Before You Upskill, Check the Foundation

I’m not alone or innovative in the idea of upskilling during this crisis.

Heck, this crisis didn’t even introduce the idea of upskilling.

See the GI Bill – a benefit that helped service members and vets, covering the cost of educational training, introduced in 1944, expired in 1956 – and still referred to when programs are created to help.

Translate a loose version to the now: with an unemployment rate that keeps rising, 1 in 6 Americans are unemployed right now – a number that will surely go up. It’s no wonder folks are yelling for upskilling – a focus on leveling up your career skills, education, soft skills, and more while you wait for the chance to snag that job that is “better” (whatever that means) than the one you lost – or equal to. With a highly skilled and accomplished unemployment pool, we’re quickly entering an employer’s market.

And even teams that have the privilege to stick together and not experience loss or unemployment are looking to leveling up. As a learning and development provider, we’re tapping into the same but slightly different focuses on presenting, leadership, storytelling, and more. Excited for the work – a MASSIVE CAUTION.


Are you listening?

Focused and present?

Great, that’s the first step. But I’ll get to that.

Hear me out on this first: Learning and Development is TRASH if you aren’t following it up with continuing education. One of one hour, six-hour, two day deep dives – all garbage if you aren’t building it into the daily. It’s like expecting results from one meeting with a trainer. Sound silly? Yep, this is true for any professional development.

“But we had this great one-off a few years ago on [insert topic]!”

How often have you talked about, reflected, worked on, followed up, anything with that training?

It’s gone now. All those great feels and motivations are probably in the wind for most of the participants.

If you are participating in upskilling either on the company clock or not, you need to build it into every day. Don’t try to change everything tonight or tomorrow – think of tiny changes you can keep up with, adding more when you see the improvement. This idea of scaffolding learning is critical to lasting change. Keep it up, keep it sustainable, and remember little steps still get you moving in the right direction.

WHAT you are upskilling is just as important, and where you start. If you aren’t building things like active listening, focus, and interpersonal communication, higher-level skills won’t stick. It’s like building a house with a terrible foundation – I still remember an apartment I lived in for years in Brooklyn. You could put a can on the floor and it would roll to the other side of the room – the foundation was that off.

Same with learning.

If you don’t have the base skills, how can you learn to give feedback, manage conflict, lead from where you are – or any of the dozens of other catchphrases we hear in learning and development?

Step one: assess where you are and where you want to be. Don’t look at it as strengths and weaknesses. Look at it as “Glows” (things you do well) and “Grows” (things you need to work on). Once you’ve got your list, look at those base skills again: how do you – and your team – listen? Communicate? Focus? What are their learning styles? Do they have to participate in the learning for it to be impactful, or simply watch or listen to the class or skill?

When you’ve surveyed both the landscape of learning AND your base skills, start with those changes that are sustainable. Thinking you’re going to commit to a 17 point leadership checklist before every meeting? Good luck. Make a point to not formulate a response before the other person is done asking the question or making the statement? Better. Working on listening versus waiting to speak? Nice.

Take these smaller steps to ensure your upskilling sticks and is effective. Don’t let the can roll to the other side of the floor in 6 months because you rushed the foundation.