Upskilling or reskilling is happening daily across the country as organizations seek to narrow the skills gap. But surprisingly, it appears that many businesses do little in terms of tracking such an important component of their training strategy, resulting in an inability to make evidence-based decisions around workforce training.
Leveraging some data collection capabilities, employers could potentially make better utilization of their staffing requirements and their training needs. They could ask themselves:
- How many employees working in their current job would realize a performance improvement with additional training?
- How many employees could be moved to a more complex job with additional training?
- How many employees could move into a different job with comparable complexity with additional training?
By answering these questions, could employers potentially make more informed decisions about their staffing and training mix? Would government policy makers be better informed if they had more relevant data on actual upskilling and reskilling requirements? We think so.
What is Upskilling and Reskilling?
It’s useful to have a baseline understanding of the two terms ‘upskilling’ and ‘reskilling’.
Upskilling: Training existing employees to meet the changing skill requirements for their existing job.
Reskilling: Training existing employees with a new set of skills for a new job within the company.
Upskilling is often the terminology used when hiring new employees who lack direct work experience in their new job.
“These definitions are typically used to define training for existing employees, but they also can be used for new employees,” says Morley Gunderson, a Canadian labour economist and Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, University of Toronto. “There are no hard and fast definitions in the literature out there.”
Work Based Learning Consortium (WBLC) discovered some companies have a broader view of upskilling.
“Many of the employers we work with had a broader definition of upskilling,” says Wayne Lamon, Director, Programs, WBLC. “They consider upskilling to include training existing employees already in a specific position, as well as the new hires.”
Lamon explains that several employers, who had hired a large number of new employees at one time, wanted to ensure these new employees all achieved a specific level of competency. But they also wanted existing staff (not just the newly hired employees) in a specific job, such as CNC machinists, to receive that same training.
“This ensures that everyone learns and uses the same processes and terminology on the job, whether they are a new hire or an existing employee,” adds Lamon. “It’s tremendously beneficial and many of these employers noted that our upskilling training led to a strong uptick in efficiency and productivity across the board.”
The Information Gap Around Upskilling/Reskilling
While it is assumed that there is a lot of upskilling and reskilling occurring, WBLC discovered that few companies track it with any thoroughness.“
If you’re a policy maker or a corporate executive and trying to sort through the challenges of the skills gap, you’ll likely be surprised to learn that there is no valid data source available for upskilling,” says Lamon. Further he goes on to say – “How much upskilling is being undertaken by employers? What assistance is required around upskilling? How much upskilling work is being undertaken by employers on their own?”
There’s an information gap that currently exists. Lamon believes WBLC has a solution to address this knowledge gap.
Creating an Upskilling Database for Industry and Government
As a result, WBLC has engaged with Future Skills Centre (a Government of Canada initiative dedicated to helping Canadians gain the skills needed to thrive in today’s changing labour market) to build a conceptual upskilling data collection system and work with some Canadian companies on a trial application of that system.
The first step was to conduct research around upskilling. This involved looking at the definitions of upskilling and reskilling. It also involved looking at what type of information is available to help companies and policy makers with decision making regarding upskilling and reskilling. WBLC also researched trends around upskilling and reskilling.There was a surprising amount of information about upskills/reskilling, but very little in the form of data.
|“If I’m an employer with an internal skills challenge and I’m facing the great resignation after the pandemic, I need to know what’s happening in the general market. For those in the industry, finding the right information is likely to prove challenging,” – Canadian labour economist and Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, University of Toronto
“If I’m an employer with an internal skills challenge and I’m facing the great resignation after the pandemic, I need to know what’s happening in the general market. For those in the industry, finding the right information is likely to prove challenging,” says Gunderson, who conducted the research elements of this project. “The real problem is ‘sorting the wheat from the chaff’, or as we say more formally in the statistical analysis, ‘finding the signal given the noise’ that’s out there.”
The second step was to build a data collection system, which WBLC recently completed.
WBLC also has identified an industry group to pilot and test the system, which will include working with Linamar of Guelph and the Canadian Association of Mold Makers (CAMM) member companies.
“We’re just about to launch this aspect of the project and it will be fascinating to see the results,” says Lamon. “We believe employers and policy makers within government could really benefit from this new type of information.”
Benefits of data tracking
Lastly, Lamon explains that tracking upskilling and reskilling data could potentially lead to better informed, evidence-based decisions.
For example, by evaluating the data, executives at a trade association could verify at a glance that while there are 2,000 vacancies for a particular position within the industry, there also are an additional 3,000 people already employed in that role who require upskilling.
“Equipped with this information, industry can potentially reach out to government to talk about how they could collaborate to address the issue and government policy makers will have a clearer understanding of the whole picture because data would now exist to support decision making,” adds Lamon.
Ad-hoc, on-the-job training has been practiced for ages. The problem is there is no defined finish line, nor the associated recognition of achievement at the end.
There are considerable practical and important benefits for industry, workers and others in certification programs for various job training programs:
- It builds awareness of the quality of your trainees
- For company managers, it provides an objective measurement for you that your employees are competent in the technical elements of their job
- Certification helps employees validate their career choice, see the value of learning and generates excitement about gaining new credentials
- It often increases interest from potential applicants to a sector that employs certification, compared to other sectors that do not offer certification
- Over time, companies see both an increase in the capabilities of their employees and also an increase in their retention rates
How Does the Certification Process Work?
Prior to developing any training, WBLC works with industry subject manager experts to define the technical learning outcomes that are required to successfully complete a training program for a specific job. WBLC then creates a learning program that ensures all the required key knowledge elements have been embedded into the training program.
At the end of the training, the WBLC assesses and, if fully satisfactory, independently certifies Trainees’ qualifications and skill levels for the job at the completion of their ‘On-the-Job’ learning and awards the trainee a WBLC Certificate.
For example, the certification process for a CNC Machinist involves the trainee successfully passing tests administered during the e-Learning and practical ‘on-the-job’ training. During the process, the trainee demonstrates their knowledge of general manufacturing technical practices and procedures, and knowledge of technical work practices by completing an on-line examination.
In the CNC Machinist program, an independent WBLC Assessor verifies that the Trainee can set up machines and produce parts as per work orders or approved drawings while meeting all required quality standards and scrap standards. This outcome will be assessed at the conclusion of the training by having the WBLC Assessor observe the Trainee performing required job tasks and completing a practical assessment.
WBLC has established an industry recognized finish line and those that successfully cross it, receive a certificate.
It’s fascinating to hear different people’s perspectives on, and experience with, e-learning. Some see e-learning as having a positive impact on industries looking to attract young talent. It’s also playing a key role in upskilling mid-career workers who have been displaced and can play a role in certification of skilled workers.
“Good e-learning has always been welcome,” explains Reema Duggal, a lead for the virtual learning initiatives with Work-Based Learning Consortium (WBLC). “E-learning has been around for a long time. There has always been great e-learning and there’s also been some forms of e-learning that are poorly executed. We’ve been building upon best e-learning practices, focused on learning, competency and driving discussion as well as interaction.”
WBLC has developed a hybrid approach to e-learning, which means having e-learning at the core, and layering in other elements around the core to build a more comprehensive approach. WBLC’s learning programs typically include interactive e-learning, e-instructions, train the technical trainer, shop floor hands-on assignments, technical language training, on-the-job training, monitor coaching and certification.
Earlier this year, the Sign Association of Canada turned to WBLC for a new hybrid learning solution to support training Graphics Installation Technicians. Graphics installation technicians often create and apply large signage to cars, trucks, buses, and any large object, up to and including buildings.
The Sign Association of Canada is working with its members to expand their workforce to meet growing demand. They’re looking to attract young creative talent to the industry as well as people who have been impacted by workforce changes and are looking to upskill into a well-paying career job.
Attracting Youth to a Growing Industry
“Employees today are expecting more e-learning – the way we learn has changed.” – Karin Eaton, Executive Director of the Sign Association of Canada.
“We are an industry looking to attract young talent as well as people who want to reskill because of workforce changes. There are great opportunities for people who want a job in a different industry. How do they make that transition? Education is key,” says Karin Eaton, Executive Director of the Sign Association of Canada.
Eaton explains that education has been always one of the key strategic topics of importance.
“Employees today are expecting more e-learning – the way we learn has changed,” adds Eaton. “Especially the younger generation, they have spent 2-1/2 years learning on Zoom because they weren’t allowed to go into schools during the pandemic. E-learning is becoming more acceptable and new technologies exist to help facilitate it, wherever you are.”
“We have members everywhere (e.g., from Humboldt to St John’s, Kamloops, Moncton, Sudbury and more) in virtually every small or large city or town. So, what is important to our association is that we provide value to all our members regardless of whether you are in a huge community, with lots of opportunities and colleges, or whether you are in a much more remote location. The new, hybrid e-learning could potentially be an important new tool for us and our members,” adds Eaton.
Consequently, the association has embarked on a Graphics Installation Technicians learning program involving 10 companies from coast-to-coast to evaluate this new form of training.
“I’m just excited about e-learning – not just in sign manufacturing, but just in manufacturing in general. I’ve been having a lot of discussions with affiliates in the U.S., and you sometimes wonder ‘is this a Canadian question’ or local question, but you realize the issue is everywhere, and this approach could be part of the solution,” says Eaton.
Upskilling and Training Mid-career Workers
WBLC also worked with the Federal government to examine the impact of e-learning programs on mid-career workers.
“The Future Skills Centre at one point approached us very focused on mid-career workers,” says Rod Jones, Managing Director of WBLC. “Their interest was to see whether or not workers, who had either been displaced or were at risk of being displaced in their current job situation, could transition into a new job situation and acquire the skills needed.”
Jones says the WBLC team was focused on whether mid-career people between 30 to 55 years of age, who had lost a job would, respond to this type of training. Would those people be amicable and comfortable with an e-learning environment? How would they adapt? Would they be comfortable with this kind of technology?
WBLC quickly discovered that it was a very effective tool for mid-career workers in transition as well as for experienced workers who hadn’t set foot in a school in 20, 30 or 40 years.
“The important thing is that our hybrid e-learning works, and it is effective with a wide range of workers,” adds Jones. “It was satisfying their needs and interests and has proven to be attractive to a wide range of job seekers and learners.”
The e-learning modules created by WBLC are very engaging and very different from what students experienced during online classroom instruction during the pandemic.
“You can’t be a talking head,” says Rod Jones, Managing Director of WBLC. “It’s not just filming a classroom instructor. It has to have animation, be interactive and more to make the learning experience engaging. At the core, the e-learning has to be focused on the knowledge and skills that they are required to learn in order to perform the job well and successfully.”
Reema Duggal adds, “With blended learning, the idea is that it’s not just one thing, but it’s multiple techniques that come together to create a highly effective learning program. Our material is highly visual: it’s images, video, 2D and 3D animation, CGI avatars and many other elements. We’re doing all we can to help people learn the material and create a solid understanding of each topic.”
Jones says the key to success is to first clearly define the desired learning outcomes. Then, build robust e-learning programs that pass along the knowledge and skills that are required for a successful performance on the job. It has to be a managed and guided process for people to work through.
Why Companies Want Existing Staff to Also Take This Training
“We’ve had some pleasant surprises that have come from companies that have engaged with us on our e-learning and hybrid approach to training,” says Jones. “A number of companies have told us that they want all of their people on the shop floor to take the e-learning program. Why? Because it is a way of ensuring that all of their staff then use the same language and operate from the same knowledge base. They’re upskilling whole groups of people and upleveling the performance of their workforce. It can really give them a competitive advantage.”
Building New Blended e-Learning Programs
WBLC has been creating blended e-learning programs for a wide range of companies across the country.
“One fascinating element is that virtually every company we have worked with, this has been their first experience with e-learning for employees,” says Jones. “The results of the e-learning have been a differentiator for these companies. We’ve consistently followed a disciplined approach of first defining learning outcomes then deploying our training based upon a proven framework for capturing these outcomes.”
Jones says WBLC has consistently seen strong results – a rapidity of learning and application on the shop floor, improved employee retention and increased trainee satisfaction.
Benefits of Training your Technical Trainer First
- Newly hired employees become more proficient faster
- Reduce rework and generate less scrap
- Training existing employees on new equipment/processes
- Experienced skilled workers spend less time training
- Safer workers with fewer accidents
On-the-job training happens across the country every day but how that training is delivered can greatly impact the effectiveness of the training. Companies often ask their most knowledgeable, experienced workers to be trainers since they possess the expertise which the trainee needs to learn to do the job. In the manufacturing, maintenance and technical service industries, these trainers are often called Technical Trainers.
But just because they have the experience, it doesn’t mean that these trainers have learned how to pass along that knowledge to others.
|“if (the employer’s technical trainers) are trained in effective job instruction, they will make a significant positive difference in how quickly and effectively the trainee is learning” – Pavel Wegrzyn, a mentor/coach with Work Based Learning Consortium
“We’ve seen in our programs with clients that their technical trainer, if they are trained in effective job instruction, they will make a significant positive difference in how quickly and effectively the trainee is learning,” says Pavel Wegrzyn, a mentor/coach with Work-Based Learning Consortium (WBLC).
A key aspect of WBLC’s hybrid approach to training and e-learning includes a train-the-trainer element called the Technical Training Effectiveness Workshop (TTEW), which provides rapid and effective training for the trainers onsite. It equips the employers’ most experienced skilled workers to be more effective in their training efforts.
“When we started thinking of creating the Technical Training Effectiveness Workshop, we asked companies if they felt a train-the-trainer program is needed or would be helpful,” says Rod Jones, Managing Director of WBLC. “Companies said there was nothing they could find that would help their trainers. Or, when there was a program, they’d have to send their trainers off-site for several weeks or send them to a long program where training trainers was only one element.”
There clearly was a need for a rapid, focused program on job instruction training and WBLC set out to address it.
Maximizing Adult Learning Effectiveness
WBLC recognizes how busy trainers are with their work. Leadership coach, facilitator and organizational development consultant Bob Nager worked with WBLC to develop the workshop which consists of two 90-minute virtual sessions. After completing the workshops, trainers are supported by weekly meetings with WBLC mentor coaches.
“Our approach has been to get employers to identify experts on the job, who have been doing their job for years, and then provide them with directly relevant knowledge and a proven time-tested process to be able to effectively do technical training,” says Bob Nager, who also has a Master’s degree in Adult Education, Workplace Learning and Change from the University of Toronto.
“Adults learn much better when they are self-directed and self-motivated,” says Nager. “People will retain knowledge much better when they understand ‘why’. If you just go by rote and teach people material, maybe they’ll learn it, but it won’t work as well as allowing them to understand the reasons why they’re doing things.”
The workshop also includes an experiential learning element where trainees watch a trainer perform a task they are about to learn. The trainees are asked to replicate the task and explain why they are doing what they’re doing – integrating it into their thinking. The examples used in the workshop are crafted by the WBLC Learning team and then put on video to demonstrate the trainer instructing a trainee in tasks that are relevant to the job sector using the program.
A Proven Methodology – from WWII to Modern Lean Manufacturing
Nager explains that the WBLC Technical Training Effectiveness Workshop is based on a methodology called Training Within Industry (TWI) that originated during the Second World War by the U.S. government. TWI has since been adopted by the Lean manufacturing sector.
“Not unlike the challenges facing manufacturers today, the war effort required bringing thousands of people into factories in a very short time, where many had no previous manufacturing experience,” explains Nager. “They recognized they needed to rapidly upskill workers quickly to deliver quality outcomes.”
“The TWI methodology is a tried and tested methodology adopted by the Lean manufacturing sector. We have lots of evidence that it really delivers great outcomes,” adds Nagar.
The training workshop provides technical trainers with an easy-to-use framework for performing their training work. Previous attendees have repeatedly shared with us that the WBLC framework gives them confidence in working with their trainees. The technical trainers also are taught to recognize that people learn differently and learn tips on how to factor that into their instructional approach.
After the workshop, the technical trainers have weekly calls with coach monitors to help them with challenges they’re encountering, discuss progress made, answer any questions related to the training methodology, as well as provide tips. These weekly calls are additional support for the trainers and also are used to evaluate the effectiveness of both the TTEW workshop and the trainers themselves.
Valuing the Training
The train-the-trainer workshop has advantages for both the company and the trainers. Sometimes, experienced workers are asked to train others in addition to their regular day-to-day duties. This can be a challenge.
“The Technical Training Effectiveness Workshop demonstrates that the company acknowledges that technical training is as part the trainer’s individual’s job,” adds Nagar. “Now there’s the acknowledgement from the employer. Trainers are pleased to have their training skill recognized, and really start to take pride in bringing their trainees along. It immediately increases their confidence.”
The effect is improved training results, a faster training process, reduced re-training time, less rework and scrap, and safer workers with fewer accidents. The result is faster payback for employers.
|“Knowledge obtained from WBLC’s Technical Training Effectiveness Workshop is an enduring asset…it continually pays dividends ” – Rod Jones, Managing Director of the Work Based Learning Consortium
“The good news is the knowledge obtained from the WBLC workshop is an enduring asset because once people know how to do it, as long as they apply it, it continually pays dividends” says Jones.
Trainers are set up for success and there are clear business results – newly hired employees become proficient more quickly and experienced skilled workers spend less time training.
“Companies need qualified people as there are significant skills shortages in some sectors and firms need people to be up to speed and trained quickly,” adds Nagar.
The Technical Training Effectiveness Workshop can be a key element of the training and upskilling solution for your company.
Six-month training program reduced to three months
One of the bedrocks of Work-Based Learning Consortium’s (WBLC) learning and hiring programs has been its CNC Machinist programs, which typically have created proficient and certified CNC Machinists in a six-month period. You can imagine the surprise when WBLC said they could deliver the same results in only three months.
So far, with several cohorts of a newly created CNC Machinist (Level 1) Rapid Upskilling program completed, WBLC is delivering all within that three-month timeframe.
“When I think back about some of the first discussions with companies about building a CNC Machinist program, a common question was ‘how long do you think it will take trainees to complete your CNC Machinist program?’”, recalls Rod Jones, Managing Director of WBLC. “We said we could do it in six months and the industry reaction was skeptical. Industry executives told me it was taking them 12 to 18 months to get anybody anywhere near proficient on CNC Machines.”
|“Industry executives told (us) it was taking them 12 to 18 months to get anybody anywhere near proficient on CNC Machines.” – Rod Jones, Managing Director of the Work Based Learning Consortium
But Jones knew he had an advantage, as he was going to approaching the training in a highly structured, competency-based way, with clearly defined learning outcomes and schedules.
Since those discussions, WBLC has partnered with more than 70 companies to train more than 700 employees for skilled manufacturing jobs with a 90+% success rate.
WBLC’s CNC Machinist upskilling program produces higher proficiency workers much faster than traditional on-the-job training.
Why Shorten the CNC Machinist Learning Program?
“We had noticed there were opportunities to be had by tightening the schedule and making some improvements after having worked with the six-month program for some time,” says Pavel Wegrzyn, a mentor/coach with WBLC, who also is a subject matter expert for the creation of this evolution in the Rapid Upskilling program.
Due to the realities of a production environment, there are times when all-hands-on-deck scenarios pop up to meet production requirements, impacting the trainee’s availability for training. This means the training program occasionally slips slightly longer than the three months elapsed time. WBCL recognizes these production realities and has been very flexible in accommodating their clients.
WBLC strives to keep intakes to roughly eight people per session, which is a size that maximizes learning effectiveness. If a company wants 15 to be run through the training, WBLC can scale up and add additional monitor coaches and split the group into two cohorts.
Benefits of Shortened Training
“I believe we have actually reduced the amount of active time the technical trainers spend training,” adds Jones. “Our corporate partners are happy with that as long as we get the desired results which is proving to be the case. That’s a tremendous business benefit for the companies we work alongside.”
|“We have reduced the amount of active time the (employers) technical trainers spend training.” – Rod Jones, Managing Director of the Work Based Learning Consortium
Jones adds that WBLC isn’t creating journeyman persons in three months, but it is developing Level 1 CNC Machinists with the fundamental knowledge required to make standard parts following work orders effectively and safely, with limited supervision.
The CNC Machinist Raid Upskilling program was created to help companies to find more skilled CNC Machinists to meet growing business demands, taking on more business, or to replace retiring employees. It has been an ongoing challenge for the industry to find highly proficient CNC machinists.
WBLC works to recruit and assess applicants for CNC Machinist positions, who are hired by companies and then trained using WBLC’s blended learning program. Training consists of a mixture of e-learning modules and testing, weekly shop floor assignments, practical skills training by corporate trainers, as well as testing and certification of successful trainees.