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Companies and employees win with “upskilling” trend

By Tim McAward
Vice President
Americas Engineering Product Leader
Kelly Services, Inc.

Engineering organizations have emerged from the Great Recession stronger than ever, doing robust business around the world and attracting the brightest talent available. And yet, engineering companies are still facing a dilemma. Tim McAwardThey certainly weren’t immune from having to scale back as a result of the economic downturn—and one way in which that scale back lingers is their hesitation to invest in the training and career development of their talent.  

There are many reasons why this practice is continuing. In part, it’s because limited funds are still being used for other priorities. But the misperception also persists that, if employees receive training from their current employer, they might use it to get better jobs elsewhere. The 2013 Kelly Global Workforce Index, however, shows that two-thirds of respondents say that their motivation for undertaking training is to advance with their current employer. 

So how do engineers make the best of this dilemma, where the need to continue training and development is stronger than ever, yet corporate training is not as rigorous as it once was?  One concept that appears to be getting stronger is “upskilling”—the idea that engineers take control of their own careers by seeking their own career development.  It means better outcomes for both engineers and those who rely on their specialized talent and knowledge for a company’s bottom line. 

This has certainly been the case in my own situation as I’ve managed highly skilled people throughout my career. Currently I have one team member who has been very proactive in seeking outside educational opportunities. He clearly recognizes that if he is able to become more technically proficient, he’ll be able to do his job better. My role in the success of his “upskilling” as his manager is small, but I recognize that the enhancement on his part would make us all more successful in our mission to constantly improve the products and solutions we offer in Kelly Services’ engineering space.  

So what’s the take away for both employees and employers?  How do both win?  

From the outset, an engineer can take control of his or her career development and engage the organization, but they must be able to present a clear business case for that development.   They must know exactly how the training will improve their performance, and they must be aware of how it will fit into the overall goals for the organization. Management, it turns out, is more willing to invest in an employee when all the right elements are in place, but the key behind “upskilling” is that the employee must take on that initial responsibility. 

If a clear business case is presented, employers should be encouraged by the employee’s initiative. This is most definitely a win—not a potential loss—for a manager. I’ve never thought that a particular employee would run away as a result of an opportunity to improve skills. And, well, if an employee does move on, that’s just a simple fact of doing business in today’s working world. 

Employers instead should get past this sense of fear. Being able to invest in talent is a luxury—and I’ve seen in first hand. Start to understand that the trend toward “upskilling” in today’s engineering labor market is a positive outcome from the demise of more traditional training opportunities and embrace it. 

Both sides are more personally invested, and when all the pieces come together as a result of the upskilling trend, everyone comes out on top.  ME


Tim McAward is vice president and Americas Product group leader for the Engineering staffing brand of Kelly Services, Inc., a leader in providing workforce solutions headquartered in Troy, Michigan.  As product leader, he has responsibility for branding, market positioning, “go to market” strategies and profitability for the product across North America.   



Published Date : 8/23/2013

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