Reskilling, Upskilling and What That Means for the Midlife Employee

gen x recruiting talent development Nov 05, 2022

Too many talent management systems have baked-in biases, favoring the "freshness" of formally taught technical skills. As a result, too many talented midlife employees are not being hired or not being promoted, which is robbing organizations of a major source of talent. 


The speed of business transformation and technology innovation means that employee skills have a shorter and shorter shelf life. If you hired someone even as few as five years ago, many of the technical skills they had when they joined are now old or obsolete. In the past, some companies chose to replace these employees with folks with more up-to-date skills but organizations have recognized that people are more than the sum of their technical skill sets. A good employee brings transferable skills to work like communications skills, organizational skills and an aptitude for learning that a new employee might not have. An existing employee likely has learned and embraced the organizational culture, which is a valuable asset. Organizations are recognizing that rather than replacing the employee with a skills deficiency, it’s often more cost-effective to train the existing employee in:

1) new skills to better meet the needs of their current role (upskilling), or
2) a new set of skills to prepare them for a different role (reskilling).

High employee turnover is expensive and bad for morale so upskilling and reskilling have become popular approaches to address the skills gaps most companies are facing given the pace of innovation and change.

What is the Benefit of Upskilling or Reskilling Employees?

It’s hard to find loyal and dedicated workers with strong transferable skills and there is competition from other organizations for their talents. Studies have shown that employees highly value training and development opportunities as well as opportunities to advance so reskilling or upskilling employees can contribute to loyalty and motivation. When an employee is very good at their job but could be even better with some training, particularly in areas where technology has advanced, some targeted upskilling is very beneficial. When an employee is in a role that is no longer needed but has some excellent transferable skills like communication, organization, planning etc. and is a good fit with the company culture, reskilling the employee in an entirely new set of skills through intense on the job training or vocational training and certification can give a very positive return on investment. In some cases, an entire department could be reskilled if the organization is experiencing a major transformation and has good people they want to keep.

How Can Upskilling/Reskilling Help Organizations Access a Hidden Pool of Talent

Once an organization recognizes that the best employees 1) have transferable skills that can be taken from role to role and 2) are lifelong learners, they can start to look to recruit talent that can be upskilled or reskilled along with existing employees. A major pool of underestimated talent consists of workers over 45 years old whose skills have historically not been viewed as "fresh" relative to folks who are 2-5 years out of school. There are also a number of midlife parents who took a career pause to raise kids who are looking to re-enter the workforce with deep transferable skills to contribute to an organization. 

The reality is, everyone's technical skills have a shelf life these days and constant upskilling/reskilling is a reality of business. The midlife employee has built transferable skills build both on and off the job and often has a demonstrated ability and eagerness to learn new technical skills. The talent teams who figure out how to translate lived experience into on-the-job potential will access a pool of hardworking and talented employees who want to contribute for 15-20 years. (Bonus, many Gen X employees are views as cooperative, dedicated and responsible by other generations in spite of exposure to rightsizing and re-engineering early in our careers.) 

Good employees need to have a solid set of transferable skills and the desire and aptitude to learn the technical skills that are ever-evolving. Too many talent management systems have baked-in biases, favoring the "freshness" of formally taught technical skills. As a result, too many talented midlife employees are not being hired or not being promoted, which is robbing organizations of a major source of talent. 

If you are interested in hiring and developing midlife employees, we can help you audit your systems for biases and walk you through some minor changes that will expand your talent pool. Contact us to find out more. 

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