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ATD Blog

How Upskilling Can Build a More Diverse Workforce

Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Brought to you by chronus

Building (and maintaining) a diverse, engaged, and loyal workforce takes work. And in a market where companies are downsizing their workforces and conducting hiring freezes, as the economy enters a period of uncertainty, it’s crucial that the employees they retain are adaptable, nimble, and able to keep up with constantly changing demands.

Companies that want to be top employers must be proactive about attracting and retaining these employees by investing in upskilling to provide opportunities for them to learn and advance with the business.

Why Is Upskilling So Important?

The pandemic caused disruption and movement in the labor market. First, we experienced the Great Resignation , when people left their jobs in record numbers. Then, we saw quiet quitting , when employees opted out of going above and beyond their job descriptions. Now, we’re entering the phase of the Great Hesitation, when some companies are cautiously hiring while others are laying off staff in anticipation of a recession.

Talented employees are crucial to business success regardless of market conditions, but some businesses don’t always make the right investment in their people. According to a 2021 survey of 1,200 tech employees by TalentLMS, 58 percent reported skills development as one of the top criteria they look for when selecting a new job.

That’s why businesses need to invest in upskilling right now. Employee turnover and a loss in productivity are costly for companies and create disruptions—neither is ideal in an unstable economic landscape.


How Does Upskilling Build a Diverse Workforce?

Upskilling can support a company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) effort. Giving employees an opportunity to upskill is one way for companies to show that their employees matter while offering more opportunities across the employee population. Providing opportunities to build new skills can open new avenues for advancement and progression for employees, whether they’re new or in the middle of their careers. Every employee—regardless of their background—wants to feel valued at work.

Upskilling can expand the pipeline of diverse employees, building their growth alongside business needs while enabling their productivity and advancement. Latino and Black workers make up a considerable portion of frontline workers. Research shows that when companies provide internal mobility opportunities, employees—particularly younger ones—are less likely to quit. Tangentially, skill development also benefits older employees.


Upskilling allows them to stay relevant and up to date in the labor market. Age diversity within the employee population is another vital component of a diverse and inclusive workforce. When companies provide opportunities for these workers to upskill and potentially advance within the organization, they’re giving these workers meaningful economic opportunities as well as building a pipeline of leadership talent.

Ways to Upskill Employees

Companies that are ready to invest in upskilling employees can do so in many ways.

  • Mentoring. One-on-one mentoring programs allow leaders to identify individual employee’s career goals and pair them with the right mentoring partner for upskilling opportunities. Formal mentoring programs better engage underrepresented employees, especially women. Mentoring relationships can also offer direct coaching—in one-to-one environments or in a group with other employees working on the same skills. Throughout the employee-development journey, mentors are an important source of trusted feedback and encouragement that can make a real difference to employees in successfully upskilling.
  • On-the-Job Training. On-the-job training programs are another great way to equip employees with skills they may not pick up in their current roles. Allow employees to shadow an experienced employee or participate in stretch projects that are not normally in their job descriptions. This enables employees to be more prepared for the future needs of the business.
  • Employee Development Plans. Companies should also consider introducing skills-based learning into performance plans and employee development. To get the best return on investment, organizations and managers can identify growth and gaps within the organization. From here, managers can integrate upskilling achievements and milestones into employee development plans and performance reviews, so they are a relevant and consistent part of an employee’s priorities. When appropriate, upskilling can also be a pathway to promotion or tied to an employee’s annual bonus.

Building a diverse workforce requires ongoing intention and effort. By investing in upskilling, companies give employees a chance to learn and grow, allowing companies to cultivate a diverse talent pool from within.

About the Author

Anisa Purbasari Horton is a freelance journalist, content creator, editor, and writer. She writes and edits stories about all things related to the intersection of work and life—whether that’s productivity, personal finance, careers, leadership, psychology, or workplace culture. Her work has been published in a range of publications including Fast Company, Business Insider, and BBC.

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