As upskilling and reskilling are increasingly part of the workplace conversation, business leaders need to approach these programs as far more than short-term campaigns with perks to attract employees in a tight labour market. Advancing employees’ skills should be viewed through the lens of their business objectives. When leaders can see a clear return on investment (ROI) for upskilling and reskilling, apart from just recruiting strategies for a competitive market, their commitment to learning and development (L&D) will become many orders of magnitude larger than what we’re seeing today.

Upskilling efforts are slowly gaining ground. Amazon said recently that it is expanding its upskilling for employees, with three additional programs that could open doors to jobs in data centres, IT, and user experience design. Nine existing upskilling programs that trained more than 70,000 employees since 2019, Amazon said. Other large employers, including Verizon, Bank of America, PwC, Accenture, JPMorgan, and AT&T, have launched upskilling initiatives over the past couple of years.

These programs, however, are a mere bump in the road compared to the mountain of L&D needed to accelerate the momentum across a fast-changing workplace. Business leaders should shift their focus beyond the short-term — and away from education offers that are tantamount to PR stunts to improve their social responsibility images.

Effective, meaningful L&D must be comprehensive, including not only technical abilities, but also imparting skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity — all of which are increasingly important in the 21st century. But perhaps most important, training should support a growth mindset — “learning to learn” as a lifelong endeavour.