Upskilling vs. reskilling: How to choose the right one for your team

Upskilling vs. reskilling: How to choose the right one for your team

Upskilling and reskilling are two ways you can boost employees' skill sets to build a productive, efficient workforce. While the two talent development strategies share some similarities, there are also key differences between them. If you're unsure whether upskilling or reskilling is right for your business, keep reading to learn more about the benefits of each and some tips you can use to implement the best strategy for your organization.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of teaching employees new skills to enhance their performance or prepare them to advance to a higher position. Usually, employees who upskill gain advanced skills in their current field. For example, a software developer may upskill by taking an online course to learn a new coding language.

By engaging in continuous training, employees can develop advanced skill sets to progress in their career paths. You may choose to upskill employees on your team who have shown loyalty to the organization or demonstrated the potential for growth in their current roles.

What is reskilling?

Reskilling is the process of teaching employees new skills outside the scope of their current role. The new skills may be related to their current skill set or may be entirely new skills. For example, line workers may reskill when production becomes automated to learn the new process.

You might choose to reskill employees due to changes in the business or industry. It's especially common to reskill employees to meet changing demands as technology advances. In fact, the World Economic Forum estimates 1 billion employees worldwide will require reskilling by 2030 because technology will completely transform their jobs.

Differences between upskilling and reskilling

Though closely related, upskilling and reskilling are two talent development strategies with clear distinctions. Knowing the differences between them can help you decide which one makes the most sense for your business. Here are the major differences between upskilling and reskilling:


Upskilling aims to help employees develop advanced skills to expand their current skill sets. In other words, it allows employees to build on the skills they already have. For example, a marketer may learn a new analytics software program to enhance their current understanding of performance indicators.

In contrast, reskilling aims to help employees develop new skills. By learning skills outside their area of expertise, they can shift to new roles or handle different responsibilities. For example, a customer service representative may reskill to learn negotiation and cold-calling techniques to transition into a sales role.


When you upskill employees, you provide them with tools to enhance their job performance. Expanding their current skill set may help them do their job more efficiently or produce better results. It may narrow the skills gap among employees on your team. It can also allow employees to develop skills to advance to the next stage of their career, preferably with your organization.

Unlike upskilling, reskilling centers on preparing employees for new roles. You may reskill an employee whose position may soon become redundant or obsolete. You can also reskill employees who show initiative and want to move into another area of the business. For example, a receptionist may have a strong interest in marketing and reskill to manage the company's social media accounts.


While both upskilling and reskilling can occur at any time, upskilling usually happens more continuously than reskilling. You can upskill employees whenever it makes sense for forward progression in their roles. For example, if a department director plans to retire in a few months, you may encourage an employee to upskill by taking management courses so they can apply for the position. You might also upskill employees when you introduce a new process, tool, or technology, such as a new software program.

Alternatively, most employers use reskilling to navigate changes in the workplace. They often choose to reskill employees who may be impacted by changing business strategies. For example, if your business decides to eliminate a department, you may reskill some employees from that team to keep them with the company rather than implementing layoffs.

Career pathways

For the most part, upskilling helps employees engage in a linear career progression. It may allow them to advance within your organization, staying in similar roles but taking on more responsibilities. In contrast, reskilling usually results in a lateral career pathway for employees. Through reskilling, an employee may transition into a new job that may require similar interpersonal skills but new hard skills.

Benefits of upskilling

Upskilling can have major advantages for employers. Here are some of the main benefits of upskilling employees:

  • Increase productivity: When employees have the skills to do their jobs well, they can perform tasks faster and more efficiently. This increases the whole team's productivity.
  • Retain employees: Providing training for learning and development can help you retain your best employees. The Pew Research Center found a lack of advancement opportunities is one of the top reasons employees leave their jobs, second only to low pay.
  • Improve job satisfaction: By helping employees to build their skills, you can improve their job satisfaction. This can lead to a positive company culture where team members feel valued and appreciated.

Benefits of reskilling

Like upskilling, the benefits of reskilling can be significant to your business. These benefits include:

  • Fill shortages: Reskilling may help you fill shortages within your business without having to hire new employees. Typically, it's far less costly to retrain employees for new roles than to recruit, hire, and onboard new employees to fill those gaps.
  • Prepare for the future: Technology continues to change every day, and new developments like artificial intelligence will reshape the way many companies do business. Reskilling employees can help you proactively prepare for the future to ensure your organization can continue to grow and thrive.
  • Improve morale: Employees who believe their roles may become irrelevant are more likely to leave an organization. By reskilling employees, you can improve morale by encouraging them to remain with the company in new and essential roles.

"Reskilling employees can help you proactively prepare for the future to ensure your organization can continue to grow and thrive."

How to choose between upskilling and reskilling

With all the benefits of upskilling and reskilling, you may be ready to implement one of these processes on your team. Here are some tips you can follow to determine whether upskilling or reskilling is right for your business:

  • Assess your team: Start by assessing the skills of your current team members. If there are skills gaps, you might use upskilling to address those. You might decide to use reskilling if you believe an employee has strengths that may make them an asset in another role.
  • Consider long-term goals: Think about the long-term goals of your organization. If you believe your company might be affected by changes in technology, such as AI and machine learning, consider how you can use reskilling to prepare for those changes.
  • Ask for input: Have one-on-one meetings or distribute development surveys to identify what your employees might prefer in terms of upskilling or reskilling. This can provide insight into what skills employees want to learn. Additionally, listening to employees' input can make them feel heard and boost their morale.
  • Use both strategies: Neither upskilling nor reskilling needs to be an all-or-nothing approach. Use both strategies to build a talented, qualified team of employees who are ready to advance in their careers and take on new responsibilities.

Both upskilling and reskilling can allow you to enhance team members' skills to boost productivity and improve morale. Upskilling might be an effective way to retain employees and promote from within, saving you time and money in finding outside hires. Reskilling can allow you to prepare your business for changes, particularly those related to technology. Consider the benefits of each one to determine whether upskilling, reskilling, or a combination of both is the right choice for your organization.

More tips for learning and development:

If you choose to upskill your employees, check out this how-to guide for helpful tips and strategies.

Upskilling and reskilling are two popular trends in human resources. Here are some other HR trends you might consider to stay current in a changing environment.

Learning and development can help improve team members' skills. Consider these other tips to build successful teams.

Previous Article
Internal talent mobility: Types, benefits, and best practices
Internal talent mobility: Types, benefits, and best practices

Learn about internal talent mobility, review the types of talent mobility programs, and explore best practi...

Next Article
Discussing mental health and well-being in the workplace
Discussing mental health and well-being in the workplace

Find out why discussing mental health and well-being in the workplace is essential to company culture and h...