Upskilling, Reskilling, Outskilling: Skills to Offer in the Executive Education Race

July 29, 2021

Global demand for executive education

In January 2020, world leaders who had convened for the World Economic Summit left no doubt about a matter of great urgency: “The world is facing a reskilling emergency. One billion people around the world must acquire new skills by 2030.”  Continuous education providers such as the WU Executive Academy have responded to the surge in demand and new target groups.

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Highly skilled and motivated employees are a source of innovation and sustainable value creation.

Agile, Creative, and Able to Solve Conflicts

Surveys, such as ones conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, show that the pandemic has further increased employees’ motivation to engage in continuous education. “We have seen rising demand for tailor-made offers in executive education. Depending on their industry and size, companies face different challenges. But all of them need highly skilled and motivated employees as a source of innovation and sustainable value creation,” confirms Konrad Holleis, Head of Continuing Education at the WU Executive Academy. 

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report 2020”, self-management skills will become key competences by 2025. Resilience, being able to handle stress and learn new skills as well as flexibility are all essential for successful self-management. What’s more, human skills will grow in importance in this age of digitalization and artificial intelligence: these include empathy, creativity, emotional intelligence, communication skills, the ability to deal with conflicts, an agile mindset, and the willingness to change. “More and more innovations spring from creative collaboration in cross-functional teams in which all members are equal. What’s key here is to understand each other’s languages and perspectives. In this regard, executive education can go a long way toward future-proofing managers and their teams by focusing on soft skills and personality training,” Konrad Holleis explained. At the WU Executive Academy, leadership and soft skills are central components in both the MBA and the continuous education programs for managers and executives.

Seminars WU Executive Academy
High-quality training opportunities will become a crucial factor for employers to attract high potentials.

Upskilling, Reskilling, and Outskilling

In a report titled “Superlearning,” global consulting firm Deloitte discusses why this very concept is the solution: “A learning transformation is needed – one that focuses on the connection between continuous re/up/outskillig, on the one hand, and actual work, on the other.” For Deloitte, learning does not only take place at external continuous education providers but at the workplace as well.

Upskilling - New Tasks for Existing Roles

In companies, upskilling measures are usually taken when new tasks are added to existing roles due to, e.g., the use of digital tools or an upgrade of responsibilities following the automatization of processes. Consulting firm Capgemini has identified three types of upskilling (in German), upskilling in a narrow sense, sideskilling, and multiskilling:

  • In the most narrow sense, upskilling means adding new tasks and focus areas to existing roles. This often becomes necessary when tasks are automated and digitalized.

  • Sideskilling is about acquiring fundamentally new skills, for instance new competences for a new role such as the Chief Information Officer.

  • Multiskilling prepares employees for various tasks and creates a more flexible workforce through, e.g., a job rotation system.

Due to complex transformations in the professional world and increasing demand for staff members skilled in the use of digitalization tools, businesses need new competences and executives must fill new roles. “Today’s managers need a sound understanding of the mechanisms and driving forces behind digital transformation as well as the key technologies used in digitalized companies. Without this expertise, they will struggle to lead and support the potential of teams and staff members as the business keeps transforming. In addition to digital competences, it will be the right mindset and leadership skills that will set apart successful managers. All of those skills can be acquired,” Konrad Holleis emphasizes. The WU Executive Academy has put digital leadership skills and novel competences expected from managers on the curricula of several of its programs. The topics are, for instance, taught in the “Senior Leadership Program,” a short program for executives.

Reskilling - Professional Training for New Job Profiles

Reskilling is about professional training measures that make people fit for new jobs. Job descriptions are changing, some jobs are no longer required, others are increasing in importance. The increasing rate of automatization and digitalization is also giving rise to new job profiles. “It’s not only people climbing the career ladder who are looking for ways to hone their leadership skills. Our executive programs have been attracting more and more people from outside the classic professions and industries. They are working on their own projects or plan to found a start-up. Others work in culture-related jobs or in the field of social work,” Konrad Holleis shares.

Outskilling - High-Quality Training for Emploeyees

Outskilling means that employers deliberately invest in the continuous education of their staff despite the risk that they might wander off to a competitor once they have acquired the new skills. “Offering high-quality training opportunities will become a crucial factor for employers to attract high potentials. Personal development greatly appeals to highly motivated employees. Training measures directly contribute to a boost in employer branding, resulting in a competitive advantage even before the knowledge increase resulting from such measures is considered,” Konrad Holleis points out.

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