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With inflation peaking: why upskilling must be a business priority for SMEs

As organisations start working towards their goals for 2023, many are still grappling with what their priorities should be and what they need to be prepared for.

Amid an economic downturn, layoffs and talent shortages, a recent report from KPMG found almost 4 in 5 business leaders in Australia see, beyond acquisition and retention, reskilling/upskilling their employees as the biggest challenge for 2023. This is also the biggest opportunity for organisations to encourage their employees to learn to be agile and keep pace with innovation.

Inflation peaking at 7.8 in Australia, rising interest rates, the unpredictability of a recession and steady spikes in the cost of living – the uncertain financial environment in Australia is having major implications for businesses.

The volatility of the situation makes it difficult for organisations to invest in long-term projects. Furthermore, the uncertainty forces leaders and decision-makers to adopt a more conservative approach, reducing spending and adjusting strategies to focus on short-term goals.

In this scenario, instead of looking at reskilling/upskilling as a challenge, consider the following benefits and best practices to see the positive value of investing in training your current workforce:

  1. Investing in upskilling and fostering a culture of continuous learning has a direct impact on employee acquisition and retention. It demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to employee growth. According to Employment Hero, workplace learning not only improves the general morale inside the company, learning opportunities are listed as one of the top five initiatives that encourage team members to stay in the company and their current role.
  2. Well-designed and personalised learning paths can enable employees to have visibility of their professional development and ensure they are up-to-date with the latest industry trends and technologies, better identifying areas where they need additional support and training. One of our customers at Udemy Business, the digital transformation company UST, launched in 2020 a program called ‘Win It’, focusing on enabling female employees to thrive in their roles and take charge of progressing their careers. Applied in over 25 countries, the initiative equipped women with the skills and tools needed to elevate them to the next level in their respective fields. A personalised learning journey for each of these employees included self-study, live sessions and senior leader mentoring opportunities.  As a result, the program had an excellent participation rate within the company and the results were so positive that it earned UST an award for Best Advance in Leadership Development for Women in The Brandon Hall Excellence Awards in 2022.
  3. Organisations should not wait until dire economic times to encourage their workforce to consider brushing up or nailing down on a new skill set to support growth in the company. Employees who regularly upskill are better prepared to face disruption and more equipped to take on surplus tasks confidently and capably, besides being more engaged in their workplace.
  4. Business leaders should be providing the tools to help employees with identifying in-demand subjects and provide access to content from real-life experts that will offer up-to-date information – and a better chance at keeping up in a forever-changing world. In this disruptive landscape, successful upskilling lies in helping employees retrain in high-value, high-demand areas, where work will continue to be available long-term and is likely to diversify and evolve. In Australia, this demand is largely dominated by technology skills, reflecting where talents could strive for new opportunities.
  5. The workplace learning journey is not only about hard skills – communication, negotiation, leadership team management and other power skills are vastly important to complement an employee’s experience and technical expertise. Upskilled workers often lead better teams, particularly if they’ve leveraged opportunities to harness leadership skills. For organisations, the value in a good leader is immeasurable – data shows 57% of employees have left a job because of their manager, while employees are two times more likely to stay at the company with reliability and a good leader.

The issue is that business leaders and decision makers are still struggling to understand the best way to develop a learning culture inside the organisation, with only 40% of workers reporting that their company is investing in upskilling. There are a lot of great skills development opportunities out there with up-to-date courses taught by real-life experts that can offer employees the skills they need to learn flexibly and effectively in their own time. Online learning solutions can lead to a more agile and adaptable workforce that is equipped with a wide range of skills to navigate changes whether they are in the economic or technological landscape. From a workplace standpoint, the regularly upskilled worker is like a Swiss Army knife – agile, effective, and able to take on a range of roles across the business.

The benefits of reskilling/upskilling the workforce go on and on, especially when companies are working to tackle the economic challenges to survive and thrive in the new world. If you want to see your company – big, medium or small – thrive in this unknown economic environment, skills-based development will be key.


By Peter Kokkinos, VP & Managing Director, Asia Pacific at Udemy


Also read: Trying to woo staff back to the office? Top trends sweeping the country


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