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Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions

What is reskilling?

The term reskilling refers to the acquisition of new work-related skills by employees in a company to be able to perform an existing activity in a different way or to take up a completely new activity (retraining).

Reskilling vs. upskilling

Reskilling and the concept of retraining deal with the acquisition of new skills and fall under the area of further education. But then, what is the difference with upskilling?

Let’s break it down for you:

  • In upskilling, the employee concerned already has at least basic or even advanced knowledge and skills to perform their job and only needs to deepen or expand them to be able to take on new tasks or even a new position in the same job. Additional qualifications are thus acquired.
  • In reskilling completely new skills are acquired without significant prior knowledge in that area. Reskilling’s aim is often to qualify for a strongly changed field of activity or a completely new occupation. The acquisition of skills and knowledge is much more extensive and often necessary for those affected to be able to hold their own in the world of work.

What is reskilling?

Reskilling, or retraining, is the process of learning a completely new set of skills (mainly hard skills) that enable workers to take up a completely new occupation. That’s why it is a much more radical step than just training, which usually lasts only a few weeks or months.

It is a more compact form of vocational training aimed at unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled adults with several years of experience within their previous occupation. Retraining is intended to ensure that people can maintain themselves in the labour market in the future.

Unlike initial vocational training for most young people, however, retraining generally lasts only 2 to 2.5 years (shortening the regular training period by about 1/3).

A study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2021 found that by 2030 about 2.7 million employees in the UK will have to change their occupation completely (i.e. retrain) due to shifts in the labour market.

What retraining opportunities are there?

There are many different retraining options for employees. For example, the way of reskilling can be:

  • School-based (theory only, occasional work placements, vocational or technical school, without pay).
  • Dual (theory and practice, in vocational school and company, with training pay).
  • Inter-company (theory and practice, private educational institutions such as universities or academies, without remuneration).

Retraining can be completed part-time or full-time. It can be in the form of evening courses, online courses, or coaching and also with or without a final examination. In addition, a higher-education diploma or certificate can be obtained.

Depending on the vocational situation of the retrainee and the chosen retraining measure (school-based or inter-company), financial support is possible through the Employment Agency or the responsible job centre (unemployment benefit, transitional allowance, child benefit), but also through health or pension insurance providers (maintenance allowance).

When is reskilling useful?

Reskilling makes sense, for example, when employees realise that their current occupation has no future for their working life. The reason for this can, but does not necessarily have to be, changes in the labour market.

These reasons can make a retraining measure necessary:

  • Structural change: Since digitalisation and automation are constantly changing the labour market, many familiar occupations will disappear in the long run. Retraining opens up new, future-proof opportunities on the labour market for those affected.
  • Inability to work after an accident: In some occupations (e.g. in the skilled trades or in the transport or traffic industry) it can happen that employees are no longer fit to carry out their occupation due to an accident—be it due to trauma or physical limitations as a result of an injury.
  • Serious illness: After many years in a physically or mentally very demanding and stressful job, it happens in many occupational groups that illnesses develop over time. For example, slipped discs are a common problem in office jobs and among long-distance drivers. But other illnesses such as depression, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases can also require a change of career.
  • Burnout: Another common reason for retraining is the dreaded burnout (stress depression), which can now occur at all levels of an organisation as a result of constant overworking or as a result of a poor company culture. Returning to the same stressful job situation is not advisable.
  • Prolonged absence: There are not always health reasons behind retraining. Extended parental leave (up to three years) or long-term unemployment can also make a subsequent return to a job difficult. Some employees are then unable to find their way back into their job.
  • Stagnation and frustration in the job: Finally, there is the situation that employees are no longer able to progress in their job or are simply unhappy with it. The exercise of the profession then becomes more exhausting than normal and the probability of burnout/prolonged incapacity to work increases considerably.

Similarly, retraining can be motivated by an employee’s desire for professional change. People change all the time and so do their expectations of their job and everyday working life.

This can ultimately lead to a situation where a job that has been held for a long time no longer suits the person, their values, and their convictions. Often this change takes place at the age of between 30–50.

Why is reskilling important?

Reskilling is a human resource management tool that plays an important role in securing skilled labour and maintaining employment within a company. But it is also important for the preservation of the company itself.

If a company does not invest in the future of its employees, they feel left alone and employee retention suffers as a result. For the time being, this may only result in slight fluctuations in personnel, but this can have a far-reaching effect and have a very negative impact on the employer image in the near future.

Incidentally, a large proportion of job seekers already rely on reviews on portals such as Glassdoor when it comes to applying to a company—and more will do so in the future. 

A rather poor overall image can ensure that applications are not received at all and vacant positions can consequently no longer be filled (employee attrition).

If the remaining team members have to absorb the work, overwork and further layoffs are inevitable and the future of the company is seriously threatened.

More on upskilling and reskilling

Are you looking for more information on the topic of up- and reskilling? Then you might like these blog articles:

  • Why you should let your top employees change jobs internally – Because this can serve as a valuable orientation moment for team members who are not yet quite sure where their future career path should lead.
  • Personality types at work – Knowing an employee’s personality type, strengths and weaknesses, talents and interests, and how they work can help both companies and team members find a mutually beneficial solution for career development.
  • How to avoid workplace stress in the team – If the cause of burnout is job-related, this urgently calls for a change in the professional situation. In some situations, loss of the team member may be averted by taking appropriate reskilling measures.

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