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Build a Continuous Learning Culture With Reskilling and Upskilling Programs

As a human services leader, you spend every day thinking of new ways to help your community. But unlike your days in the field working directly with persons served, your position as a leader means building out systems so your organization can help as many people as possible, as efficiently as possible. One way of doing this, which often goes overlooked, is to create a continuous learning culture through upskilling and reskilling programs.

With these practices in place, your organization can ensure its practitioners have the most up-to-date clinical and technical skills, as well as world-class soft skills. This will lead to better care for persons served, allowing your organization to make a more noticeable impact in your community.

In this article, we’ll cover:

The Benefits of a Continuous Learning Culture

A continuous learning culture comes with a myriad of benefits for the individual learner. By working to create this type of culture, staff members can:

  • Enhance problem solving and knowledge sharing.
  • Strengthen the sense of community within their organization.
  • Learn to innovate.
  • React to crises faster and more effectively.

By giving your staff members a platform through which to learn these skills, not only will you help them grow, but your organization will increase its retention rates as well. An example of this comes from our 2021 Relias DSP Survey. Among the DSPs we surveyed, 41% said they would be much more likely to stay at their organization if offered strong career advancement. This means that by creating a strong culture of training and learning, your organization will lay the foundation for stability, increasing the good it can do in your community.

But this isn’t the only benefit that this type of culture brings to organizations. A true culture of learning also costs far less than having to replace talented staff members. In fact, Gallup conservatively estimates that the cost of replacing staff members ranges from 50-200% of an employee’s annual salary, depending on the role being filled. Creating a strong learning culture at your organization is one way to enhance employee engagement and reduce the risk of turnover.

So, the question is, how can you go about creating a continuous learning culture? There are several strategies available to you and your organization. But in this article we’re going to focus on two specific methods: upskilling programs and reskilling programs.

By effectively using upskilling and reskilling, your organization will give your staff members the ability to hone the skills they need for their current positions, while also giving them the chance to learn skills that will allow them to grow their career.

What’s the Difference Between Reskilling and Upskilling?

An infographic displaying the differences between upskilling programs and reskilling programs in human services settings.
Examples of how upskilling programs and reskilling programs can be applied in human services settings.

Reskilling is when a staff member learns an entirely new set of skills, often with the hope of moving to a new role. Upskilling, on the other hand, is when staff members learn skills that will make them better at their current jobs.

Let’s look at a few examples of this:

When it comes to reskilling, one great example is the transition from direct support professional (DSP) to a direct support supervisor. Now, instead of knowing the ins and outs of caring for individuals with IDD, this supervisor is tasked with matching caregivers to clients, keeping up with staff records, and helping DSPs navigate the organization and their careers. This is an entirely different skillset that they will need to learn in order to be at their best in a supervisory role.

Another example of reskilling comes from the agility that IDD organizations have had to practice during the pandemic. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, over 78% of IDD organizations had to close programs or significantly reduce services, especially in community-based settings like employment supports and day programs. However, some organizations took the DSPs who would traditionally have been out of the job in those support settings, and instead reskilled them to work in residential supports, allowing those DSPs to continue to work while also filling critical staffing needs in group homes and independent living programs.

For upskilling, a good example would be a counselor at a federally qualified health center (FQHC) who wants to help address high rates of suicide risk in their community. To do so, the counselor takes continuing education units in suicide prevention and identifying suicidal ideation. This counselor isn’t looking to change roles or organizations; instead, they’re working to deepen their knowledge and become better at their current job.

Now that we have a better understanding of the distinction between reskilling and upskilling, let’s look at how to build out training programs around these methodologies.

Creating a Continuous Learning Culture Through Upskilling and Reskilling Programs

To effectively upskill or reskill your staff, you will need to design a proper training plan. In our webinar, Upskilling and Reskilling 101 for for Healthcare and Human Services Leaders, Deborah Waddill, Ed.D. noted that leaders must “provide opportunities for upskilling/reskilling
training to maximize potential and career goals.”

While the material you choose to include in these trainings will vary based upon the organization’s goals, the following steps provide a framework to help you create successful upskilling and reskilling programs and, ultimately, a continuous learning culture.

Step 1: Identify the Goals of Your Program

The key to any successful upskilling or reskilling program is to always keep the goals of your staff members in mind. If the program is not helping them achieve their career goals, then it is not operating as it should. To that end, take time to understand what each staff member enrolled in the program hopes to get out of it. For larger organizations where this is not feasible, consider implementing a questionnaire to help along these discussions between staff members and their managers.

Once a staff member’s goals have been targeted, you need to identify the skills they need to achieve them. When these skills are outlined, provide a way for your staff members to understand which of these skills they have and which ones they still need to acquire. By implementing a skills gap analysis, you’ll be helping your staff members take the first step in their upskilling or reskilling journey.

Step 2: Customize Training to Fit Your Program

Once you have identified your goals for the program and any skill gaps, it’s critical that your upskilling and reskilling programs provide the training needed to achieve these goals. An important step in creating effective training is to customize the assignments to the individuals who will be participating in the program.

Focus these trainings on the skills that staff will need to fill a role. Let’s revisit our examples from earlier. If a DSP wants to reskill to become a DSP supervisor, map out what the process of going from a DSP to a DSP supervisor would look like for any DSP in your organization. Then, apply the skills gap analysis for the individual DSP looking to reskill in order to determine what abilities they already have and which ones they still need to make a successful supervisor.

To do this at scale, consider leveraging a learning management platform (LMP). With an LMP, you can deploy assessments for skills gap analysis, create the training plans we’ve discussed in this section, and chart the progress of your learners through these learning paths.

By automating as much of this process as you can, you’ll be able to focus on making the learning journey as satisfying as possible for your staff members, while also saving time and resources. This will lead to better learning outcomes, which, in turn, will lead your organization to offer higher quality services to your community.

Step 3: Use Adult Learning Techniques To Implement Training

Now that you have determined the learning needs of staff members engaged in reskilling and upskilling programs, let’s look at how to implement effective training using adult learning best practices. While there are many techniques for teaching adult learners, here we’ll focus on three methods: blended learning, microlearning, and spaced repetition.

Blended learning is a concept that incorporates the benefits of both in-person and online learning. In a blended learning environment, students can interact with their instructors, create and participate in peer discussion groups, have consistent access to learning materials, and get real-time feedback on their progress through online assessments.

Research has shown that this technique offers several benefits to learners. According to a study by the Texas Educating Adults Management System (TEAMS), adult learners who enrolled in blended learning training outperformed learners who attended in-person instruction.

Along with blended learning, you can consider using microlearning. In a microlearning model, learners receive “short, focused bursts” of educational material, typically through an online module. Studies have shown that the average adult has a 20-minute attention span. Microlearning was designed with this time limitation in mind. By using this training modality, you can effectively engage the staff members in your training program in a way that fits easily into their daily routines.

Another technique that goes well with blended learning is spaced repetition. This technique operates on the idea of periodically testing learners’ knowledge. At its most basic level, you could incorporate spaced repetition using flashcards or quizzes during a training session. In more advanced forms of spaced repetition, learners receive a small, one- or two-question quiz through email, text message, or learning management platform. Spaced repetition is a researched-backed method of improving retention and learner engagement. In one study, researchers found that this technique can increase student engagement by 12%.

Step 4: Measure the Program’s Success

To achieve a truly continuous learning culture, you must have a way to evaluate the performance of your staff members, both in terms of their job duties and the trainings in which they have enrolled. Additionally, take the time to get feedback from staff members on their perceptions of the reskilling or upskilling program.

Some ways you can do this include:

  • Performing the same skills gap analysis each employee took before their training program in order to compare the results.
  • Track the scores staff members received from their online learning modules.
  • Ask staff members how they felt about the program by sending out a satisfaction survey.

After collecting and analyzing the appropriate data, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What went well?
  • What impediments to reskilling/upskilling does staff face in your organization?
  • What changes can be made to the staff development process?

After discovering the answers to these questions, improve your reskilling and upskilling programs by incorporating your findings.

A Continuous Learning Culture Breeds Resilience

Better training programs lead to higher levels of organizational resilience. By encouraging staff members to learn and grow and providing them opportunities to improve their skills and confidence, your organization will see returns such as:

  • A happier, more engaged staff.
  • A higher level of care offered to persons served.
  • Greater staff retention rates.

All these factors contribute to resilience. This is why a continuous learning culture is so crucial for all organizations and why it’s important to consider reskilling and upskilling programs to get you there.


Creating a Culture of Learning at Your Organization

A culture of learning is relevant to any organization. However, the need for healthcare organizations to promote this is critical since evidence-based practices are constantly evolving and your clients’ well-being depends on your staff’s knowledge and skill. In this white paper, you'll learn how to create your own culture of learning.

Download the White Paper →

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