobility retain employees far longer than companies that lack growth and development opportunities. These organizations are also more agile and resilient, enabling them to pivot quickly, adapt to changing circumstances, and embrace new technologies and work practices that provide a competitive edge. Finally, upskilling and reskilling programs can do much more than keep employees’ skills sharp for their current roles; continuous learning is also a way to prepare people for new roles and build a leadership pipeline, ensuring that the organization grows and thrives.

The answer to why upskilling and reskilling is so essential, then, is simple: The future of your organization depends on it!

Internal mobility reduces turnover

LinkedIn Learning’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report found that “Companies that excel at internal mobility are able to retain employees for an average of 5.4 years. That’s nearly 2x as long as companies that struggle with it, where the average retention span is 2.9 years.” And 79% of learning leaders agree that it’s less expensive to upskill an existing employee than to hire a new employee.

Yet the same LinkedIn Learning survey found that, while upskilling & reskilling and, measured separately, digital upskilling & reskilling are among the top three priorities of L&D programs worldwide, employee retention and career pathing or internal mobility round out the bottom of learning leaders’ top-10 priorities.

Understanding the strong connection between upskilling, internal mobility, and employee retention would likely change the way learning leaders design their upskilling and reskilling initiatives—leading toward a stronger learning culture and improving workplace morale. “Learning leaders can create more robust, sustainable programs by connecting skill building to career pathing, internal mobility, and retention,” the report said.

After all, the LinkedIn Learning report said, employees understand the connection: Their motivations for learning on the job include keeping their skills up-to-date, furthering their interests and career goals, and moving to new roles internally. Employees who do not feel that their skills are valued or used in their current jobs are 10 times as likely to be job-hunting, the report said, than those who feel valued and see a desirable career path at their current company.

It's good for the bottom line

Designing upskilling & reskilling initiatives around the goals of greater retention and internal mobility benefits more than the individual employees whose careers grow and evolve. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Josh Bersin, writing for HBR, said research from Bersin “found that companies who effectively nurture their workforce’s desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over an extended period of time.”

That could be because employees are more engaged and committed. “Enabling the workforce to thrive ensures positive and lasting employee experience and engagement, resulting in positive productivity and profitability,” Lori Harris wrote in Forbes.

While the benefits the upskilling and reskilling programs bring to the entire organization start with greater employee longevity and reduced turnover, they extend to great culture. The existence of “opportunities to learn and grow” is the number-one driver of stellar workplace culture—up from ninth place just two years ago—according to the LinkedIn Learning report. And, “Culture powers engaged employees who are energized to innovate, delight customers, and beat the competition.”

An investment in the future

Companies that focus on employee development are also better prepared for the future. The pandemic devastated many companies’ leadership pipelines. A focus on survival, along with the shifts to working remote that put many in-person coaching and mentoring relationships on hold, has often meant that organizations neglected leadership development, according to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021.

As employees demand more—more flexibility, more options for lateral and upward movement in their careers—organizations that focus on upskilling, reskilling, and nurturing potential leaders will pull ahead of their competitors. “Individuals are seeking to be hired into companies that afford them continuous learning, empowerment, and more purposeful and collaborative experiences,” Harris wrote.

A learning culture, especially one that focuses on developing leaders, brings benefits beyond a talented leadership pipeline: “Investment in executive and leadership development is critical in keeping pace with the change that innovation and disruption bring to organizations,” according to Forbes. “Without this investment, organizations experience low engagement, decreased productivity, lower profits, customer dissatisfaction and brand erosion.”

Learning leaders must think strategically

An L&D focus on fostering internal mobility and empowering employees to develop themselves and their careers requires strategic thinking that goes beyond specific training needed to fill skills gaps and maintain skills amid changing technology. It requires leaders who can connect the dots between skill building, talent development, and long-term strategic goals.

Here’s where learning leaders need to step in and extend their thinking beyond conventional training. Learning leaders will need to develop cross-departmental connections and work with human resources and talent acquisition and development professionals, as well as department heads and team managers, to plan for future needs and develop career path options. They’ll need to strategize with executives to create a broad range of learning opportunities that include coaching, mentoring, collaborative learning, job shadowing, and more.

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