Upskilling, Retraining, and the Future of Employee Growth

Upskilling, Retraining, and the Future of Employee Growth

In times of turmoil, it’s easy—wise even—to focus on consolidation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have made righting the proverbial ship a priority. But that approach misses a potential pitfall—blocking an employee’s opportunity for growth. That’s why upskilling and retraining are integral. 

According to The Open University, over two-thirds (68%) of UK employers struggled to find skilled workers in 2019, with the skills shortage costing an estimated £4.4 billion a year. The solution? Cultivating those skills internally, and giving each individual’s growth it’s due attention.

Our COVID-19 Impact Report found that employee engagement survey scores had actually increased by 2% globally from January to July 2020. Rather than losing sight of individual concerns, companies put support structures in place for employee wellbeing and remote working options. 

The one area where employee engagement scores declined globally? Professional growth. 

The problem lies in making plans for the future that only consider short-term financial stability. The danger lies in ignoring the human need for personal development. By making upskilling and retraining core priorities, you can turn possible weak spots into strengths. 

The impact of upskilling on growth

When asked through Peakon “I feel that I’m growing professionally”, employee response scores declined by 0.5% globally. That may seem like a small drop, but this figure actually indicates a large divide in growth opportunities for younger and older employees. 

In the case of Baby Boomer and Gen Xers, growth scores actually improved—by 2.4% and 1.5% respectively. These more experienced hands mostly hold stronger positions, with better oversight on the company-wide changes of COVID-19. 

The overall decline in professional growth scores was spearheaded by sharp drops amongst Millennial (-1.9%) and Gen Z (-3.5%) workers. Your company’s future relies on bold new voices, so these figures can’t be ignored. There’s a real risk of developing talent leaving if growth concerns aren’t addressed. 

The overall decline in professional growth scores was spearheaded by sharp drops amongst Millennial (-1.9%) and Gen Z (-3.5%) workers.


The solution is far from one-size-fits-all, but there are two key avenues for improvement: upskilling and retraining.


The process of teaching existing staff new skills to help in their current role. Upskilling gives staff more responsibility, more opportunity, and more utility. e.g. a web developer learning a new coding engine.


Retraining entails teaching staff a new skill set so they can pivot within your business. It can also refer to consolidating existing skills—literally refresher-training. An example of the former would be a fast-food waiter going through management training. 

Upskilling is a joint process

Your strategy doesn’t have to be unilateral. Being fiscally cautious doesn’t preclude listening to employee needs, and securing your employees’ jobs doesn’t mean making them static. Listen to your people, and build a plan that accounts for individual concerns as much as wider economic ones. 

How growth improves retention

Employees are far from being a homogenous mass, but there are consistencies. 9 months before an employee leaves your company there are identifiable warning signs that they’re going to leave. One of the largest? Declining engagement scores around growth. 

Earlier we referenced professional growth, but our survey data shows that all forms of growth impact retention. Declining attitudes toward career pathways, skill development, and mentor support all correlated with the likelihood of an employee leaving. 

The benefit of retraining and upskilling is not only that you develop existing talent, but that you retain pivotal figures within your company. By engaging with your employees, it’s natural they’ll feel more engaged with your business. 

Employee engagement has a direct impact on retention. The Total Economic Impact™ Study, conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Peakon, estimated that voluntary staff turnover was reduced by 10% after three years with Peakon. That’s why personal growth is so important. 

Listening before upskilling

Deciding to further your employees’ growth within your company isn’t a simple task, as employees needs are constantly shifting. That’s where the benefits of employee engagement surveys really shine. 

The first step in any sustainable growth initiative boils down to one simple act: listening. More than that though, employees need to feel heard. 

Managers should create the space for each team member to define themselves: their goals, their professional desires, and any existing knowledge gaps. Knowing what each employee is capable of, and what they want to be capable of, is the perfect way to ground upskilling initiatives.

This level of understanding has to extend into the training itself. Two people may want to improve their comprehension of a piece of software, but one may be a novice, and the other an old-hand. That’s where the distinction between listening and being heard is pivotal. 

Importantly: listening isn’t a one-time exercise. Check-in before the training to ensure everyone feels prepped; open the floor to confidential surveys afterwards; and schedule regular opportunities to discuss future training. Upskilling initiatives should be as open to growth as the employees themselves. 

Making upskilling work for everyone

Making sure employees are heard is step-one in planning an upskilling and retraining programme, but actioning it requires more forethought. You’ve got the insights—now it’s time to make them work. 

1. Define successful outcomes from the outset

No project works without knowing what the end goal is, and training should be no different. Focus on the individual, and identify what is driving their training needs. You might even find that the upskilling first identified as necessary is, in fact, a symptom of a wider organisational issue. 

2. Actively listen during development

Listening doesn’t stop once the training begins. Having live-updating feedback from employees means your process can constantly be improved. It’s no good setting a goal, and then assessing progress 6 months later. Engage, learn, and develop—that’s the core of great retraining.

This Total Economic Impact™ Study, conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Peakon, estimated Peakon clients achieve a 244% return of investment.


3. Celebrate successes: big or small

Speaking of goals: setting short-term ones is important. Any long-term retraining programme needs to be split out into small sprints. Developing a new skill set can be demoralising at points—make sure to celebrate the small victories. 

4. Address roadblocks along the way

Acknowledging success doesn’t mean ignoring issues. If someone is facing a problem, whether systemic, personal, or technical, that needs to be addressed too. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: listening is key. If you’re aiming to cultivate a more engaged workforce it’s no good if they feel frustrated by the development process itself. 

5. Invest in relevant technologies

At a time when being fiscally conscious feels like the safest bet, justifying further expenditure can be difficult. But investment in your employees pays dividends. This Total Economic Impact™ Study, conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Peakon, estimated Peakon clients achieve a 244% return of investment.

Having the relevant technologies to make upskilling, retraining, and all aspects of remote working easier is going to be increasingly important. These can cover:

  • Employee engagement platforms to intelligently listen to employees’ feedback
  • Relevant technology to share information with remote/hybrid workforces
  • Software for direct training purposes, and to meet professional needs

Creating the future of work, together

If you take one lesson from this piece, it should be this: listen. Running initiatives to retrain staff in skills they’re overfamiliar with is just as likely to result in disengagement as no training at all. There’s no quick trick to employee engagement—listen, take lessons on board, and build the future of work together. 

At Peakon we’re proud of our platform because it creates the space to listen. Populated with live insights that reflect the current temperature of employee opinion, it’s the best way to intelligently listen and respond to your employees. If you’d like to learn more about Peakon, book a demo today