Upskilll? Reskill? Downskill? What are These Business Practices and How They Help an Employer

Upskilll? Reskill? Downskill? What are These Business Practices and How They Help an Employer

We live in a fast-paced world. The changing technological tide puts strains on the workforce, hindering teams from keeping up with increasing demands. In some cases, technology might be taking away jobs, but it is also adding jobs and helping workers succeed in the workforce.

The evolving workplace has sprouted a few new trends: upskilling, reskilling and downskilling. Let’s dive into these practices and explore how they impact employers. 


To upskill means to provide qualified employees with new skills and the opportunity to delve deeper into their field. It’s about keeping up with new technologies, research, and best practices in their arena.  Sometimes upskilling works by outsourcing or hiring trainers to provide retraining and encouraging team members to attend workshops and sign up for new courses. With upskilling, you’re offering your existing team a way to advance their skills and contribute to the company in a greater way, often priming them for promotion within the company.

What it means for you

When a company commits to upskill their team, they gain a competitive edge.  When you give your people access to training and development to expand their skills, your return is two-fold: growing your company’s ability to stay at the forefront of the industry and investing in your team member’s personal and professional development. Upskilling helps employees scale up and gain more professional assets to help them perform today and in the future.  It’s a huge boost to company culture and employee loyalty.


Reskilling, like upskilling, shows a company’s ability to make changes that affect the team’s ability to meet changing business environments.  Adapting to new technologies and trends requires access to relevant and timely training. It supports the team’s ability to meet new demands, often bringing new efficiencies to the workplace. Rather than allowing an employee’s skillset to become irrelevant, reskilling gives already highly competent employees more training to take on an expanding role, or a different job.

What it means for you

Like upskilling, reskilling keeps your best and most loyal people connected to your growth and change and assures they will be capable of managing well in a new reality.  It improves retention by cutting back on employee turnover and the need to hire and train new people. 

While it can be a large investment to provide reskilling or additional training, reskilling saves money in the long run and reduces alternative expenses related to turnover and new hires. It beefs up an already strong team to be well-rounded and highly trained in targeted skills. This increases effectiveness and further improves company culture.


Conversely, downskilling refers to lowering the required skill levels for job opportunities. Because of a tighter job market, employers are loosening requirements for jobs and reducing the talent levels needed for hiring. This hiring practice is implemented sometimes to decrease the compensation cost, but also to allow for expanded candidate pools. 

What it means for you

This trend has been found across industries and some research has found that this practice may have reduced unemployment slightly. Downskilling developed as a way to counter talent shortages. Companies need to fill positions.  The cost of an open position to a company is significant. In response to this, many employers are broadening the candidate pool by considering people with more junior experience and skillsets.  Then training them to the demands of the position – or unbundling the role itself.  

According to Burning Glass research published in 2018, there were 5% more job openings than qualified workers. Meanwhile, job openings requiring a degree dropped about 2%, and the amount asking for more than three years of experience dropped more than 5% between 2013-2018. This switch is suggesting that downskilling is a viable option for getting people in the door, then upskilling or reskilling as the specific situation demands.  

As this 2015 paper on the relationship between the labor market and skill requirements summarizes two important points about the downskilling trend:

“It better identifies the opportunistic nature of skill requirements and it establishes that movements in these requirements will, at least in part, revert with the labor market. It also sheds light on the mechanism underlying these movements: a number of suggested contributors to changes in skill in poor labor markets, like wage rigidity, and are unlikely to explain the reverse dynamic.”

Combined, these practices will make your workplace a dynamic and engaging place for your team.  People want to grow and develop professionally, no matter their experience.