A black-and-white headshot of Samuel Schofield smiling into the camera.
Samuel Schofield. Image: Udacity

Udacity’s EMEA VP on why upskilling is a ‘win-win situation’

20 May 2021

Samuel Schofield from online learning company Udacity shares his insights into current skills trends and explains why reskilling doesn’t always have to lead to a career change.

Upskilling and reskilling are integral in a world where new technologies keep emerging and jobs are rapidly changing. This is something companies and workers alike need to recognise, according to Udacity’s Samuel Schofield.

As the online learning company’s EMEA vice-president, Schofield is well versed in the skills trends sweeping the global workforce. Here, he explains why making the most of them requires acting now – whether you’re an employer or an employee.

‘Those companies that have truly grasped the power of upskilling will be those that thrive in the next five to 10 years’

Is upskilling important for today’s workforce?

Absolutely. The concept of upskilling has never been more important, particularly as the rate of digital transformation continues to increase and job markets around the world remain in flux.

Upskilling needs to be front of mind not just for ambitious individuals looking to advance their career, but also for enterprises looking to scale and grow.

As digital transformation continues at pace, the primary issue for companies remains finding the right talent. There is a clear trend towards companies looking to develop an outstanding internal talent pool that leverages upskilling to learn and apply cutting-edge new technologies.

Those companies that have truly grasped the power of upskilling will be those that thrive in the next five to 10 years. Upskilling can have a significant and lasting impact on the bottom line.

Many businesses have also redesigned their work processes to adapt to the pandemic, with e-commerce fulfilment centres being an obvious example. As many as two-thirds of executives surveyed by McKinsey said they were increasing investment in automation and AI solutions either ‘somewhat’ or ‘significantly’. It goes without saying that enterprises must equip their employees with the knowledge and skills they need to implement new technology.

Automation is a growing concern for the labour market as a whole. The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that by 2025, 85m jobs will be displaced by technology advancements, while 97m more will emerge.

Do you think employers have a responsibility to upskill and reskill their staff?

Yes, employers have an important responsibility to provide staff with upskilling and reskilling opportunities. Not least because the labour market is evolving at such a pace that continuous learning is necessary to prepare employees for the jobs of the future.

Perception of education must also evolve. Employers are beginning to place greater value on practical, project-based learning initiatives to continuously update current skillsets and ensure they are directly transferable.

In today’s world, where remote working is increasingly the norm, skills training is an important way for employers to give purpose to their staff, empowering them in their roles, increasing motivation and engagement, and affirming loyalty.

It’s a win-win situation. Workers often consider training and development prospects when choosing employers. By providing access to upskilling and reskilling courses and online platforms, employers retain loyal and motivated staff, save on recruitment expenses and create a more resilient workforce to ensure the business stays innovative and competitive.

More and more, we’re seeing enterprises of various sizes embrace online learning initiatives.

Which areas should people be thinking about when deciding to upskill or reskill?

We’re seeing the digital skills gap growing in technical areas such as AI, cloud computing, cybersecurity and data science. The demand for specialised technical talent is significantly outpacing supply.

The WEF lists the top three increasingly sought-after jobs as data analysts and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, and big data specialists. These are highly skilled roles that many organisations are having a hard time filling, particularly those in sectors not used to hiring technical employees in these fields.

At Udacity, all of our nanodegree programmes are built alongside industry experts who understand the skills gaps in industry. Some of our most popular programmes include data analyst, data scientist, AI product manager, as well as courses focused on Python or C++. We also offer an introduction to programming course.

I would advise anyone looking to upskill to have a clear plan. You need to think about the kind of programme you want to study, the time and effort you can commit and the level of support you think may be necessary. Have a clear future role in mind before building up a set of skills.

How can someone know whether upskilling or reskilling in a certain area is right for them?

Upskilling can – but doesn’t have to – mean a career change. At Udacity, we look at upskilling as adding additional strings to your bow. It’s often more about future-proofing your current career, rather than heading down a completely separate career path.

Put simply, upskilling should be about augmenting the skills you already have. And every new skill opens up doorways, ultimately making you more adaptable, resilient and employable.

This has never been more important. With the global impact of the pandemic on the jobs market still ongoing, we’ve seen a huge increase in online learning. The pandemic has hastened digital transformation efforts across sectors. Employees have to ensure they have the new skills that companies need in a world that has changed significantly in the past year.

It’s important to not make the decision in isolation. However, if a learner establishes that a course really isn’t right, there is no harm in them stopping or switching to an alternative.

Learners often pick up transferable skills during courses and core concept knowledge tends to transfer well horizontally. If possible, it’s sensible to finish any modules they are in the middle of executing in order to be able to refer to it as a proof of the skills acquired up until that point.

For people who are nervous about upskilling or reskilling, what advice would you give them?

It can be daunting starting from scratch, and it can be dispiriting being in a position where you may feel your learning at work has plateaued.

Help should always be at hand. We always encourage employees to speak to their managers or HR departments about upskilling or reskilling initiatives. Where funding is concerned, many companies also offer reimbursement. The hardest part of any learning journey is making the leap to get started.

More broadly, be patient, curious and open-minded. You’ll likely be inspired by the opportunity to become an expert in a whole new area or to hone the skills you already have established to an even greater depth.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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