Upskilling: Why This Should be a Priority for Every Employee

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Technology is an essential part of our lives today. This is as true for us as an educational technology and publishing company as it is for the students who are using our tools to learn. And it’s just as true at work or college as it is at home, where the need to push a few buttons to get your electronics up and running has been replaced with the need to connect your crockpot to the WiFi, or program your phone to talk to the washer and dryer. It’s no longer enough to know what buttons to push -- now you need to know why you pushed them and what happens when you do … and even how to create new buttons that correspond to the latest discovery. 

It can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Today’s technology offers access to a set of experiences not available to prior generations. It spurs innovation, offering us new ways to think and learn. And just as students need to continue learning, so must the people who develop the technology. That’s one reason we developed Macmillan Learning’s “Technology Education Program” (TEP).  We use this program to help upskill our employees in specific areas, building on what they know or what they can imagine. But upskilling isn’t necessarily limited to technology.

About Upskilling

Upskilling is the process of learning new skills to enhance and expand your current knowledge and abilities, and it's one of the most important activities you can do for your career. Many confuse it with “cross skills training”, believing upskilling is about getting a different job or advancing in a current career path. But it’s so much more than that. Learning a new skill can help prepare you for a next level (or even side step) in your career. We’re even seeing technology and technical skills beginning to trump experience.

Upskilling is good for both employee and employer, helping bridge the skills gap and enable individuals to create new opportunities for themselves and their organizations. While upskilling is often associated with the technology industry, or technology specific roles, it is applicable to just about anyone interested in expanding their opportunities. 

The demand for highly skilled people continues to grow and, in some industries, is growing exponentially in terms of both the number of workers that will be needed and the skills those workers will need. Further, the line between the expectations of a programmer and an office worker, accountant or media director is becoming blurred and, in some cases, even broken.

In the past, our world was about your ability to work within it. Today, it is more about creating new realities and helping yourself or your organization to reach desired outcomes faster and more effectively. At the heart of upskilling, you are building new ways that you can participate, developing new forms of communication and forming new pathways to problem-solve across the business. By broadening your knowledge and skill set, you become more versatile and adaptable, which makes you a more valuable contributor to your team and organization. 

Upskilling at Macmillan Learning

Copy of Copy of quote2.pngMacmillan Learning and innovative companies like ours progress and evolve over time. In doing so, new challenges emerge that must be addressed by the people that show up every day to do their job. Because the industry is constantly changing to support new technologies, new market challenges, and new opportunities, employees want to be prepared to adapt. And, in many cases, that means learning new skills. 

That’s one reason why our TEP works so well. It’s one of many examples of upskilling taking place at the company, and one that I’m particularly proud of since I partnered with teams across the company to develop it. We can gently introduce individuals to software development concepts, which can improve problem-solving and critical thinking skills. At Macmillan Learning, we have seen team members move from non-technical departments to roles where technology skills are leveraged for data science, operations, software development, and PMO. 

The TEP was created jointly with HR, Learning & Development, and technology teams to help raise the collective “digital” tide of all roles at Macmillan Learning. It is a derivative of a 2018 program inside the technology group to expand the AWS cloud technologies experience for our application engineering team. This program, in partnership with AWS, awarded over 100 AWS certifications. From the learnings of those two programs, the TEP was developed to allow others outside of technology, to not only learn new skills but also to be part of a growing community of technologist that leverage AWS, Google Workspace, and software development to improve workflows and develop new value in the support of students and instructors. 

I’ve witnessed the benefits of upskilling within Macmillan Learning, and believe it has the potential to generate so much opportunity. With Tech Bootcamps, Tech Talks, and Hackathons, it’s not the tech team's first take at upskilling and it won’t (nor should it) be our last.

The Opportunities Ahead

I asked a colleague of mine who knows me well to give insight into how they believe skills building and education has enabled me in my career.

David always strived for self-improvement. He sought knowledge from a variety of fields, constantly expanding his perspective. Through connecting dots between different subjects, David's thinking became more creative and holistic. He found innovative solutions to work problems and rose through the ranks at his company.

David's cross-domain thinking didn't stop there. He applied it to his personal life, improving relationships and overall well-being. He embraced a lifelong learning mindset and encouraged others to do the same. David's success and wisdom inspires many. He is living proof that expanding one's perspective can lead to great things.

–Chat Generative Pre-trained Transform, 2023

While using ChatGPT to write part of my blog may be a bit unusual, my goal was to highlight a point about AI systems. The more information, the more perspectives and the more skills they have, the more human-like they become. For you, already human-like, upskilling is your vehicle to building choices and opportunities for the future story of your life and career. Upskilling ensures you are able to keep pace with your dreams and aspirations.

Not everyone has the same kind of exposure to technology. There’s a systemic problem in both K12 and universities, where having access to the best technology is not universal. Technology is often seen as the great equalizer, but that is only true when everyone has an opportunity to access and use it. Upskilling programs can help close the digital divide by helping to develop skills and confidence in using technology. This not only enhances their own job prospects and advancement opportunities, but also allows them to bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. By providing opportunities like the The Technology Education Program (TEP) we are empowering employees to succeed in their careers, regardless of their background.