How communicators can enhance new employee upskilling initiatives

Learning and development programs elevate the employee experience, and communicators can help make it happen.

As more organizations focus on building an employee experience that attracts top talent, it’s increasingly common to offer learning and development opportunities that help employees build and grow their skills so they have a charted path forward from the outset.

But when there’s no precedent or existing structure in place for an upskilling program, communications pros can face an uphill climb putting one together and getting the good word out about it. That’s not a reason for pessimism, though — with the right strategies and tactics, you too can construct the foundation of an upskilling program that will help your employees flourish.

To gain a better perspective, we spoke to some communications leaders with experience around upskilling and communicating effectively about constructing these programs from the ground up.

Meeting audiences where they are

It’s easy to see the benefits of an upskilling program — it can enhance the parts of the job your employees already excel at, teaching them new skills that they can,  in turn, embed within the organization to grow and thrive alongside the business.

But what do you do if there’s no existing program in place?

According to Megan DiSciullo, US & Mexico communications leader for PWC, communicators should know that they aren’t working in isolation to begin with, and that their skills tie back to larger business priorities..

“As communicators, we work hand-in-glove with the rest of the business,” DiSciullo said. “When you’re partnering with other parts of the business to build an upskilling program, it’s important to begin with the needs of the business first.”

By understanding and deciphering the attitudes and needs of the employees within the organization, comms pros can customize the program accordingly.

“At PWC, we call it meeting our audiences where they are,” DiSciullo explained. “We have a keen understanding of what channels they’re interested in, what ways they like to be upskilled, and then how to disseminate that information or those learning environments in the right way that can be receptive to them based on their personalized needs,” she said.

Increasing upskilling prioritization

Even after building a program that meets your employee audiences where they are, you need to ensure that people have the right amount of time to utilize the programs effectively.

According to Lauren Butler, managing director of employee communications and engagement at Ketchum, one of the most effective ways comms pros can increase upskilling program usage is by helping to create the time to use the resources at hand.

“Tell me you’re prioritizing upskilling without telling me you’re prioritizing upskilling,” she said.

With many employees experiencing burnout due to an ‘always on’ culture, our largest scarcity is time,” Butler said.

She added that employees aren’t able to find the time to dedicate to upskilling in many cases, and shared an example of a company that recently paused business operations for a week to prioritize upskilling and internal training as a tactic that other organizations can follow.

“Communicators can increase the usage of upskilling programs by helping employees set aside time in their days to focus on them,” she said.

Measuring successes and areas for growth

Once an upskilling program has launched, comms pros can ensure its success going forward by measuring properly. This allows you to understand what adjustments might need to be made to the program and what demographics within the organization might need more outreach.

DiSciullo said that it takes a smart application of the data to sustain a new upskilling program’s success, rather just awareness that it exists.

“Using data to drive decision-making and applying it to the insights and analysis that can come from the numbers is critical to understanding your program’s successes,” she offered.

Comms pros can assist other functions in collecting this data by standardizing manager interactions and post-training feedback after the programs are completed. In addition to these after-the-fact check-ins, comms pros need to set goals and metrics so they know what to look for.

“Setting KPIs in advance and tracking completion rates are a must since you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” she said.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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