A Practical Way to Encourage “Upskilling”

Upskilling is a term thrown around quite a bit these days. What does this term concretely mean? How should it be deployed? 

The World Economic Forum Upskilling for Shared Prosperity report offers a very concrete definition, interesting examples and practical guidance.  Authored by Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman of PwC, and Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director of World Economic Forum, the report is a must read for anyone with a vested interest in education and the future of work (among other interests). 

Definition, examples and calls to action

The report defines upskilling as the expansion of people’s capabilities and employability so they can fully participate in a rapidly changing economy. Upskilling leads to developing attitudes and aspirations that will equip people with the skills to continually adapt. This includes acquiring relevant knowledge for new jobs. 

Noteworthy national upskilling initiatives highlighted in the report are Denmark’s Flexicurity and Singapore SkillsFuture. 

Flexicurity means that employers can easily hire and fire to adjust to the needs of the marketplace. At the same time, employees have a secure safety net in-between jobs. Part of the latter entails that the Danish government running education and retraining programs.

The Singapore SkillsFuture offers a variety of resources to help individuals master key skills regardless where they are in life (schools years, early career, mid-career or late career). 

The report suggests calls to action for governments, business and education. All stakeholders are encouraged to build a strong and interconnected ecosystem committed to a comprehensive upskilling agenda and giving people the opportunity to participate.

Practical Application of Upskilling 

There are surely many ways to practically apply this definition of upskilling and the related calls to action. One such application would entail a person, based on their own interests and goals, reaching out and connecting to someone who works in a particular job role or industry. That person would do an interview with this expert and then create an article that is published online, highlighting their key takeaways from the conversation and related action steps. 

I have been doing this in various capacities as my career has taken its own twists and turns based on my evolving interests and goals.

For example, I wanted to know more about higher education marketing and communications and so did an interview podcast on this topic. Years later, I was curious about how Learning and Development professionals in companies market their organization’s different training programs to colleagues. I decided to do interviews with leaders in this space. 

I thought it was important for students to start doing such interviews and content creation based on their own interests. So I started Global Innovators Academy, a program that guides students and young professionals through the process of identifying someone to interview, gleaning information from that individual in a conversation and then writing an article published online. As you can see via these articles, students and young professionals from various parts of the world have interviewed people both in their communities as well as other countries. Their articles feature the journey of the individual who they interview at the outset. There is a section focused on the tips for success from the expert. In the conclusion, the author of the article shares how they will action any of the advice that was shared. 

There are several ways this type of exercise links to the upskilling definition of expanding people’s capabilities and employability so they can fully participate in a rapidly changing economy.

  1. The individual enhances their network in a meaningful way. Networking allows one to potentially access new opportunities. Engaging in a meaningful interview conversation with a new contact can serve as a powerful way of making a connection and memorable impression.
  2. Creating content forces one to learn and explore new questions and topics that support career growth. We need to give ourselves prompts to explore and be creative. Creating some form of content can spark our curiosities and challenge our thinking in a very simple and pragmatic way. I like to use this term “content learning”. For example, the very exercise of writing this article is making me think about upskilling and my Global Innovators Academy program in different ways.
  3. It makes individuals more marketable online. We all google each other. Some of us can be proud of the search results. Others might lack a digital footprint. Creating useful content allows one to hone and display their communications skills and goals with a public audience. 
  4. Content creation can serve as one catalyst for lifelong learning. Anybody at whatever stage of life they are in can reach out and connect to someone new and create content based on insights that are shared. As individuals take on various roles over the course of their career and as work evolves in different ways, content creation is a way of continually sharpening our minds.
  5. It has the potential to connect various stakeholders and industries. As I have seen through my program, students are connecting with business and government leaders in an intentional way. Cali, a student at Penn State University, interviewed a local government leader in her community. Eric, a student refugee in Rwanda, interviewed a former refugee who now is a policy adviser in New Zealand. Jamie, a college student at St. Thomas University, interviewed a marketing executive in his community, while Yejin, a high school student in Arizona, engaged with an entrepreneur in South Korea. It has been encouraging to see the power and impact that comes from connecting.

The WEF Report highlighted this quote from INSEAD Professor Paul Evans: “Upskilling is not an event. It is a state of mind.”

I wholeheartedly agree and believe that content creation can be that continual springboard to explore new skills.

Learn more about the Global Innovators Academy Summer Program. Rising juniors and seniors in high school and college students interview entrepreneurs and innovators. They then write articles that are published online.