What Is Reskilling?

Classmates in a training class
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DEFINITION

Reskilling is the process of training for a new job by learning different skills. Workers typically reskill when their current skill set has become obsolete due to automation, changes in the marketplace, or stagnating occupational growth.

Definition and Example of Reskilling

Reskilling means learning new skills in order to move into a different job, either at the same organization or at a new company. Employers sometimes offer reskilling programs to fill skills gaps, which is when demand for a skilled occupation grows faster than the pool of candidates who can perform the work.

Reskilling programs may target new workers, who will onboard directly from training into available roles at the organization. Alternatively, it may focus on current employees, who will transfer to new jobs within the company once their training is complete.

"Reskilling" and "upskilling" are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are different concepts, although related.

In reskilling, participants learn an entirely new skill set, usually to take a new job. In upskilling, workers improve their current skills on an ongoing basis. Many jobs, especially in technology-dependent industries, demand regular upskilling. On the other hand, reskilling becomes necessary when automation makes old jobs obsolete or when new technologies create roles that require new skills.

  • Alternate names: retraining, reeducation

For example, a retail company that is expanding its e-commerce operations while closing brick-and-mortar stores might invest in a training program to reskill clerks and other on-site staff for customer service roles. In contrast, a software engineer may upskill through continuing education programs in order to stay current in their field.

How Does Reskilling Work?

Nearly 9 out of 10 executives say that their companies are already experiencing skills gaps or will experience them by 2025, according to a survey from McKinsey & Company. About a third of respondents said that their employers were already deploying reskilling programs to try to fill the gap. Half of the respondents who anticipated skills gaps said that reskilling was the most effective way to address the talent shortage, while less than a third said that hiring was the most effective method.

According to McKinsey, reskilling programs tend to focus on multiple skills instead of one skill at a time. Programs also usually focus on a mixture of hard and soft skills.

The most popular skills included in these programs are: 

  • Critical thinking and decision-making
  • Leadership and management
  • Advanced data analysis
  • Project management
  • Adaptability
  • Complex information processing

Types of Reskilling

Ready for a career change? You may be able to find your own corporate sponsor or reskill yourself on your own through certification programs, bootcamps, or continuing education classes. Here are a few options to consider.

Apprenticeships and Training Programs

The skilled trades have a rich history of on-the-job training via apprenticeship programs, but they’re far from the only game in town for career changers. Employers in traditionally white-collar industries such as technology are jumping into paid training programs to reskill workers for their open jobs.

Here are a few places to start your search:

Apprenticeship.gov

The U.S. Department of Labor sponsors Apprenticeship.gov, which connects career changers with information on apprenticeship programs near them. Career paths include skilled trades such as plumbing, electrical work, and HVAC installation and “new collar” jobs such as software engineering, data analysis, and web design.

IBM Apprenticeship Program

Billed as a full-time “learn and earn” program, IBM’s apprenticeships train prospective employees who have some IT skills but not a four-year degree.

Don’t have the skill set to get started? IBM SkillsBuild offers tracks for students and professionals who want to prepare for entry-level jobs in technology. Classes are free. Current career paths include cybersecurity, data analysis, and project management.

Short-Term Continuing Education

Bootcamps

Whether online or in-person, coding bootcamps can provide an on-ramp to a career as a software engineer or web developer. Just be aware that many of these programs can be quite pricey. Pay close attention to placement rates, career assistance programs, and other considerations before committing. Also, consider taking free or low-cost online coding classes to gauge your interest early in the process.

Certifications

Certifications are credentials that attest to your skill in a certain discipline. You can acquire certifications in everything from cybersecurity to advanced life support to human resources. In some fields, certifications are required; in others, they may help you stand out from the competition and get hired.

Classes

Building up your resume? Consider continuing education classes or seminars that help you add to your skill set with a shorter time commitment. Online learning makes taking a class more accessible and, often, less expensive.

Long-Term Continuing Education

Not every career change requires a substantial educational time commitment—but some do. Depending on your career goals, you may need a specific degree in order to get started in your new occupation. For example, becoming a physician requires at least 11 years of education after high school, plus passing a multi-part licensing exam.

Before you commit to going back to school, be clear about your objectives and resources. Understanding your situation better will make it easier to manage your time, expenses, and other priorities.

Key Takeaways

  • Reskilling is the process of training for a new job by learning different hard and soft skills.
  • Workers typically reskill when the job market changes due to automation, stagnating occupational growth, or new opportunities in growing job categories.
  • Employers may sponsor training programs to reskill potential workers for open jobs or offer reskilling to current employees in order to facilitate a move to different roles at the company.
  • You can also choose to reskill on your own via apprenticeships, certifications, bootcamps, classes, or long-term continuing education.

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