Read time:
10 mins

Take a two-pronged approach to upskilling: an employee-led perspective and a business-led perspective.

Lately there’s been a fair bit in the media around skill shortages in Australia. There are definitely things that we can do from a recruitment standpoint, in terms of attracting skilled people into our business, but there’s also a big opportunity to upskill our current employees in an affordable way

Sometimes small business owners think, ‘we don’t have the time to do training and we don’t have the money for it either’. But there are lots of different ways to upskill employees, it’s not all about training programs. There are two components to upskilling – one is employee-led and the other is business-led. 

There are two components to upskilling – one is employee-led and the other is business-led.’

Hiring, Developing, and Retaining Key People Made Easy:
Download our free ebook

Why is upskilling employees important?

Let’s start by looking at some recent research. 


The LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report found that employees who feel that their skills are not being put to good use in their current job are 10 times more likely to look for a new job than those that feel their skills are being put to good use


The Deakin Co’s Business Return on Learning and Development found that every $1 invested in learning and development is associated with an average of $4.70 in revenue per employee. That’s a pretty big business imperative – $1 invested in learning and development provides $4.70 in revenue. 


If we take it up another layer to a more global lens, the World Economic Forum releases a Future of Jobs report every couple of years. The last report focused on the skills gaps, the skills that will soon be in high demand and the skills that will be required by organisations over the next five years. Those in-demand skills in the lead-up to 2025 include:

  • critical thinking and analysis
  • problem solving
  • skills in self-management, like 
    • active learning
    • resilience
    • stress tolerance
    • flexibility

The researchers found that on average companies estimate 40% of their workers will require reskilling within six months. And of those that remain in their roles, the share of their core skills that will change in the next five years is 40%. They also found that 50% of all employees will need reskilling. 

50% of all employees will need reskilling.’

Although those numbers may seem quite large, if you think about it, we are living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We have never seen this pace of change before in our lifetimes  – jobs exist now that didn’t exist just five years ago. 

The dangers of failing to upskill

So if 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, what impact does that have on a business? If you’re not upskilling your employees to meet the level the market is expecting, it leads me to wonder if you are:

  • being innovative and creative?
  • changing your businesses enough to meet the needs of the market?
  • able to be competitive?
  • able to grow? 

There’s a business imperative here in terms of staying relevant to your customers. But there’s also a business imperative in terms of attracting and retaining great people in your business. When we look at that World Economic Forum report, the researchers reported that 97% of companies surveyed were going to re-train existing employees in response to shifting skill needs.

97% of companies surveyed were going to re-train existing employees in response to shifting skill needs’

Example score card showing a chart with 78%

How do you compare?

Take our free quiz to instantly receive a personalised HR scorecard and downloadable report.

How to upskill employees in small business

But what if you don’t have a big learning and development team? What if you are a small business of fewer than 100 people? Here are my top eight tips for upskilling in smaller businesses.

1. Adopt an employee-led approach

Let’s look at what we can do from an employee-led perspective. The reason I’m talking about an employee-led approach is that it improves engagement and retention. If your employees feel that they’re growing and developing their skills, and that these skills suit their strengths and their career goals, they are going to be more satisfied and more likely to stay in their roles. Even though it’s employee-led, it still has a business benefit.

2. Establish employee development plans

The first things that you should have in place are employee development plans. These can be very simple plans. In fact, we recommend that everybody has just one thing on the plan to do once a month or once a quarter. On your plan, you only write four things:

  • Your one thing If you’re focusing on just one thing, you’re more likely to do it than if you had five or six things to worry about. With more things on the plan it becomes easier to say, ‘I’m too busy, I couldn’t get around to all of that.’
  • A specific completion date If you write down a specific date, you’re less likely to let yourself off the hook. If I say ‘I’m gonna do this one thing over the next quarter,’ that’s really vague. I’m probably going to do it on the last day of the quarter. Or I’ll say, ‘I just got too busy,’ and I won’t do it at all. Whereas if I say, ‘I’m going to do this one thing, and I’m going to do it by the 30th of November at 4.30pm,’ well that’s very specific. I’m less likely to let myself off the hook and make excuses.
  • Why you’re doing it You want to reinforce for yourself and connect the neural pathways that emphasise why you’re doing this and what’s important about it.
  • Who you’re going to tell when it’s done This gives you some accountability. For example, my one thing might be to read a particular book by a certain date. I’m reading it because I want to learn about XYZ, and when I’m finished I’m going to tell a particular person the things I learned from reading the book. It’s an easy way to be accountable for the goal.

3. Expand your ideas about training

A training goal doesn’t have to involve doing a training course. It can be things like:

  • listening to a podcast
  • watching a TED talk
  • reading a book
  • going to a free webinar

There are lots of options that don’t need to take a lot of time or energy or money. And actually, a lot of your development should be on the job. So it might be organising to shadow a certain person, or reaching out to a client to ask them particular questions to learn more about their needs.

There are lots of options here, which is why we recommend ‘one thing’ either once a month or once a quarter. The timeframe is going to depend on the scope of the one thing, and the needs of the business.

4. Try a short sharp masterclass

Another idea you might try is taking short, sharp training sessions. At Amplify HR, we offer monthly masterclasses. They run for one hour at 1pm on the last Tuesday of every month and are aimed at business leaders, and aspiring business leaders.

It means our participants can say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do that masterclass, that’s my one thing. It’s easy, I can put it in my diary and make sure that it happens.’ They learn new skills every month and also meet other business owners.

Keep an eye out for other short training sessions, often they are run by suppliers or industry associations. Remember, they don’t need to be full-day or half-day workshops.

5. Identify the skills you need

It’s great to have employee-led development plans in place to deliver individualised training. This will benefit your employee engagement and retention. But as a business, you should also be looking at the skills you’re going to need in your business to keep you relevant and to ensure your staff is innovative and creative and able to deliver customer outcomes over the long term. 

So the first step is to have a look at the skills that your business will need over the next 12 to 24 months. One way to do that is to have a look at your strategy for this period. 

  • what are your company goals? 
  • what’s in your strategy? 
  • what does that mean in terms of skills you’ll need to develop?

Another way is to take a look at that World Economic Forum report. It splits out the skills needed by country and identifies the top 15 emerging skills that are in high demand in Australia. At Amplify HR we’ve worked with some of our clients to compare the skills on this list with skills that may be needed in their organisation. For example, the top five emerging skills are:

  • analytical thinking and innovation
  • active learning and learning strategies
  • critical thinking and analysis
  • leadership and social influence
  • technology use, monitoring and control

We take a look at these (and the other 10) with our clients and say, ‘Okay, we want to stay competitive and we know that these are the skills other organisations are focusing on. Are any of these also relevant to us?’ Once you’ve identified the skills you might need you can say ‘Okay, what training and development do we need to foster these skills?’ This could take the form of 

  • on-the-job learning 
  • mentoring
  • training programs

6. Plan regular training sessions

Once we’ve identified the required skills with our clients, we develop regular training sessions. For example, we may hold a session with staff once every six or eight weeks for two to three hours. Then they have homework in between so you keep the learning ongoing and ensure that it’s iterative, that it’s building on itself.

This is much more effective than sending one person off to a training course. When you’ve got a group of people doing it together, they can talk to each other about it and keep that learning alive within the organisation. 

When we do this, we always name the training program so everyone in the organisation knows we’re running a particular program. We also work with our clients to identify who they want to come into the program. Sometimes people will invite particular roles and sometimes it’s open to everybody. 

7. Determine the consequences for not attending

It’s important to decide what happens if people sign up for a program, but then don’t attend. There need to be consequences because you want training to be seen as a benefit. Make it clear at the start of that program that the training is about investing in staff and needs to be taken seriously. 

Everyone involved with the program needs to commit the time and energy necessary to complete it. If someone is not going to come to some of the sessions, you may need to pull them out of the programme unless they can commit to the session. It’s important to think about these things upfront. 

8.  Develop the program

Once you’re clear on the skills you need, think about:

  • what does the program look like? 
  • where can we get a facilitator? 
  • can we have regular sessions?
  • who should attend? 
  • will it be open to everyone or will we invite particular people? 
  • what happens if somebody doesn’t attend?


You need to consider two upskilling pathways. First, an employee-led development program so people have their own development plans in place. Second, a business-led program where you actively develop the skills you need in your business. 

This is an easy thing to do. It’s not very expensive and it develops a culture of ongoing learning and development in your business. This is going to give you fantastic business outcomes, and also help you to retain and attract great people into your business. 

Related Posts